Reading the 20th Century discussion

The Magician
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Moderator's Choice > The Magician by W. Somerset Maugham (August 2018)

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Susan | 10655 comments Mod
Published in 1908, this was Maugham's ninth novel; preceded by The Explorer and followed by Of Human Bondage, after a gap of seven years, during which Maugham mostly wrote for the theatre.

The character of Oliver Haddo was, famously, based on Aleister Crowley, who Maugham met in Paris. Crowley wrote a response to this, "How to Write a Novel!" in which he signed his name as 'Oliver Haddo,' and the full text can be found here:

https://www.100thmonkeypress.com/bibl...

We hope you enjoy our August Mod-Led read, which complements our main read and ties in with the monthly theme of the 1900's.


Susan | 10655 comments Mod
Maugham is one of my favourite author's. This is one of his lesser known novels and, rather like the Waugh we read recently, it is very much a book of two halves. Interested to hear people's thoughts on this, Maugham generally or Aleister Crowley.


Susan | 10655 comments Mod
https://allthatsinteresting.com/aleis...

Here is an article I found about Aleister Crowley, which has some interesting photographs.


Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4675 comments Mod
I found this an entertaining read, if wildly over the top - I was quite surprised to find that it is has an element of classic horror, very different from anything else by Maugham that I've read (though I haven't read all that much by him.)

Thank you for posting a link to the whole "Oliver Haddo" piece, Susan - I was only able to find extracts from this.


Susan | 10655 comments Mod
Yes, worth reading. I enjoyed it too - especially the beginning of the book, as the story unfolded.


Kathy  | 9 comments Interesting article on Crowley's life. What did he do to make money to travel around the world? Since so few attended his funeral, I doubt he had many rich sponsors. Maybe the rumors of working for the British govt were true.


carissa This has been in tr list for too long. Excited to get the nudge to read along here!


Susan | 10655 comments Mod
Good to hear, Carissa.

Kathy, according to what I have read about him, he didn't have a rich background. He was certainly a fascinating character.


carissa Crowley inherited a bunch from his dad, but he spent it pretty quickly. I think his dad owned a brewery or something like that.

I worked with some Thelema practitioners, so learned a lot from them.


Nigeyb | 10402 comments Mod
I must confess to being a little disappointed by this.

I’ve loved everything I’be read by WSM but this didn’t seem to be up to the same level as other books I’ve read by him.

That said, I raced through it. Less from enjoyment though and more because I wasn’t in the mood for it, so perhaps it was a case of right book wrong

It felt overly melodramatic and the drift into gothic horror in the last section felt incongruous.

I was hoping for some insights into Aleister Crowley however his character was quite cartoonish.

Interestingly WSM, on reading it 50 years later, found the writing "lush and turgid". Sadly, I agree.

Not up there with his best work.


message 11: by Judy (new) - rated it 3 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4675 comments Mod
I agree with your comments, Nigeyb - was a bit underwhelmed by the quality of this overall, although I did find it extremely entertaining. So far I’ve had mixed reactions to the little Maugham I’ve read - impressed by Of Human Bondage and Rain, less so by others.


Susan | 10655 comments Mod
I think Maugham tried to hide the fact that Haddo was Crowley, but didn't do a great job. I really liked the first half, but wasn't so impressed by the second half.

However, the beginning, where you have Haddo's dastardly plan of revenge and Susie's narrative, plus the Paris setting of the period, worked very well.

It is interesting that Maugham stopped writing for quite a while after this novel. I know he always wanted to write for the theatre and that his ambitions lay in that area, so, when he suddenly found success there, I think he was a little tired of writing and glad to let it go for a while. Mind you, he came back with Of Human Bondage, which was a hell of a comeback!


Susan | 10655 comments Mod
As our theme is the 1900's, it is perhaps worth mentioning how popular interest in the occult, spiritualism, etc. was during that period. Obviously, interest in spiritualism grew after WWI, but why do you think interest in things 'other-worldly' was so great at the beginning of the 20th Century.

Was it just a hangover from the Victorian interest in the supernatural?

https://www.bl.uk/romantics-and-victo...


message 14: by Val (new) - rated it 4 stars

Val | 1709 comments It might have been a continuation of the Victorian interest, when lots of people dabbled in the supernatural but it was not really taken that seriously by most of them. I think the war changed that somewhat, because so many people had lost someone and wanted it to be true that they could contact them.


Susan | 10655 comments Mod
I enjoyed The Ghost Hunters, first in a series about ghost hunting in London. In fact, I've read, and enjoyed all Neil Spring books.


Susan | 10655 comments Mod
I wondered how many Maugham books other people have read? Does anyone have a favourite?


Tania | 1075 comments I have started this one, not too far in yet, but Haddo is such a pompous arse.
Susan, I've read a few, so far The Painted Veil is my favourite.


Lynaia | 468 comments Susan wrote: "I wondered how many Maugham books other people have read? Does anyone have a favourite?"

I haven't counted how many I've read but I've read quite a few. My favorite has been Theatre. It's one of my favorite of all my books.


message 19: by Jan C (new) - added it

Jan C (woeisme) | 1290 comments So far mine is The Painted Veil, although I did enjoy The Moon and Sixpence.


Elizabeth (Alaska) I read this selection long enough ago that I couldn't discuss it (and gave it only 3 stars so apparently wasn't impressed). But I have also read his The Razor's Edge, to which I gave 5 stars. I'm sure I would enjoy reading more of him.


Susan | 10655 comments Mod
Some great choices. Lynaia, Theatre is one of my very favourite books too and I also liked The Moon and Sixpence and The Painted Veil.

Haddo is, indeed, unbearably pompous!


Tania | 1075 comments I really liked The Moon and Sixpence too. I wasn't much taken with Strickland, another character who was thinly disguised, but based on a real person, this time Gauguin. He seems to make a habit of this. I also really enjoyed Cakes and Ale, I read that the older author ( whose name I don't remember) was based on Thomas Hardy.


Susan | 10655 comments Mod
Yes, that's right, Tania. Cakes and Ale was based on Hardy and his wife. Judy will know more, as she is a great Hardy fan.

It seems that Maugham was ahead of the pack, as using famous, real people in novels is very popular now.


Nigeyb | 10402 comments Mod
Some great titles in your all time Maugham favourites - thanks all


Cakes and Ale is my favourite of those I've read.

I've yet to read The Moon and the Sixpence. I know I should put that right sooner rather than later.


Tania | 1075 comments Nigeyb, Moon and Sixpence is available on Project Gutenberg.


message 26: by Judy (new) - rated it 3 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4675 comments Mod
Susan wrote: "Yes, that's right, Tania. Cakes and Ale was based on Hardy and his wife. Judy will know more, as she is a great Hardy fan.

..."


Thanks Susan, I am indeed a Hardy fan, but must admit I don't know much about this, except that I believe the book upset Hardy's second wife, Florence. I've never yet brought myself to read it, but I must do so!

This is something that slightly puts me off Maugham - couldn't he have disguised his real-life characters a bit more? Although other authors did the same thing, of course, including Dickens, who upset a few of his friends by recognisable portraits! (Leigh Hunt as Skimpole in Bleak House.)


Nigeyb | 10402 comments Mod
Tania wrote: "Nigeyb, Moon and Sixpence is available on Project Gutenberg."

Thanks Tania


message 28: by Judy (new) - rated it 3 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4675 comments Mod
I've just read that whole "Oliver Haddo" piece by Aleister Crowley that Susan linked to earlier - wow, he really disliked Maugham.

I have read somewhere that Crowley was upset by the book because of similarities to his personal life, but I can't really say more about this until we get into spoilers later in the month. Anyway, he got his revenge in here.

I'll repeat the link - best not to look at the lower examples until you have got up to the relevant bits of the novel though:

https://www.100thmonkeypress.com/bibl...

What does anyone think of his accusations of plagiarism? I think the first couple of passages, about the history of the Kabbalah and Paracelsus, are unarguably cribbed from the books cited - when reading the novel, I found this type of passage a bit boring and turgid, so it's interesting to learn that Maugham had done the equivalent of cutting and pasting!

However, I really can't see much similarity between the other passages in The Magician and the extracts from other books printed alongside them - they are vaguely similar incidents, but the writing is completely different.


Roman Clodia | 5699 comments Mod
I've only read Of Human Bondage and the story Rain that we read in the group so this came as a surprise. As others have said, it definitely splits into two parts but surprisingly I found the second more engrossing. I don't want to say anything spoilery yet but was anyone else reminded of Dracula (view spoiler)?


Susan | 10655 comments Mod
Good to hear you liked it, RC. Yes, I think there were similarities in theme to Dracula.

Judy, it was hard to find the entire text from Haddo, but I thought it was worth posting and definitely worth reading.


Roman Clodia | 5699 comments Mod
I was surprised by the switch midway through - in the first half we're encouraged to see Haddo as a gross fraud... then the second half! I loved the eerie 'seduction' scene, and the freaky lab at the end.


Susan | 10655 comments Mod
That's a good point. Haddo is sneered at initially, but nobody is sneering at the end...


Nigeyb | 10402 comments Mod
Agreed Susan and RC. He certainly establishes his credibility.


Tania | 1075 comments I've finished. It wasn't my favourite Maugham, which is a shame. I was really looking forward to this one, I do like a good Gothic Horror. I agree about the similarities to Dracula.


Lynaia | 468 comments Just started this. Looking forward to some more Maugham.


message 36: by Judy (new) - rated it 3 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4675 comments Mod
Hope you enjoy it, Lynaia. I found this very entertaining although with some reservations ... now want to read some of Maugham's more famous titles very soon.


Susan | 10655 comments Mod
I read lots of his work when I was younger, such as The Moon and Sixpence and The Razor's Edge, which I can hardly recall now. I really would like to re-read all his work, at some stage. I just downloaded Theatre on Audible, as that is one of my favourites.


Lynaia | 468 comments Susan wrote: "I read lots of his work when I was younger, such as The Moon and Sixpence and The Razor's Edge, which I can hardly recall now. I really would like to re-read all his work, at some stage. I just dow..."

Have you seen the movie Being Julia with Annette Bening which is based on Maughams book Theatre? Not as good as the book but still quite enjoyable.


Susan | 10655 comments Mod
No, I haven't, Lynaia. I just looked it up and it said Comedy Drama, but I never thought of "Theatre," as comedy, so I am sure there are some changes!


message 40: by Judy (new) - rated it 3 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4675 comments Mod
I thought the film Being Julia was very good - I haven't read the book as yet, though.


Susan | 10655 comments Mod
I love the novel, but not a lot happens in it. Obviously, it is set in a period when theatre actresses were truly famous and a London actress has an affair and that's about it really. Maugham makes it work, but it was probably more daring then, for a married woman to have an affair with a younger man, than it seems now. I just love that whole period and - of course, like Ngaio Marsh, Maugham understood the theatre and wrote about it well. A leading lady, who is getting older and perhaps moving on from the main parts...


Lynaia | 468 comments Susan wrote: "No, I haven't, Lynaia. I just looked it up and it said Comedy Drama, but I never thought of "Theatre," as comedy, so I am sure there are some changes!"

I didn't really think it was a comedy when I watched it except for the very end (which I thought was done very well and was quite funny). There definitely are changes. The biggest one is that in the book, Julias husband came across as possibly being gay and he definitely is not gay in the movie. The ending is different because of this change but not drastically so if I remember correctly. Its been a long time since Ive read the book or seen the movie so I am writing this based on memory. Overall, I definitely would not call the movie a comedy though.


Lynaia | 468 comments Judy wrote: "I thought the film Being Julia was very good - I haven't read the book as yet, though."

You should definitely read it. Better than the movie.


Kathy  | 9 comments Done. Did I detect a bit of evil in both Haddo and Arthur? Perhaps that is the moral of the story. And honestly did I read on pg.183:
"All works that deal with the Black Arts are unanimous upon the supreme efficacy of the virginal condition. But what is to be done? asked Arthur in desperation." That drew a startled, evil giggle from me. Guess that came from watching too many Evil Dead movies.


Lynaia | 468 comments Finished this a couple of days ago. I felt like the whole book was an awful lot like Haddo. Rather grotesque and yet you couldn't walk away from it.


Susan | 10655 comments Mod
One thing about Maugham was that he certainly knew how to tell a story. I suspect he was looked down a little between the wars, but he was good at writing a range of different characters and styles. I always start any of his books with a sense of anticipation.


message 47: by Judy (new) - rated it 3 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4675 comments Mod
Who is still reading? Shall we set a date when we can discuss spoilers in this book, including the ending?


message 48: by Judy (new) - rated it 3 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4675 comments Mod
No replies yet re spoilers - would we be okay to start discussing them in a few days?


Pamela (bibliohound) | 534 comments I'm waiting for it to come in at the library, so I'll probably be a while yet. I'm happy for you to go ahead with spoilers when ready and I'll come back here when I've read it.


Nigeyb | 10402 comments Mod
I'm ready to get into spoiler territory


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