A pipe dream

Dalrymple’s latest British Medical Journal column (subscription required) offers a review of Somerset Maugham’s 1932 book “The Narrow Corner”, but in the process provides a concise, illuminating account of Maugham himself:
Perhaps it would be fairer to say that Dr Saunders’s philosophy was as Maugham would have liked his own to be. Unlike Dr Saunders, Maugham was not a real cynic, unless a cynic be defined as a man who defends his person against disintegration caused by the strength of his passions by a conscious pose of amused indifference.
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The book ends with Dr Saunders saying what Maugham would like to have believed with his heart as well as with his head: “If the richest dreams the imagination offered came true, in the end it [life] remained nothing but illusion.” Maugham wanted to believe this to be true because his childhood had been so wretched that he never recovered from it: all happiness and success for him was illusory; only misery was real. Better to feel nothing at all.

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