The Razor’s Edge

by W. Somerset Maugham

The fact that a good many people believe something is no guarantee of its truth.

You see, money to you means freedom; to me, it means bondage.

Always interesting to come back to for a glimpse of Larry, the central character, who pursues a life-long quest for higher, unconventional meaning and purpose. Too, the various other limited characters–the shallow, conventional Isabel who can’t control Larry and who marries for money; Elliott, her snob-uncle, whose surface/appearance-oriented shallowness is repeatedly and humorously¬†emphasized; Sophie–a decent woman who tragically loses her husband and child and then slips into alcohol and opium addiction and promiscuity; the limited, rich, but then poorer Gray who at least appreciates the second chance Larry gives him after the former’s breakdown; and even the Maugham-narrator who, though a writer, an accurate social observer, and fan of Larry’s, nonetheless, lacks his passion and active life-engagement.

Ultimately, the book is about a reflective do-good outsider, who is far more interesting and morally finer than the limited materialists and socialites with whom he starts out with in Chicago, notably the scheming Isabel who loses him forever after he confronts her with responsibility for Sophie’s death. Given the fate of Sophie, the childish nastiness of Isabel, the simplicity of Gray, and the limitations of the Maugham-narrator, Maugham suggests that life can be unfair, tragic, hypocritical, deceptive, misfocused on making money, limited, and limiting except for those with consciousness and awareness (like the narrator) and for those with more moral purity and idealism (like Larry).

The famous 1940s film version is, incidentally, a good adaptation and well-acted with Tyrone Power as Larry and Herbert Marshall as Maugham. Anne Bancroft won a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award for her role as a likable, yet pathetic Sophie.

I only wanted to suggest to you that self-sacrifice is a passion so overwhelming that beside it even lust and hunger are trifling. 

I happen to think we’ve set our ideal on the wrong objects; I happen to think that the greatest ideal man can set before himself is self-perfection.

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