———Everyone has the razor’s edge.
Part I. The reason for reading this book
“Every night, wondering on the wonderland in my dream;
A giant called the pride were I.
Every morning, suffering from the reflection in the mirror;
On my neck is the razor’s edge.”
These are lyrics from “I Am Ugly, But I Am Gentile” by Zhao Chuan, a country music singer who enjoys fame after suffering loads of mockery on his songs and physical appearance. The image is very strong: at night, you dream yourself as a hero; in the morning, you found yourself nothing but such a loser that you have the tendency to suicide with the razor in your hand.
I think it is an eternal topic having been discussed since human being started to think, no matter in written forms, like this song, or in your own mind, that how to recognise yourself. “The razor’s edge” here seemingly refers to a failed attempt to this question, whereas Maugham gives his.
So I decided to read this book without hesitation after I saw its title. I want to see the answer of Maugham, a great writer and also one of my favourite writers.
Part II. The Background of The Author W. Somerset Maugham
William Somerset Maugham (1874 – 1965), better known as W. Somerset Maugham, was a British playwright, novelist and short story writer. He was among the most popular writers of his era and reputedly the highest-paid author during the 1930s.
But even so, for China’s readers, he is only famous in a minor group to other foreigner writers. Scarcely have most people heard of his name if I do not mention his another masterpiece “Moon and Sixpence”.
Before going to his works, I have to make one thing clear: it seems a solid fact that he is homosexual, or closer to the reality, bisexual. But thanks to his sexual orientation, his heroes are usually striking charming in a certain aspect, either on physical appearance or spiritual lure, and the female characters prove to be more enthusiastic in sex and aggressive sometimes. The characters in The Razor’s Edge are no exception.
Part III. The Main Plot of The Razor’s Edge
The writer characterised himself as a third person to observe the whole story, who partially got involved in the plot’s development but would never actively put any influence on other characters. The result of this sort of narration is like a storytelling, while Maugham is his own storyteller.
Larry Darrell is the hero who survived after the WWII. He threw himself on books of all fields, trying to find a way to relive the blame from his friend who saved Larry at the cost of losing his own life. Although the death of his friend seemed to be something he could have never gotten rid of readily, he obviously had put all the blame into his deeper heart and turned to be a calm and gentle man. No one knows exactly what he experienced during his travel around several countries, but everyone admitted he was a somewhat perfect soul compared to others.
Larry’s fiancee, Isabel Bradley is the typical woman living in that age, who considered the wallet of a family was something the bigger the better, made fun from parties and scared of no invitations to her anymore. It was her announcement that Larry should work to make money instead of “loaf” on his small hesitance that caused him who was deeply trapped in the guilt of his friend went to Paris. Years later, they met there and dismissed their engagement peacefully. Obviously, Isabel made a decision on the marriage to Gray after her breaking-up with Larry, who went bankrupt in the 1929 stock market crash. After the financial disaster, they were invented to live in Paris by her uncle, Elliot Templeton.
Elliott Templeton was an American expatriate. The word “snob” could not be more precise to label him. In some way, he was a “business” man, buying artworks and selling them out. More than Isabel, he was eager to throw and join a party. As he was dying, the thing he worried about was that he had not received the invitation from a grand party yet. He showed himself off with his fancy customs, he made up his family tree to make the connection with the royal, later even been a royal member. Thanks to his settlement for the Grays, Larry and Isabel met again. Occasionally, they met their childhood friend, Sophie, who had lost her happy family in a car accident then.
Sophie, in fact, could have been the happiest people in their group if the car accident had not happened to her husband. After her beloved husband’s death, she was no longer herself anymore. She became alcoholism and went to bed with any man who paid her wine. Her parents-in-law sent her to Paris for the sake of their own fame. Larry saved her from her hell and proposed to her. The day before their marriage, she ran away. Without a doubt, according to the plot, it is Isabel’s jealous that drove her away, for Isabel never stopped loving Larry, even as a wife to a husband, a mother to her children.
Part IV. My Thoughts of This Book
The first thought came up to me is why the title is the razor’s edge? You even cannot find a word in this book mentioning about the razor stuff, not to say its edge. Then if it is not about the physical existence, I’d better turn to the symbolic meaning.
So I started to dig up in the characters, and I found out actually everyone had his or her own
“razor’s edge” in this novel: their disasters in life, and it moulded their destinies also.
Larry would never forgive himself for his friend’s death, which is the razor’s edge for Larry. No matter how hard he struggled to fight against his sorrow, no matter how much he gained in Indian, no matter how rich he was, how kind he treated others, he was still the one who buried himself into the grave with a tombstone engraved on: “It’s me who killed my friend who was young and could have a bright future.”
For Isabel, it’s her regret of breaking up with Larry for the sake of rich life; for Elliot, it’s the fierce conflict between his humble birth and his goal of being “royal”. As for Sophie, having been a native girl, who was murdered by her unnamed paramour in the end but actually by her fallen spirit, her razor’s edge was doubtless that her dreamy foam of happy life burst after her husband’s death.
Disasters made them and became their destinies. Disasters are in various forms but all in the normal and even tedious life, the detailed description of which is the greatness of this book, of Maugham the writer: finding out the striking sparkles among boiled-water-like life. Maugham, with his exclusive view, demonstrated the razor’s edge in daily life. Not only the people in the novel but the people in life — we readers.
We all keep something we are not willing to tell. It’s not the sort of “saving-word secret”— in fact, the bigger the secret is, the more possible you may give it out, as is universally known — but it is the thing you would not display on your expression, and to some extent, it controls your life. It may be a slight mistake you carelessly committed causing to lose close friends, or a short impatient glance at your mother, or even several short words uttered to unsuitable people. You may or may not take notice of these kinds of stuff, but it indeed occurs to you when you are in the situation. They come up to you as you are infirm, as you are fragile and sensitive to the surroundings.
It seems that Maugham did not provide any effective resolution in his story, but the book itself was an answer to the question I mentioned at the start. Somewhat it is similar to the origin of this book’s title, a translation of a verse in the Katha Upanishad: The sharp edge of a razor is difficult to pass over; thus the wise say the path to "enlightenment" is hard. To forsake your past is impossible, so to get over it. Honestly speaking, we don’t need to recognise our life disasters, for they all have made what we are. In another word, “the razor’s edge”, we don’t need to turn back to them, but we should see it as every fall of our naive mind into the pit called life. A fall into the pit, a gain in your wit.
I want to quote a piece of dialogue from this book to end my report:
—"The best to be said for it is that when you've come to the conclusion that something is inevitable all you can do is to make the best of it,"
—"What are your plans now?"
—"I've got a job of work to finish here and then I shall go back to America."
—"What to do?"
—"With calmness, forbearance, compassion, selflessness, and continence."