Liza of Lambeth by W. Somerset Maugham – The Classics Club Spin

I have to admit that I failed completely at the The Classics Club spin this time around. I had The Moon and Sixpence at number 6 and I stuck at it for about 50 pages but it just wasn’t grabbing me and life is too short – so I gave it up and substituted Liza of Lambeth, a total cheat I know but I still wanted to take part in The Classics Club.

Anyway, Liza of Lambeth is W. Somerset Maugham’s first foray into authorship, well the first one published anyway. He was a medical student at the time and was able to use those experiences in the story.

The year is around the middle of Victoria’s reign and the setting is Lambeth, a working class area of London and it begins with the inhabitants of Vere Street enjoying themselves on a hot afternoon in August, with the children playing cricket and the women sitting at their doorsteps gossiping. It’s an area where a lot of the women are at various stages of pregnancy and the men are too handy with their fists, but that’s all seen as being normal.

Eliza is young and single, and living with her mother who apparently suffers from ill health, but in reality she’s an alcoholic. Liza is the life and soul of the street though, she loves clothes and dancing and is very popular, especially with Tom who is besotted with her, but Tom is too quiet and boring for Liza’s liking. She’s got her eyes on Jim who is twice her age and has just moved into the street with his wife and five children, soon to be six. It isn’t going to end well.

I really enjoyed this one although it was quite predictable, but after all it was his first book. It’s quite grim in parts, however I’ve no doubt that the setting is very authentic with domestic violence hard drinking and early deaths being more likely than not. Maugham must have seen plenty of evidence of both when he was working as a student doctor in a London hospital.

Did you take part in the Spin this time around?

5 thoughts on “Liza of Lambeth by W. Somerset Maugham – The Classics Club Spin

  1. Hi Katrina!
    Not a total cheat at all, to my mind. You moved forward with another, even earlier, early work of Maugham’s. That’s great, I think. Very interested to know he was a medical student–knew nothing of this about him! Intrigued by your review, very much.

    • Judith,
      It’s a good book from a social history point of view I think. He came from a well-off background but apparently he said of his time as a student “I was in contact with what I most wanted, life in the raw”. In maturity, he recalled the value of his experiences: “I saw how men died. I saw how they bore pain. I saw what hope looked like, fear and relief; I saw the dark lines that despair drew on a face.”
      According to Wiki. I think a lot of the ‘men’ were women though!

  2. The Classics Club is made for cheating – that’s why it’s fun! I’ve only read a little Maugham and mostly his colonial-set stories, so this sounds quite different. I’m intrigued! I’m also intrigued to know what it was that was putting you off The Moon and Sixpence?

    • FictionFan,
      I was bored witless by The Moon and Sixpence, it might just have been the wrong book at the wrong time, but I doubt it. It’s apparently loosely based on the life of Gauguin, obviously I didn’t get to the exotic bit!

  3. Pingback: Six in Six – 2023 | Pining for the West

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