In The Moon and Sixpence, our objective narrator shares spotty information about the novel’s main character, Charles Strickland.
It it not that our narrator is an unreliable sort. He is at a disadvantage, only seeing Strickland briefly, in London and Paris and only hearing second-hand about Strickland’s travails in Marseille and Tahiti.
We, like the narrator, are limited to hearsay and previously published works about Strickland. Wait. No previously published works of Charles Strickland exist because Strickland is fictional. Ignore the footnotes. Those are fictional, too.
The Moon and Sixpence is loosely based on the post-Impressionist artist Paul Gauguin. And, oh boy, plenty of works exist about him. However, Maugham’s unassuming writing style can make one think Strickland is as real as paint.
Maugham’s writings weave in the real and imagined, the objective autobiographical and the Polynesian geographical. He’s known for this technique and it can seep very quickly into believability while reading his work.
Even Maugham admits, later in his life, that he’s not even sure what was real or fictional about his own life and own writings. Then, there’s the whole Villa Mauresque Syrie Wellcome business. But that’s another story. Back to Moon for further clarity or confusion.
Maugham admired Gaugin. Gaugin held back Van Gogh. Strickland could care less about Blanche. Ata’s pyrotechnics professed her love for Strickland. An auction parsed out Gaugin’s paintings after he overdosed or had a heart attack. No one is certain. And, okay, Van Gogh is not mentioned in the book, but we have all heard what happened to Van Gogh, once that adulation was severed. Neither Gaugin or Strickland cared for society’s “art of living.”
The back cover of my Penguin Classics edition says, “…inspired by the life of Paul Gauguin.” Gauguin loved to paint. And didn’t care about anything else, so he leaves a trail of broken relationships. La fin, c’est la vie and pass me the yellow paint, says Gauguin and Strickland. And that pretty much sums up the book.
However, this conclusion is way too easy. When asked what this story is about, our discussions this week will reveal something much deeper. Like Strickland, Gaugin and Maugham, we will reveal the story’s essence.
And now, for your viewing pleasure…
And only because we began discussing Paul Gaugin on Monday, Tuesday, in theaters across the US…