Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Mrs. Craddock by W. Somerset Maugham

I'm very pleased to have finally finished Mrs. Craddock.  I'm a big fan of W. Somerset Maugham, and a couple of years ago I bought this one on the recommendation of Amanda from Ramblings.  We're in the same real-life classics book group at the library and we both love Maugham.  Our group read The Painted Veil back in 2009 and I loved it, and we're also discussing Of Human Bondage in June -- I read it years ago and it was one of the first classics I read for pleasure, so I'm really looking forward to re-reading it.

But back to Mrs. Craddock.  This is one of Maugham's lesser-known works -- in fact, I'd never even heard of it until Amanda recommended it.  My library didn't even own a copy, hence the purchase.  I think that's a real shame because I thought it was excellent.  And short -- it's only 268 pages, including footnotes.  If you're looking for a good short classic, look no further.

Basically, Mrs. Craddock is the story of an unhappy marriage in the late Victorian period. Young Bertha Leys returns to England after the death of her father, with whom she lived abroad for many years.  She's living with her Aunt Polly at the family estate, Leys Court, and falls in love with an attractive young man from her childhood -- it's one of the tenant farmers, Edward Craddock.  Despite the class differences, she is determined to have him.  There's a bit of grumbling from the family doctor and some snide comments from the neighbors, but Edward is a good, solid young man, and there aren't many other prospects for headstrong young Bertha, who is madly in love.

What follows is the breakdown of their marriage, at least from Bertha's point of view.  I wouldn't say this book is defending the arguments about marrying outside one's class, but more about how hard it is to marry someone with whom one has essentially nothing in common.  After the initial sexual attraction begins to wear off, these two people really have nothing in common.  Edward is a good man, but he's not very educated, and not interested in books or music or travel or anything that Bertha likes.  He wants to be the country squire, which he does successfully.   Of course, now that they're married, everything belongs to him.  She tries to make the best of things but is faced with one heartbreak after another.

This sounds really sad, and parts of it are, but the writing in this book is just wonderful, so I hope I haven't discouraged anyone from reading this book.  And surprisingly, parts of this book are actually really funny -- Bertha's Aunt Polly has quite a sharp tongue and she is the queen of the one-liners.  I'd love to see her go head-to-head with the Dowager Countess of Grantham on Downton Abbey (also known as Maggie Smith).  In fact, Countess Violet would have been nearly the same age as Aunt Polly 30 years before, when the book begins, so there you are.  

Here's a couple of great lines from Aunt Polly.  Every time I read them, they sound just like Maggie Smith:

On marriage:  "Most people when they get married fancy they're doing quite an original thing.  It never occurs to them  that quite a number of persons have committed matrimony since Adam and Eve."

On class differences:  ". . . each set thinks itself quite as good as the set above it and has a profound contempt for the set below it.  In fact the only members of society who hold themselves in proper estimation are the servants.  I always think that the domestics of gentlemen's houses in South Kensington are several degrees less odious than their masters."

This book counts towards two challenges:  The Classics Challenge 2012 and the TBR Pile Challenge 2012.  I guess I could even count it towards the Victorian Challenge, since it was technically written in 1900 (though not published in 1902, so maybe that's dubious).  

23 comments:

  1. Did you know that today is the birthday of Charles Dickens? And can you tell me the source of the quote about chocolate?

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    1. I did know about Dickens! There's a great doodle on the Google home page today! And sadly, I don't know anything about the quote, but it's one of my favorites. I love Dickens AND chocolate so it seemed like a good fit.

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  2. I am so glad you liked this one! It remains one of my favorites by him, and was the first one I ever read. As I get older, I love it for different reasons. I used to find it very tragic, and now don't at all. The commentary on love and relationships is just brilliant.

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    1. I still think it's sad, but great. It's so insightful. And I had to get Liza of Lambeth via ILL, I want to reread all his works not. I'm really looking forward to Of Human Bondage. I hope I still love it!

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  3. I remember hearing about this book from Amanda, too, and it's been on my wish list ever since. My library doesn't own a copy either... may have to break down and order one.

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    1. I think Maugham is just wonderful. I may have to reread all his books, I read Cakes & Ale years ago, also The Moon and Sixpence. I don't remember anything about them but I'm sure I'd appreciate them much more now. I may have to buy all his books that I don't own!

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  4. It sounds like a really good book, but nonetheless I will probably not read it, at least not at the moment. It reminds me a little bit too much of my parents' marriage..

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    1. I can't say I blame you. There are some books that are just not the right book for a certain time. There are a LOT of unhappy marriages in Maugham, also Edith Wharton. This book reminded me a bit of Wharton in that respect.

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  5. Must read this! I'm a big fan of Maugham. Thanks for the post.

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    1. It was really good. Now I want to read all his short stories as well! Thanks for commenting.

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  6. I haven't read any Maugham in years. This one sounds very interesting, and the Penguin edition looks so elegant. I'm starting to find Penguins nearly as irresistable as Viragos.

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  7. It's a really nice Penguin. I also love the Vintage Internationals, they have some really nice Maugham reprints. I think I like them as much for the covers as for the stories.

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  8. Your description of this one, which I read a while back, reminds me of Madame Bovary. It's sad to read about these women who were so entirely defined by their marriages.

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    1. Yes, that's so true about the19th century, there's no way I'd ever have wanted to live back then!

      Also I think this book makes a real point about rushing into marriage with someone! This story was so ironic -- almost everyone was against the marriage at first, but they came to know Edward and liked him, so they accepted it, not realizing that Bertha was miserable.

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  9. I've only read one Maugham, Up at the Villa, and I thought it was brilliant. He's a very insightful and careful storyteller. I'd love to try this one - maybe it's because I've never been married, but I like to read about marriages, good and bad!

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    1. I love Up at the Villa! I started rereading it again this week, and now I also want to read Liza of Lambeth which was Maugham's first published novel.

      There's also a very good movie adaptation starring Kristin Scott Thomas and Sean Penn. It's hard to find now but worth seeking out.

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  10. I really love Maugham and have read a few of his books now. My favorite is The Painted Veil. I bought this one after deciding I had to read all his books, but I've not yet gotten around to it. His writing is exquisite, though!

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    1. The Painted Veil is one of my favorites! I also recommend the movie adaptation. Edward Norton's British accent is dreadful but other than that it's wonderful, especially the stunning scenery.

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  11. I have several Maughams on the tbr shelves, including this one so thanks for the review, Karen. I may get to it a little sooner! I like the comparison with Wharton, one of my favourite writers.

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    1. It was really good, I was a little sad that it was so short. But it inspired me to reread Up at the Villa, which is one of my favorites.

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  12. I wasn't crazy about THE PAINTED VEIL but that remains the only Maugham I've read, so I'm glad to hear about this one...and that's it's short since OF HUMAN BONDAGE is overwhelmingly long....

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    1. Well, I loved The Painted Veil, so Maugham might not be for you. OHB was the first Maugham I read and I was a little intimidated, but I loved it. It's not a difficult read. Most of Maugham's other works are really short, I guest that's his magnum opus.

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