Short summary - The Moon and Sixpence - William Somerset Maugham

British literature summaries - 2020

Short summary - The Moon and Sixpence
William Somerset Maugham

After his death, the artist Charles Strickland was recognized as a genius, and, as is usually the case, everyone who has seen him at least once is in a hurry to write memoirs and interpret his work. Some make Strickland a good-natured family man, a caring husband and father, others sculpt a portrait of an immoral monster, without missing the slightest detail, which could foster public interest. The author feels that he must write the truth about Strickland, for he knew him better than others, and, attracted by the originality of the artist’s personality, he carefully followed his life long before Strickland became fashionable: after all, the most interesting thing in art is the personality of the creator.

The novel takes place at the beginning of the 20th century. The author, a young writer, after her first literary success, was invited to breakfast with Mrs. Strickland - the bourgeois often have a weakness for people of art and consider it flattering for themselves to rotate in artistic circles. Her husband, a stockbroker, does not exist at such breakfasts - he is too ordinary, boring and unremarkable.

But suddenly, the breakfast tradition is interrupted - to everyone's amazement, the ordinary Charles Strickland left his wife and went to Paris. Mrs. Strickland is sure that her husband escaped with a song girl - luxury hotels, expensive restaurants ... She asks the author to go after him and persuade him to return to his family.

However, in Paris, it turns out that Strickland lives alone, in the cheapest room of the poorest hotel. He admits that he did terribly, but the fate of his wife and children does not bother him, as well as public opinion - he intends to devote the rest of his life not to his family, but to himself: he wants to become an artist. Strickland seems to be in possession of a powerful, irresistible force that cannot be resisted.

Mrs. Strickland, with all her love of art, it seems much more offensive that her husband abandoned her for painting, she is ready to forgive; she continues to support rumors of Strickland’s romance with a French dancer.

Five years later, once again in Paris, the author meets his friend Dirk Strev, a short, plump Dutchman with a comic appearance, absurdly kind, who wrote well-selling sweet Italian genre scenes. Being a mediocre artist, Dirk, however, is an expert in art and faithfully serves him. Dirk knows Strickland, saw his work (and very few can brag about it) and considers him a brilliant artist, and therefore often lends money, not hoping for a return and not expecting gratitude. Strickland really often goes hungry, but he is not burdened by poverty, as if he is obsessed with painting his paintings, not caring for prosperity, fame or observance of the rules of human intercourse, and as soon as the painting is completed, he loses interest in her - he doesn’t

In the eyes of the author, the drama of Dirk Strev is played. When Strickland became seriously ill, Dirk saved him from death, transferred him to himself, and, together with his wife, nursed until complete recovery. In “gratitude,” Strickland makes contact with his wife Blanche, whom Strev loves more than anything else. Blanche leaves for Strickland. Dirk is completely crushed.

Such things are in the spirit of Strickland: he does not know normal human feelings. Strickland is too big for love and at the same time it is not worth it.

After a few months, Blanche commits suicide. She loved Strickland, and he did not tolerate the claims of women to be his assistants, friends and comrades. As soon as he was tired of writing the naked Blanche (he used it as a free model), he left her. Blanche was not able to return to her husband, as Strickland poisonously remarked, unable to forgive him for the sacrifices he had made (Blanche was a governess, she was seduced by the owner’s son, and when it turned out that she was pregnant, she was expelled; she tried to commit suicide, then something Strev and married her). After the death of his wife, Dirk, heartbroken, forever leaves for his homeland, in Holland.

When finally Strickland shows the author his paintings, they make a strong and strange impression on him. They feel an incredible effort to express something, a desire to get rid of the power that owns the artist, as if he knew the soul of the Universe and is obliged to embody it in his canvases ...

When fate throws the author in Tahiti, where Strickland spent the last years of his life, he asks about the artist all who knew him. He is told how Strickland, without money, without work, hungry, lived in a lodging house in Marseille; as if using fake documents, fleeing the revenge of a certain Shrew Bill, he hired on a steamer going to Australia, as he had already worked as an overseer on a plantation in Tahiti ... The inhabitants of the island, who were considered to be a vagabond in life and were not interested in his “pictures”, are very sorry that at one time they missed the opportunity to buy canvases for pennies, now worth a lot of money. The old Tahitian woman, the hostess of the hotel where the author lives, told him how she found Strickland's wife - the native Ata, her distant relative. Right after the wedding, Strickland and Ata went to the forest, where Ata had a small piece of land, and the next three years were the happiest in the artist’s life. Ata did not bother him, did everything that he ordered, raised their child ...

Strickland died of leprosy. Upon learning of his illness, he wanted to go into the forest, but Ata did not let him go. They lived together, not communicating with people. Despite blindness (the last stage of leprosy), Strickland continued to work, painting on the walls of the house. This mural was seen only by a doctor who came to visit the patient, but did not find him alive. He was shocked. There was something great, sensual and passionate in this work, as if it was created by the hands of a man who penetrated the depths of nature and revealed its frightening and beautiful secrets. By creating this painting, Strickland achieved what he wanted: he expelled the demon, who for many years owned his soul. But, dying, he ordered Ata after his death to burn the house, and she did not dare to violate his last will.

Returning to London, the author again meets with Mrs. Strickland. After the death of her sister, she received an inheritance and lives very well. Reproductions of Strickland's work hang in her cozy living room, and she acts as if she had a great relationship with her husband.

Listening to Mrs. Strickland, the author for some reason recalls the son of Strickland and Ata, as if having personally witnessed him on a fishing schooner. And above it - a thick blue of heaven, stars and, as far as my eyes can see, the water desert of the Pacific Ocean.