Friday, June 13, 2008

Freedom and Sixpence

Forty-fourth birthday tattoo,
a present to myself to remind me always
that Freedom is what I care about most

I read W. Somerset Maugham's The Moon and Sixpence years ago, but re-read it over the weekend, as part of an overall devoration of his work this year (see 2008 Books at right) kicked off by reading The Painted Veil last year after seeing the movie version with Ed Norton, Jr. Somerset Maugham has a delightful way with words!

And with lead characters. In the case of Moon and Sixpence, I loved Strickland, his take on Gauguin, and how he crashes through life untouched by the opinions of others, locked in his own battle. Like a character in Ayn Rand, Strickland is a big man - brutal, remorseless, genius. And entirely free.

Which is why I love these books and characters so much.

In his introduction to the novel, Robert Calder writes,
Freedom, here seen as essential to creativity, was a fundamental concern of Maugham throughout his ninety-one years. 'The main thing I've always asked of life,' he said in old age, 'is freedom. Outer and inner freedom, both in my way of living and my way of writing.'
We should all take a memo. Not that we have to be quite so extremely bastardly as Strickland, but we should work tirelessly to free ourselves from false dichotomies that obscure the only real option -- to be 100% ourselves. Apparently the title of the novel derives from a critique of an earlier Somerset Maugham protagonist (Philip Carey, Of Human Bondage), that "like so many young men he was so busy yearning for the moon that he never saw the sixpence at his feet." With Strickland, it's not an either/or, damn it, but the moon and sixpence.


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