Someone once said that “Great Men are rarely good men” in the sense that they totally buy in the moral codes, honors, duties of our or some ideal, society. The same is true for Strickland the main interest of this novel. I wouldn’t call him a protagonist or antagonist. He is what the novel is interested in. And he is a very selfish man. That is one way to look at him. Another way to look at him would be that he has discovered his calling, the reason why he was put on this Earth, and he has dedicated himself to this call of destiny with almost everything.
Living with such a person can be the definition of toxic. They just take, because they and their destinies or will or even just whim matter. Nobody else does. No matter how much you give them, feel for them, etc. None of it matters, what matters is that they walk towards their goal each day. Strickland reminded me a bit of the Queen’s Gambit Beth Harmon. Both are immensely talented at what they do. And people pity her more than they probably pity Strickland if they pity him at all. Probably because she was an orphan etc, her introduction seems to create a mirage that she isn’t a selfish, self-centered person. Somerset Maugham doesn’t rely on and doesn’t seem to need such cheek aw porn to create a character that he thinks is worth our dissection. He is willing to show his unhuman coldness, lack of empathy, and still asks to pay close attention to him, and we do.
The biggest question that this book made me ask myself was “What is the price that I’m willing to pay to accomplish my artistic ambition?” Could I do everything Strickland does, just relinquish, discard every single obligation I have to every single person I know and should care about? No. Not now, not even before when I went through a lot of difficult things when that would have been such an easy way out and saved me a lot of stress, nerves, and probably follicles. Maybe that means that I will never be a great artist like he is. But I’m fine with that. Total dedication does not always lead to total happiness or even basic content.
I listened to the Librivox version narrated by Termin Dyan. Great reader, dynamic, decent job of doing different accents and genders. You can find the Librivox version here.
If you want to read the book instead you can find it on this Project Gutenberg link.