Allison Nier
Allison Nier asked:

When we read this book in my AP English class there were a lot of comparisons drawn between it and The Great Gatsby. I feel like this book isn't read as much as Gatsby but in some ways it may be even more important then Gatsby. Does anyone agree with me or am I alone on this one?

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Brett I certainly liked it better than the Great Gatsby, but I'm not sure what you mean by 'more important'. Do you mean in terms of other writers the book influenced? The Razor's Edge was popular in its own time but hasn't remained as popular in the US. The Great Gatsby, on the other hand, didn't become popular until after Fitzgerald's death.

Also, could you say some more about the connection between the two books? Are you referring to the writing style? Or that they're both books about a group of friends with more money than sense? If it's the later, I would say that was just typical of early 20th century literature. Hemingway and Virginia Woolf use similar plot devices. The Razor's Edge theme is spiritual discovery, while I would say the Great Gatsby is more a criticism of the American Dream.

I think the theme of the Great Gatsby explains why it's remained so popular over time. The book was entered into the literary canon after World War II, at the peak of patriotism in America, when it came to be on high school reading lists all across the country. Even though this book is criticizing the American Dream, it's still *about* the American Dream, and that makes it appealing for a nation obsessed with defining itself. Which is, ultimately, what patriotism is about--a sort of national narcissism--and F. Scott Fitzgerald's book was a mirror Americans recognized themselves in. By comparison, The Razor's Edge is a much more personal story of someone obtaining "enlightenment" and how that changes their lives and the lives of their friends. As such, it lacks the epic quality of the Great Gatsby--plus Maugham can't write American dialog to save his life.

Anywho...that's just my opinion. I'm curious what others think.
Cate Baum I think existentially yes, this book is more important. I somehow enjoyed the characters a lot more. I felt that the narrator was far more entwined and understood his friends a lot more deeply than in Gatsby.
Brian Hutzell The Razor’s Edge definitely reminded me of Gatsby because of the first person narrator, the affluence of the characters, and the time period. There is a definite similarity between the Maturins and the Buchanans as well. Though Gatsby grabbed me faster than Razor’s Edge, I think that as I continue to think about them both, Razor’s Edge will ultimately stand out in my mind as having more to say.
Tra-Kay I actually thought the exact same thing when I read this recently (well, I thought it's a hell of a lot BETTER than Gatsby), and that's just from having read Gatsby years ago.

This comic sums up my feelings about it: www.harkavagrant.com/index.php?id=259
Byron The writing in Razor's Edge isn't nearly as compelling as that of The Great Gatsby. When I first read the Razor's Edge in college, I was very impressed with Maugham's wit and insight into human affairs. But some 30+ years later, while he still has the wit, it's the writing that doesn't hold up. Plenty of throw away phrases in Razor's Edge that add nothing to the story. The story itself is told by way of conversation, not exactly captivating. The most fascinating chapter to be sure is the penultimate where Maugham truly takes the time provide the reader with insight and knowledge about Brahmanism and Indian culture. The rest of the book doesn't captivate, ironically as well as the movie did, although the movie depicted nothing of Indian culture and was completely devoid of any reference to Brahmanism. Gatsby is a beautiful work of fiction and the writing is vastly superior. I don't think it's fair to compare either novel. Maugham was a good writer but his style has aged badly and I was very disappointed at the quality of the writing in Razor's Edge. Great Gatsby has aged like fine wine.
Gary The nature of the era itself and the Lost Generation makes The Great Gatsby a more prominent work, and for that reason its stylistic strength is appropriately rated. But I definitely felt (having read it after Gatsby) that The Razor's Edge is a stronger work overall and has greater depth and substance.

I might argue that part of the strength of Gatsby, though, is a palpably self-aware and self-conscious mourning of and yearning for greater depth and substance. To use the old iceberg metaphor; more of it is left underwater, tacitly but also implicit.
Adam Uraynar It's all bout' that class (hierarchy). Well, just for the audience is all. Maugham tailored the story to suit the bourgeoisie. (Unrelated, some of you are long winded...must be from Chicago...says Charles Dana.) Other than that, it's a spiritual discovery themed story as Brett mentioned.
Steven Kent Maugham doesn't get much love in literary circles. There was a moment during his lifetime that he was considered one of the great literary figures of the twentieth century, but that was based more on popular success.

Of his trio of recognized novels--"Of Human Bondage," "The Razor's Edge" and "The Moon and Six Pence," only "Of Human Bondage" gets any love professorial circles. In those circles, Maugham's popularity is viewed the same way movie critics view Burt Reynolds's cinematic success in the early eighties--something that entertained the masses, but nothing of lasting value.

Interestingly, that was also the feeling many literary people felt about Fitzgerald. Later in life, he moved to California where he wrote movie scripts. He'd show his girlfriend books by Hemingway and others. When she once asked to read one of his books, he went to the local bookstore and discovered that he was out of print.

It's possible that the literary community could rediscover W. Somerset Maugham and he could have the kind of resurgence that Fitzgerald has enjoyed, but when I speak with professors of literature these days, it doesn't seem likely.
Allison Nier Yay! Thanks Michelle you read like the wind!
Michelle I am only on part III of this book but am drawing the same conclusions. I'll let you know in my review when I'm done.
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