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On a Chinese Screen (1922)

af W. Somerset Maugham

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MedlemmerAnmeldelserPopularitetGennemsnitlig vurderingOmtaler
1835146,704 (3.66)19
Maugham spent the winter months of 1919-20 travelling 1500 miles up the Yangtze River. Always more interested in people than places, he gave full rein to a sensitive and philosophical nature. On a Chinese Screen is the refined accumulation of the countless scraps of paper on which he had taken notes. Within the narrow confines of their colonial milieu, missionaries, consuls, army officers and company managers are all gently ridiculed as they persist obliviously with the life they know.… (mere)
  1. 00
    The Problem of China af Bertrand Russell (Anonym bruger)
    Anonym bruger: Russell and Maugham make for a fascinating comparison. They saw China circa 1920 from different points of view. Russell is more objective and more concerned with political and social questions, while Maugham is more subjective and more concerned with individuals (mostly but not only Europeans). Both write extremely clear, readable and witty prose.… (mere)
  2. 01
    Regn og andre fortællinger fra Sydhavsøerne af W. Somerset Maugham (John_Vaughan)
  3. 01
    The Collected Short Stories of W. Somerset Maugham, Vol. 2 af W. Somerset Maugham (John_Vaughan)
  4. 01
    Knivens æg af W. Somerset Maugham (John_Vaughan)
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Viser 5 af 5
Fifty eight short stories - some of them just very short jottings and sketches, on a Chinese theme. Perhaps not as immediately arresting as some of Maugham's other 'Eastern' tales but still a satisfying reflection of a vanished era. ( )
  DramMan | Jun 10, 2022 |
Surprisingly, this thin volume took longer for me to read than anything else I have ever encountered by Maugham. (I found myself rereading the stories several times and imagining their extensions into bigger tales.) It is a collection of short sketches about Europeans living in China during Maugham's 1920 trip into China's interior. It includes officials, failed businessmen, and displaced seamen and adventurers. But mostly it describes missionaries adrift and isolated in a culture where their futures seem consigned to obscurity and personal failure of one sort or another.

Yet it is the setting of the stories that captures the reader's imagination, here. Usually, I have found that Maugham's exotic settings are little more than interchangeable backdrops, against which the inner drives, fears, and lusts of his protagonists are situated. But it is different in On a Chinese Screen. Here, the settings are active, seemingly with a life their own. The backdrop whips the subjects of Maugham's tales into actions that illustrate their misplaced lives and values in a vast Chinese landscape that swallows them whole. And, in the end, each little vignette contains the germ of a greater story waiting to be told.

Of course, one haunting thought continues throughout the book. As these Europeans work in China and plan on remaining there throughout their lives, they cannot imagine the ravages of war, both the Chinese civil war and the war against Japan, that would come in just a few years. Among all these missionaries Maugham describes and creates there would have been more than a few Eric Liddells who ended up dying in Japanese internment camps. Or others who found themselves the victims of Communist revenge against European colonialists. ( )
  PaulCornelius | Apr 12, 2020 |
It was pleasing to have purchased this book in Shanghai and to have read it with the images of Shanghai and Hangzhou fresh in my mind. Maugham captures a good deal of the Chinese culture and, from what I saw of The Bund in Shanghai, the Colonial era in full swing. The work consists of 58 portraits of individuals and their idiosyncrasies and various places. At times, it is difficult to tell whether Maugham is mocking, mimicking, or satirising the various ways in which an air of cultural superiority was practised by foreigners in China. Yet it is fascinating reading, particularly in the context of just having visited Shanghai and noting the extent of its Colonial history in the face of ancient culture. ( )
  madepercy | Nov 7, 2017 |
Maugham is good when he describes people and what they say; when he attempts things like his 'Arabesque' he falls over his pen. ( )
  soylentgreen23 | Jul 3, 2016 |
[Preface to On a Chinese Screen, Heinemann, The Collected Edition, 1935:]

This is not a book at all, but the material for a book. I travel because I like to travel. I like the sensation it gives you of freedom from all responsibility. Time never spreads out so spaciously before you as on a journey and, though perhaps you do little of what you had in mind to do, you have the feeling that you have leisure for everything. You have long empty hours that you can fritter away without the uneasy consciousness that time is flying and there is not a moment to waste. Though I think the traveller is a fool who does not secure for himself such comfort as is possible I can very well do without it. I like a good dinner, but I can enjoy the roughest and (what is worse) the most monotonous fare. In the South Seas I have eaten Hamburger steak day after day with unimpaired appetite (though I admit that when I returned to San Francisco and was offered one my stomach rose at the sight) and on an island in the Malay Archipelago I have eaten bananas for three meals a day because there was little else to eat. Nor have I ever looked upon bananas with longing since. I like to sleep night after night in a different place and I am not particular about my accommodation. I have slept very comfortably on a mat in a native house in Savaii and luxuriously in an open boat on a Chinese river. I have even enjoyed sleeping on sacks of copra in a launch and it would be hard to find anything more lumpy. But how exquisite were those starry nights! I like meeting people whom I shall never meet again. No one is boring whom you will see but once in your life. It is interesting to guess what sort of a person he is and to compare him with others of the same sort you have met before. For the most part people sort themselves into a small variety of types and you have the amusement of recognising the traits and idiosyncrasies that you expect. And just as you will sometimes see an effect of nature that you know from the pictures of a certain painter so you will run across persons you have read of in books. The Kipling character, for instance, is by no means uncommon in the East. I do not know if he is a descendant of the men and women that Mr. Rudyard Kipling described in the India of forty years ago, or if he has formed himself on diligent perusal of those good stories. It is comic to hear him use those well-worn phrase and to see him, as though it were natural to him, entertain that attitude towards the world which is now so out of date. Then there is the excitement now and then, very rarely of course, of coming upon someone who is different from any one you have ever known. You find him in unexpected places, on board of some coasting steamer, away in a walled town on the borders of Tibet or on a coconut plantation in the Aroe Islands. Solitude, an unusual life, have given him the opportunity to develop on his own lines without the hindrance of our Western civilisation which forces upon people, at least outwardly, (and alas! how greatly is the inner life influenced by the outer!) a common shape. This man may not be very intelligent. He may seem even a little crazy. He may be immoral, dishonest, coarse, vulgar and rude; but by heavens, he’s odd! He seems almost to belong to a different species. If you are interested in human nature your heart leaps.

I went to China in 1920. I did not keep a diary, for this is a thing I have never been able to do since I was ten, but I made notes of the people and places that excited my interest. I vaguely thought they would be useful for stories or a novel. They mounted up and it occurred to me that I might make them into a connected narrative of my journey. […] But when I got them into some sort of order it seemed to me that they had a freshness, for they were made when the impression was vivid, that they might lose if I elaborated them into such a narrative as I had intended. I thought it enough if I made them a little more succinct and if I tried as far as I could to remove the carelessness and slip-shod character of hasty writing. I hoped they would give the reader who cared to make some use of his imagination a truthful and perhaps lively picture of the China I had seen.

[Preface to The Travel Books, Heinemann, 1955:]

The reader will find in this volume, scattered among incidents of travel, some of the stories, perhaps a dozen in all, that he may already have read in the three volumes in which are included pretty well all the stories I have ever written. The books here contained were written many years ago. On a Chinese Screen was published in 1922, The Gentleman in the Parlour in 1930, and Don Fernando in 1935. They have lost the flavour of actuality, and I never supposed that they would be reprinted. When I came to sort out the material for a complete collection of my short stories, it occurred to me that in On a Chinese Screen and in The Gentleman in the Parlour there were narratives which with a little arrangement might suitably find a place in it. This is not to say that they were fictional. They were straightforward recitals (almost what the French call reportages) of the impressions made upon me by the people I came in contact with and the circumstances of their lives as they disclosed them to me. If, with the addition of a few lines of introduction, the pieces I had written could well pass for short stories, that is because at one period of my life almost everybody I met, almost everything that happened to me and every incident I witnessed or was told of, shaped itself into a short story. In On a Chinese Screen and The Gentleman in the Parlour I was not writing fiction, I was relating facts; indeed, far from embroidering on the facts to make them more effective, as the writer of fiction is justified in doing, I took pains to modify them when I thought they were too fantastic to be credible. Let me give an example: In one of the chapters in The Gentleman in the Parlour I tell of a trip I took in a coasting steamer in order to get from Bangkok in Siam to Kep in Cambogia. My fellow-passengers were the oddest, the most absurd lot of people I had ever come across. They might have been characters in an uproarious farce. They were very friendly – with the exception of an Italian tenor who sat by himself in the bows, and at night, accompanying himself on a guitar, sang at the top of his voice fragments from operas. I briefly described him, but omitted to mention that he was a murderer fleeing from justice and seeking a refuge from extradition, since I thought it so improbable that I could not expect the reader to believe it. The present volume would have lost much of what interest it may have if, because they have recently appeared in my collected short stories, I had left out these true narratives; for indeed they belong to it and complete its shape.
  WSMaugham | Jun 15, 2015 |
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Maugham spent the winter months of 1919-20 travelling 1500 miles up the Yangtze River. Always more interested in people than places, he gave full rein to a sensitive and philosophical nature. On a Chinese Screen is the refined accumulation of the countless scraps of paper on which he had taken notes. Within the narrow confines of their colonial milieu, missionaries, consuls, army officers and company managers are all gently ridiculed as they persist obliviously with the life they know.

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