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Today's quote:

Sunday, October 4, 2015

The Gentleman in the Parlour


The most fundamental delight which literature can offer has something to do with the perception or discovery of truth, not necessarily a profound or complex or earthshaking truth, but a particular truth of some order. This "epiphany" comes at the moment of recognition when the reader's experience is reflected back at him.

Which is what happened to me when I picked up W. Somerset Maugham's The Gentleman in the Parlour, a classic travel book of the Far East in the 1920s, and read,

"Though I have travelled much I am a bad traveller. The good traveller has the gift of surprise. He is perpetually interested by the differences he finds between what he knows at home and what he sees abroad. If he has a keen sense of the absured he finds constant matter for laughter in the fact that the people among whom he is do not wear the same clothes as he does, and he can never get over his astonishment that men may eat with chop-sticks instead of forks or write with a brush instead of with a pen. Since everything is strange to him he notices everything, and according to his humour can be amusing or instructive. But I take things for granted so quickly that I cease to see anything unusual in my new surroundings. It seems to me so obvious for a Burman to wear a coloured paso that only by a deliberate effort can I make the observation that he is not dresses as I am. It seems to me just as natural to ride in a rickshaw as in a car, and to sit on the floor as on a chair, so that I forget that I am doing something odd and out-of-the-way. I travel because I like to move from place to place, I enjoy the sense of freedom it gives me, it pleases me to be rid of ties, responsibilities, duties, I like the unknown; I meet odd people who amuse me for a moment and sometimes suggest a theme for a composition; I am often tired of myself and I have a notion that by travel I can add to my personality and so change myself a little. I do not bring back from a journey quite the same self that I took."
read another sample

Having lived and worked in Burma in the mid-70s, and having been a bad traveller who took too much too quickly for granted, it is only now, forty years later, that I relish my memories of this "Golden Land" of which Maugham wrote so evocatively in this charming little book.

"A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us", wrote Kafka. For me this book fits this description. And, being a book, when you have finished it, you can, if you wish, go back to the beginning, read it again, so as to try to understand your own life that little bit better.