The book was published in 1915. What I found tucked in the pages was published in 1961.
My New Year’s Resolution was to read at least five classics this year. I completed The Good Earth this weekend and have been contemplating my next classic all week. My sister-in-law had a bunch of classics and my brother-in-law gifted them to us after her death. I zeroed in on Of Human Bondage by William Maugham. I picked up the book by the spine and out fluttered a faded yellow envelope.
My imagination went wild. Was it a love letter from Eric’s grandfather to his grandmother? Money? A deathbed confession?
I picked up the stained paper. The unsealed flap yielded to my touch and revealed a brittle, brown news clipping. A Dick Tracy comic strip and a Jumble were visible, but what was on the other side? A long lost relative’s obituary? An article about my husband’s grandmother’s old high school lover?
I unfolded the neatly clipped newsprint. Scrawled on the side were KC Star and the date of the article, 2-4-61. Knowing my husband’s family was from Kansas City it was easy to figure out what paper the article had appeared in.
My gaze travelled to the headline: Maugham Is Sharp and Eager at 87. After my initial disappointment, I grew intrigued. How fun! The byline indicated the journalist was Marcel Wallenstein, a European correspondent for the paper. Someone had one an in-depth interview with the author. The article would have encompassed almost the whole side of a newspaper.
The opening paragraph revealed volumes about Maugham’s personality. Apparently, he was not pleased about being denied access to Russia where his literary royalties were hoarded in a bank. Witnesses indicated his response to the bad news was “billingsgate,” an English term for fish market profanity.
In some ways, his life story is timeless. He struggled with his craft, barely scraping out a living. He reportedly turned down invitations from wealthy acquaintances lest the rich notice his frayed clothing. His ambition to be a doctor had years before been thwarted by a physical handicap. Too bad he hadn’t known King George VI. Both British men suffered from a stammer.
Success did find him later in life. He entertained Winston Churchill and owned a Picasso and Toulouse-Lautrec. He reportedly read constantly and was a shrewd literary critique, but took time to mentor young authors. His critics accused him of fashioning his novel “Cakes and Ale” on the life of Tom Hardy, and “The Moon and Sixpence” after Gauguin’s life. Maugham denied any likenesses in both books. How sad that at the age of 87, Maugham’s works were not yet considered classics.
To say I enjoyed the article was an understatement. In this day of reporting, I doubt a living author celebrating a milestone birthday would warrant such newsprint space. What a treat to have found this hidden treasure. How sad that in the advent of electronic books that such a discovery will be impossible for future generations.