WRITERS and artists will have a special latchkey to it, but I should advise a good many other people — people who value candid autobiography and smooth, sensitive prose — to seek solace in The Summing Up, by Somerset Maugham (Doubleday, Doran, $2.50). This is a particularly good book for a time of anxiety. It is a restful book, with a calm, clear, and delightful view of literature as it flows into life.
At the age of sixty-three, Mr. Maugham looks back over his versatile career as a novelist and playwright; he indicates, but without, self-pity, the loneliness of his boyhood; he mentions the special circumstances under which he began to write, tells of what, he learned of human nature as an interne at St. Thomas’s Hospital, tells of the physical and mental handicaps (‘I am,’ he says, ’a made writer. I have had small power of imagination’) which he learned to cope with, and of the books, the travel, and the individuals who helped — or hindered — him through ten years of apprenticeship. With the same keen power of observation he goes on to relate his service in the British Intelligence, his curious travels in search of source material and new characters, his battle against tuberculosis, and his unflagging invention of books and plays.
His evaluation of success is neither cynical nor pretentious. He sees his life as a kind of pattern, judges himself ironically and always honestly, and in summing up his philosophy he expresses the inward truths in an effortless and beautifully articulate English. All this without ever the necessity of taking you into his private life.
If the Pulitzer Prizes are any evidence. New England is still fertile ground for literature. I instance John Marquand, novelist, who lives in Newburyport; Paul H. Buck, historian, who teaches at Harvard; Odell Shepard, biographer, who teaches at Trinity. And Vermont is the scene of Thornton Wilder’s prize play. There’s life in the old girl yet.