Friday, November 17, 2017

The Taipan by W. Somerset Maugham Review

The short story "The Taipan" by W. Somerset Maugham would refer to the genre of the ghost stories. It is not a typical literary style for Maugham. It is likely that the main idea which Maugham meant was the theme of superiority and personal self-estimation of being better than others.

These lines were put by the author at the beginning of the story:  
"No one knew better than he that he was an important person. He was number one in not the least important branch of the most important English firm in China. He had worked his way up through solid ability and he looked back with a faint smile at the callow clerk who had come out to China thirty years before. When he remembered the modest home he had come from ... and compared it with the magnificent stone mansion, with its wide verandas and spacious rooms, which was at once the office of the company and his own residence, he chuckled with satisfaction. He had come a long way since then."

The Taipan is a foreigner who is head of a business in China or Hong Kong. In other words, he is a boss whose behavior and lifestyle is very different from local Chinese everyday routine. The main character, taipan, came from England, where he lived maybe not so poor but at least modest life. He had everything in China, he could argue with counsel who was a quite important person and "The taipan thrust out his jaw pugnaciously as he thought of the incident."

He was invited to the restaurant where he could drink wine and liquor without payments because it was paid by the firm which was interested in having business with his company. He gained a lot of weight to the point that riding a horse wasn't possible for him.

Once when he came back home from the restaurant, the cemetery was on his way. He saw the graves of people he had known: somebodies were killed in a massacre which occurred in China in the past, others, his predecessors, found his death due to overuse of alcohol. This is how the author described his thoughts:
"They were dead and he was alive, and by George he'd scored them off. His eyes collected in one picture all those crowded graves and he smiled scornfully. He very nearly rubbed his hands."

After that, he saw two coolies who were digging the fresh grave quite big, probably for a large body. He wandered for whom that grave was prepared. He knew only English, for the years of being in China, he didn't think of studying local language at all. He asked coolies and they said something in Chinese.

When he returned home the thoughts about this grave didn't leave his mind. He sent the servant to the cemetery to know about the grave and servant said that there were no fresh graves in the cemetery. "The best thing he could do was to go the club", he tried to relieve himself from the cemetery obsession but he gave up as the grave stuck in his mind. "Suddenly he felt he could not bear to stay in the club any longer."

He came home. "He had dreamed of that open grave and the coolies digging leisurely." He thought about the future death, if it comes in this place, we would be buried with this people, in this hateful country. He took a list of papers and wrote a letter to the headquarter of his company with a request for retirement. He was found dead the next day, with the letter laid on the table near him.

The main idea of the story is about arrogance. We had a proverb in the Russian language which could literally translate to English as the sentence: He came through fire, water, and copper pipe. Copper pipe means a trumpet. The proverb present the idea of difficulties to endure three trials: danger of fire and water and saving personality under a press of praise and homage. Maugham described this idea precisely, in details including the circumstances, behavior, and thoughts of the main character in this well written and easily understandable short story.

The link to the text of the book:
Page 568

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