Original Research

References to Gauguin paintings in Somerset Maugham’s The moon and sixpence

Laurence Wright
Literator | Vol 35, No 1 | a1141 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/lit.v35i1.1141 | © 2014 Laurence Wright | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 30 July 2014 | Published: 12 December 2014


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Abstract

It has not before been noticed that in describing works of art painted by his fictional anti-hero,Charles Strickland, in the novel The moon and sixpence, which is loosely based on the life of Paul Gauguin, Somerset Maugham drew on actual works by Gauguin in his verbal descriptions. Sometimes the references are to specific paintings, at others to phases in his work. For readers familiar with Gauguin’s artistic output, his writings on art and his biography, the effect of this insistent visual ‘quotation’ is to create a disturbing sense of aesthetic dissonance, in that it becomes difficult to accept the inarticulate, surly, impassioned but utterly grim and joyless figure of the fictional Charles Strickland as the source of these vivifying paintings, which possess their own real history and provenance. There is nothing in Strickland of Gauguin’s child-like zest for life, his exuberance, his fantasies, his extrovert willingness to explain his art to friends and the public through fascinating if deeply unreliable writings. The reader must either attempt to blot all knowledge of Gauguin and his art from consciousness, there by denying that Maugham is ‘quoting’ Gauguin’s oeuvre, or else submit to an intolerable level of fictional incredulity and disbelief.

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Crossref Citations

1. Character palimpsests in Somerset Maugham’s The Moon and Sixpence: The biographical roots of Dirk Stroeve and Charles Strickland
Laurence Wright
ANQ: A Quarterly Journal of Short Articles, Notes and Reviews  vol: 32  issue: 1  first page: 45  year: 2019  
doi: 10.1080/0895769X.2018.1469967