Beautiful bondage of a notebook | Daily News

Beautiful bondage of a notebook

Once the American poet of Grass Leaves fame, Walt Whitman, pointed out the notebook writing led him to recreate poems and short creative sketches. I was reminded of the comment on re-reading the volume of notebooks written by William Somerset Maugham (1874 – 1966) titled as ‘A Writer’s Notebook’ first published as far back as 1949 and consequently in 1967.

The series of notes as jotted down by Maugham covered the period of his most active writing career between 1892 and 1944. A reader may visualise how an English writer had spent his whole life dedicated to writing in the middle of his various journeys around the globe. Maugham was educated at King’s School in Canterbury and at Heidelberg University. Though he was destined to become a medical professional attached to St Thomas Hospital in the UK, he was nevertheless given a stronger and more sensitive and captivating profession as a writer of fiction.

Notebook pages

It is recorded that his first novel Lisa of Lambeth (1897) won him over to letters. This followed his greatest work in fiction ‘Of Human Bondage’ (1915) discussed by the then critics as a masterpiece. As he notes in the pages of his notebook, Maugham was not aware of the number of plot outlines he has written down concentrating later to allow the way for short stories and plays.

He notes that he had preferred to write play scripts in the first instance, but the demand and circumstances made him more attached to short stories, long stories and full-length narratives. His general books are fewer in number.

He notes that his theatre career had ended with a play titled Sheppey in 1933. The pages of the notebooks show the interest he had taken to jot down his varying forms of thoughts reminiscences and creative visions on paper. It is noted that Maugham had been the English writer who had been instrumental in this introduction of some of the Russian writers like Anton Chekhov, Turgenev and Dostoevsky. This is not as a result of learning the original language but as a result of appreciating the works that had emerged from Russian into English. On reading the Notebooks one gets the impression that the writer had been delving on themes such as love, death, suffering and decay.

He emphasises the decadent nature of the commercial dealings and some of the pseudo-philosophical ways of the so-called elites. This too underlines the need for a better living condition, despite the animosity of human groups especially in the middle of world wars. He notes the need to learn more and more on human cultures in order to bring about peace and harmony between countries. Having visited countries like Singapore, Malaysia, India and Burma, Maugham underlines the general factors observable in the cultural norms that transcend the narrow barriers of the way they are governed by the colonial rulers.

Writer’s advice

At times, Maugham tends to be humorous in his jottings.

This is just an example.

“Once a lady who had a son of a literary bent asked me what training I should advise if he was to become a writer; and I judging by the Inquirer that she would pay little attention to my answer replied: Give him a hundred and fifty a year for five years and tell him to go to the devil. I have thought of it since and it seems to me it was better advice than I imagined.”

Maugham in his notebook underlines the different types of writers whom he had met over the years, their mannerisms and temperaments. This is followed by the types of friends and well-wishers whom he had encountered during his visits to various parts of the world. He, in one instance, notes that I think I have been more than most men conscious of my age. Then states:

“My youth slipped past me unnoticed and I was always burdened with the sense that I was growing old.” Then he adds:

“Because for my years, I had seen much of the world, and travelled a good deal, because I was somewhat widely read and my mind was occupied with matters beyond my ears, I seemed always older than my contemporaries.”

Psychological altitude

As a reader, I felt that long before the concept of positive thinking as a popular psychological altitude emerged, Maugham had sensitively captured some of the areas linked into same in his diary entries I wish to lay down a few sentences of such international altitude in the following:

“By imagination man compensates himself for his failure to get a complete satisfaction from life. Eternal necessity forces him to renounce the gratification of many of his most radical instincts but renunciation comes hardly to man; and baulked of his desire for honour, power, love, he cheats himself by the exercise of fantasy.”

The reader too finds the varying types of creative backgrounds and the sources of inspiration of the creative writer Maugham over the philosopher Maugham. He seems to pass a certain judgement over his life in the following manner:

“I have been asked on occasion whether I would like to live my life over again. On the whole, it has been a pretty good life, perhaps better than most people’s, but I should see no point in repeating it.”

All in all, the Writer’s Notebook by Maugham is quite resourceful and inspirational. As such, it is true to say that this is a fascinating glimpse into the life and mind of the man who wrote some of the greatest novels and short stories of this century.


 

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