Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Up at the Villa - Somerset Maugham

Vintage Classics: Up at the Villa
I had not read any other of Maugham's works before I decided to read Up at the Villa. I didn't even know what the story was really about. I had heard that it contained elements of crime and suspense but was not strictly a mystery novel.

The novella is gripping and, as it is an easy-read and quite short, I finished it quickly. It is definitely worth reading.

It follows a beautiful widow, Mary Panton, and her experiences staying in a sixteenth century villa in Florence. Mary's time of tranquil reflection and sight-seeing is brought to an end violently by a mistaken act of (com)passion. Suddenly, to avoid scandal, Mary is carrying out acts she thought she would never contemplate.

The main characters are:
  • Mary Panton ~ 30 year old widow recovering from her unhappy marriage
[Rowley to Mary] "You're a brown and gold girl, aren't you?" he said.
Her hair was of a dark rich gold, her large eyes deep brown, and her skin pale gold. It was her colouring which took away the coldness which her regular features may have given her face and gave her a warmth and a richness which were infinitely alluring.
"I think you're the most beautiful woman I've ever seen."
  • Sir Edgar Swift ~ Mary's admirer, friend of her father's, and important Indian Government Official
[Edgar] had had a distinguished career. He had been for five years Governor of the North West Provinces and during a period of great unrest had conducted himself with conspicuous ability. He had finished the term with the reputation of being the most capable man in India.
  • Rowley Flint ~ lovable rogue
It was true that Rowley was not much to look at... He had not a single feature that you would call good... He was in short a young man with a shocking reputation which he thoroughly deserved.
 ...he's not the sort of feller... that a decent woman ought to be asked to sit in the same room with.
  • The Princess San Ferdinando ~ an elderly American woman who had married a Roman Prince and had two grown-up children in the Italian army
She had little money, but a caustic tongue and a great good nature... she knew everybody she wished to know and everybody was pleased to know her.
  • Karl Richter ~ Austrian art student residing in Italy after he escaped from a concentration camp
His suit was shabby, his shoes patched and his shirt, open at the neck, frayed... By the light of the tall candles on the table his eyes were dark and cavernous. He had a strange head with... high cheek bones, hollow cheeks, a pallid skin and a look of strain which was somewhat moving. It occurred to Mary that in costume, dressed, say, like one of those young princes in a picture by Bronzino at the Uffizi, he would have been very nearly beautiful.
 My favourite lines include:

Rawley on risk

"My dear, I'd have done it for any pal. I'm not quite sure if I wouldn't have done it for a total stranger. You know, I like risk. I'm not really a law-abiding person and I got a great thrill out if it. Once at Monte Carlo I had a thousand pounds on the turn of a card, that was a thrill too; but nothing to this"
"Don't be afraid. The devil's a sportsman and he looks after his own."

Mary accepting reality
And now she realised that there was something particularly shocking [in what had been done]. She still didn't know what else could have been done to avoid a fearful scandal and Heaven only knew what difficulties with the police. But it was so fantastic that anything like that should happen to people like her that it didn't seem to belong in real life; it was the kind of thing that happened to one in a nightmare.

 Mary's lawyer on marriage
"But don't marry for love next time; it's a mistake; marry for position and companionship."

No comments:

Post a Comment