To my mind the most interesting thing in art is the personality of the artist; and if that is singular, I am willing to excuse a thousand faults.
Although The Moon and Sixpence may have received far less acclaim than Maugham’s other works, Of Human Bondage and The Razors Edge to name but two, it remains one of his best. The story follows an anonymous narrator and his various encounters with the enigmatic Charles Strickland. Strickland, after leaving his London career, wife, and children, moves to Paris to paint. There he remains almost universally unappreciated save for the outmoded aficionado Dirk Stroeve. Strickland is unrelenting in his pursuit of beauty through art. His life of abnegation takes him from France to Tahiti where his greatest works are ceremonially burnt upon his death.
The book is to some extent based on the life of Paul Gauguin, Strickland filling in for the French primitivist artist. His style is similarly experimental and under appreciated. A major difference being that Gauguin’s paradigmatic shift into the world of art was not so spontaneous. Strickland is portrayed as never having delved into the world of painting before his journey to France. Both also travel to Tahiti, eventually dying there. Whilst Gauguin’s own Tahitian journal Noa Noa is dry and subtly self-aggrandising, Maugham’s account is highly visceral. Any reader will find themselves pining for the black sand beaches and serene atolls of French Polynesia.
One of the central themes of The Moon and Sixpence is art. Maugham with varying success attempts to describe the images, although it is an inevitably futile exercise. Fortunately it matters little. The void is easily filled by the passion Strickland’s paintings engender in others combined with his own tortured mind.
Rhys Rowlands, Books Teambookmark me