FOOTNOTE: Why Was Somerset Maugham Driven to go to India?




the Wanderling

The question that comes up now is, if Maugham did in fact meet with Larry Darrell in Paris during 1931-1932, and because of those meetings DRIVEN to go meet the Maharshi himself like I outline as happening in Footnote [2], then WHY did he wait until 1938 to actually leave? After all, as has been presented in Footnote [1], The Saint, author and socialite Mercedes De Acosta read Paul Brunton's book A Search in Secret India in 1938 and is quoted as saying, "For days and nights after reading about him (Sri Ramana) I could not think of anything else. I became, as it were, possessed by him. I could not even talk of anything else." She took off for India to see the Maharshi almost immediately after reading it. Maugham was in the thick of it all in real life from 1932 onward and still didn't go. Why?

As usual, a number of things are in play here. For one thing, following the meetings in 1932 the story wasn't totally over with yet. At the very beginning of The Razor's Edge Maugham writes:

"This book consists of my recollections of a man with whom I was thrown into close contact only at long intervals, and I have little knowledge of what happened to him in between."

If you remember, the discussion at the Brasserie Graf took place one night in Paris in the autumn of 1932, lasting from around midnight until after seven in the morning. Toward the close of that discussion Darrell tells Maugham that he was not planning on going back to America until at least the next spring, that is, the spring of 1933. He had taken a cottage in Sanary and intended to stay there the winter.

Even though from 1932 to 1938 sounds as though it is six years, actually the last Maugham-Darrell meeting in Paris was in the autumn of 1932, only winter being left of the year. Maugham's trip to India was in January 1938, just at the beginning of the year, so in reality the time elapse was more like five years. Initially, parts of that period may have been considered by Maugham as being no more than just more intervals, intervals that Maugham had become used to dealing with when it came to Darrell. After all, between the time Darrell left Paris to work in the mines in the northern French town of Lens and met Kosti in November of 1921, and Darrell and Maugham met in Paris in 1931 TEN FULL YEARS had elasped since Darrell had been in France. In the novel Maugham writes it as though the ten years passed without the two of them seeing each other or having any contact. Which is true. However, in real life, although the two of them unbeknownst to each other may of had overlapping mutual friends such as Mercedes younger sister Rita De Acosta Lydig, who had died the year prior to Darrell's return, Maugham and the Darrell character had NOT met prior to their meeting in Paris in 1931 anyway. Maugham extrapolates from his discussion with Darrell and puts himself into the picture ahead of time so the story can unfold in a more timely manner. Also, the years that followed Darrell's out of nowhere emergence in Paris in 1931-1932 were busy years for the author. He had several books, short stories, and plays published. He also had traveled extensively in the West Indies in 1934, visiting in the process, the notorious French penal colony Devil's Island followed by a quick trip to the nearly as notorious old pirate haunt, Port Royal, Jamaica, that had been destroyed by an earthquake in 1692 --- with, on his trip, according to local history --- an overnighter in the great house at Bamboo Lodge, known to have been frequented by one of Maugham's heros, Admiral Lord Nelson.(see)


In April of 1933, according to the novel, Maugham was called in to identify the body of a woman found floating in the harbor at Toulon. It seems among her effects was something that led the police to believe Maugham either knew or was somehow connected with the deceased. They also found a photograph of Darrell pictured with the same woman. The police said the photograph appeared to be taken recently at a seaside resort in the north or west of France. After Maugham identified Darrell as the man in the picture and was someone he knew, the police wanted to talk with him as well. Since he was staying in Sanary at the time it was easy for him to get to Toulon.

In the novel the dead woman was called Sophie MacDonald. She is billed by Maugham as a lifelong friend of Darrell's and one of the first persons Maugham talked to at length the first time he met Darrell. As written in the novel she was 17 then, which would make her around age 31 when they found her nearly naked floating face down in the harbor. Although there were no murder suspects nor were any ever seemingly caught, according to the police Sophie was murdered.

It is doubtful Sophie existed in real life as Maugham writes of her in the novel. Peripherally, however, I think she did. Somehow Maugham and the Darrell character knew her, or at least of the woman found in the harbor --- and she very well could have been a childhood friend of Darrell's. After all he was fighting in Europe for the Canadians against the Germans when he was 17, and pilot or not, 17 is practically a child. She herself would have been only 15 or 16 and, although an American in the novel, could easily have been some "la poule de luxe," a woman of the night or "Sadie Thompson" type (Maugham loved Sadie Thompson types) he met while on leave in Paris during the war for all we know. The reason I suspect as much is because to the police she was a known prostitute. Maugham indicated a possible connection between her death and opium. He also writes her in the novel as a heavy drinker and drug user throughout most of her later years. As to her death, what it sounds like to me, although it is not stated as such in the novel, is that the Sophie character, whoever she was or wherever it happened --- and I think it quite well could have been along the southern coast of France near Toulon --- so that she could be had fun with at the level wanted by those so involved, she was purposely inundated into a stupor with an excessive amount of drugs, willing or otherwise --- to the point the drugs were so toxic she eventually overdosed. When those involved were done with her, a least as Maugham presents it to us in the novel, they slit her throat from ear to ear and tossed her into the bay.


This is how I think the Sophie MacDonald story unfolded in real life:

In The Razor's Edge, W. Somerset Maugham, presenting the car crash of Sophie and her husband writes something that goes like:

One night they were driving back to Chicago in a little open car of theirs, and they had the baby with them ... and a bunch of drunks in a great sedan driving at eighty miles an hour crashed into them head on. Bob [her husband] and the baby were killed outright, but Sophie only had a concussion and a rib or two broken. (Pg. 196)

Larry Darrell's best friend was an Irishman Maugham named Patsy in the novel. Darrell had gone to Canada, enlisted in the Canadian military at age sixteen and was flying through them for the British in France by 1917. His best friend, Patsy, taught him everything he needed to know and how to survive. In turn, in the end, it was Patsy that Larry saw die...after saving his life. Although the type plane both Larry and Patsy flew is never mentioned in the novel, it is known they were Sopwith Camels. Maugham had seen the war and the war's carnage at field level because, like Ernest Hemingway and other writers and authors of the time, he was a former volunteer ambulance driver, one of the so-called Literary Ambulance Drivers. The following is Maugham's description of what happened as he listens to one of Larry's lovers, the artist Suzanne Rouvier, tell the story that Larry told her:

"The day we were to go on leave (to Paris) we were sent up to fly over the enemy lines and bring back reports of what we saw. Suddenly we came bang up against some German planes, and before we knew where we were we were in the middle of a dogfight. One of them came after me, but I got in first. I took a look to see if he was going to crash and then out of the corner of my eye I saw another plane on my tail. I dived to get away from him, but he was on to me like a flash and I thought I was done for; then I saw Patsy come down on him like a streak of lightning and give him all he'd got. They'd had enough and sheered off and we made for home. My machine had got pretty well knocked about and I only just made it. Patsy got in before me. When I got out of my plane they'd just got him out of his. He was lying on the ground and they were waiting for the ambulance to come up. When he saw me he grinned.

"I got the blighter who was on your tail," he said.

"What's the matter, Patsy?" I asked.

"Oh, it's nothing. He winged me."

"He was looking deathly white. Suddenly a strange look came over his face. It had just come to him that he was dying, and the possibility of death had never so much as crossed his mind. Before they could stop him he sat up and gave a laugh."

"Well I'm jiggered," he said.

"He fell back dead. He was twenty-two. He was going to marry a girl in Ireland after the war.

I think Patsy's full name was actually something like Patrick (Patsy) MacDonald or Robert (Bob, Robby) MacDonald, or some other Mc or Mac sur name of Irish lineage or descent combined with a closely related given name. Rather than waiting until after the war to marry a girl in Ireland, Patsy married a girl he met in Paris --- Sophie. I think as well the car crash as described by Maugham that killed Sophie's husband was NOT a car crash at all, but the above mentioned incident wherein Patsy died following a dogfight with the Germans. It is my contention that Patsy's plane crashed on the airfield during landing --- the little open car of theirs that Maugham writes about was really Patsy's little open cockpit bi-plane, and a bunch of drunks in a great sedan were probably the german pilot and crew of an Allgemeine Elektricitats-Gesellschaft (A.E.G.) G.IV bomber or some other great sedan. The concussion and a rib or two broken were not incurred by Sophie in a car crash, but were part of the injuries Patsy substained.

Maugham writes Patsy was going to marry a girl in Ireland after the war. Actually he was going to take a girl, Sophie, BACK to Ireland, not to marry, but with the two of them already married --- a known prostitute in Paris, but NOT in Ireland --- after the war to start a new life.

I think the baby killed outright was not a human baby infant in reality, but Patsy and Sophie's future that was killed. So too, in that Larry and Patsy were the best of friends, such a scenario (i.e., a marriage between Patsy and Sophie) would also explain the photograph the police found showing Darrell and Sophie pictured together as well as what was found among her effects that led the police to Maugham in the first place.

Darrell had been gone for ten years, showing up in Paris in the spring of 1931. More than likely, as the widow of his best friend and the man that saved his life, he looked up Sophie right away. Maugham never made it clear in the novel why Sophie was in Paris, writing her as an American. However, it is my belief she was not American, but French. More than likely a former country girl separated from her family and driven into the city by the war at age 15 or 16. The mere fact she was known to the police as a prostitute pretty much clarifies the fact. There just were not very many American women plying their trade on the streets of Paris, especially so during the war when Patsy, who was NOT an American either, and Sophie first met.(see) When Darrell caught up with her in 1931, some thirteen years after the war and Patsy's death, she probably WAS a heavy drug user and drinker. With Darrell back in her life, just like in the novel, she went on the wagon until, again just like in the novel, Isabel interceded.

In the 1946 movie version of The Razor's Edge --- of which Maugham was called in to do the screenplay --- like in the novel, Sophie's husband and baby are killed in an automobile accident. However, in the movie but NOT the novel, Sophie is taken to a hospital operated by Catholic nuns. As part of the hospital scene, Sophie, who has just returned to consciousness, and who has just learned about the full extent of the tragedy, is confronted by a fresh-faced young nun who tells Sophie that everything is really all right because her dead husband and baby are in heaven with God. Instead of being comforted, however, Sophie flies into a rage, condemning the young nun as a completely unfeeling and vacuous woman; not a real woman at all, but some sort of shell and shabby facade. As a good novelist, although the scene appears in the 1946 Movie, Maugham knew better than to include such an implausible scene in the actual book.(source) However, it was still in the movie. In that Maugham worked on the screenplay, it could be he was somehow agonizing over how he presented the Sophie/husband crash in the novel and tried to recorrect it to be more important or real. What is being said is, if the car crash in the novel was really a plane crash similar to how I describe it, then Sophi could not have been involved. Inturn there would be no hospital scene involving her, and of course, in the book there is NO hospital scene. In the movie the hospital scene shows up. The reason is to underscore the car crash scene as being real within the context of the novel/movie when in reality, that is, in real life, the car crash never happened. However, the plane crash and the death of her husband did.

Now, taken together what does it all mean? Well, when I was in high school a girl I knew as a cousin, but who was actually the granddaughter of my godfather (see), started running around with what my grandmother used to call, "the wrong crowd." The girl was out of high school and several years older than me and somewhere along the way she graduated from a regular user of soft drugs to using hard stuff. She had not even reached age 22 when she overdosed on heroin and died. I remember her well, tall, blonde and as I recall, well built and, except for a somewhat pronounced overbite that seemed to run in her family, quite beautiful. She used to baby-sit me and, at one time or the other, both my older brother and I had crushes on her. Following the funeral, which was one of the first ones I ever remember going to, we had a gathering of friends at my grandmothers house. My Mentor, who lived next door, seeing all the people, came by to see what was going on. Offering his condolences to the deceased girl's mother I overheard him say how sorry he was for her loss and that he had, many years before, lost a very dear and longtime childhood friend under similar circumstances. The reason I remember his comments so well is I was practically stunned to find out he would have had a close friend who overdosed so many years before. Even in my cousin's day it was almost unheard of for someone to even be a user let alone O.D. in the kind of environment we lived in. If his childhood friend's throat was slit as well he didn't mention it, besides it surely wasn't the time and place to discuss such issues with the mother. It wasn't until I read the novel many years later that I put my mentor's comments together with the circumstances surrounding Sophie.

In regards to Sophie both Maugham and Darrell were highly impacted by it all. Each lamented how someone so young and beautiful, someone they both knew and watched grow from a young girl into adult womanhood, had her life taken away in such a vile and horrible fashion. For Darrell it took him back to the death of his best friend Patsy in the war, the major incident that sent him on his spritual quest in the first place. In a larger more philosophical way it also gnawed at Maugham that the killer or killers were never apprehended.

Following on the heels of the April, 1933, harbor incident in Toulon, almost taking the fable as his own and possibly swamped with the continuing idea of death, dying, and the inevitability of it all, Maugham made public in his works the ancient tale "The Appointment in Samarra" wherein the narrator is Death telling the following story:

"There was a merchant in Bagdad who sent his servant to market to buy provisions and in a little while the servant came back, white and trembling, and said, Master, just now when I was in the marketplace I was jostled by a woman in the crowd and when I turned I saw it was Death that jostled me. She looked at me and made a threatening gesture, now, lend me your horse, and I will ride away from this city and avoid my fate. I will go to Samarra and there Death will not find me. The merchant lent him his horse, and the servant mounted it, and he dug his spurs in its flanks and as fast as the horse could gallop he went. Then the merchant went down to the marketplace and he saw me standing in the crowd and he came to me and said, Why did you make a threating getsture to my servant when you saw him this morning? That was not a threatening gesture, I said, it was only a start of surprise. I was astonished to see him in Bagdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarra."

In A Writer's Notebook segment recalling an incident in a Worthing, England hotel in 1937, of which he either overheard or was a participant in four years after Sophie's death, and continuing to parallel his thoughts of the inevitability of it all, Maugham writes:

"Two men were sitting in the lounge of a hotel at Worthing and they were discussing a murder that the papers were full of. A man, sitting near them, listened to their conversation, and asked if he might join them. He sat down and ordered drinks. He told them what he thought of the murder they had been talking about. 'It's the motive you've got to go for,' he said. 'When once you've found the motive it's only a question of time before you find the murderer.' Then without warning, as though he were saying something quite ordinary, he said: 'I don't mind telling you that I committed a murder once.' He told them that he had done it just for fun and he described the thrill. Since there was no motive for it he knew he could never be discovered. 'Someone I'd never seen in my life,' he said. He finished his drink, got up, nodded to them and went out through the swinging doors. He left them flabbergasted."

From the contents of that conversation, sending his thoughts back to Sophie and Darrell, something clicked in Maugham --- OR, and this is mere speculation on my part as I have no proof other than the results, that the mysterious man in the hotel that stepped up to the table may have interjected in the conversation that the person he so indiscriminately murdered may have been a young woman in Toulon. Maugham was probably so shocked by the revelation he couldn't even respond and the man simply "finished his drink, got up, nodded to them and went out through the swinging doors." There is a good chance the man knew EXACTLY who Maugham was and the connection he had with Sophie and sadistically dangled the "I got away with it" scenario in front of his face only to disappear before Maugham was able to gather his senses.

To be sure, Maugham was no neophyte when it came to death. As mentioned previously, during the war he had been one of the so called Literary Ambulance Drivers of the day, and like Darrell had seen death and carnage on the field level. As senseless as war may have been, at least the soldiers seemed to have died for a bigger cause. Not so Sophie nor the death of the person, Sophie or not, spoken of in the hotel conversation. Darrell had gone back to America months before, leaving with no goodbyes or leaving any sort of a contact. Like Darrell earlier on his spritual quest, Maugham knew he needed some kind of a bigger answer to tie it all together. He thought of one person who might be able to resolve most of the questions for him, the only major person he had not yet met in the scheme of it all, the Maharshi. Before the year was out he started putting everything on the back burner and started making plans to go to the sub-continent. Right after the first of the year, in January 1938, he left for India. By February he had met the Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi.

In a not quite an addendum to all this, some people have suggested I have stretched the speculation a bit far regarding any sort of a connection between the the man in the hotel and the dead woman found floating in the harbor in Toulan. Possibly. However, there are several reasons that lead me to my conclusion. First, is the timing of it all. Sophie was found in 1933. The man in the hotel approached Maugham less than four years later, in 1937. Immediately after that encounter Maugham made arrangements to go to India, leaving early January of 1938. By February he had met with the Maharshi.

Secondly, notice how carefully Maugham's story is worded --- i.e., it is exceedingly gender-neutral. The man says, "I don't mind telling you that I committed a murder once." Then he goes on to say, "Someone I'd never seen in my life." Maugham doesn't record the man as saying, like Johnny Cash sings in Folsom Prison Blues, "I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die." A MAN, Johnny Cash brags about a MAN. According to how Maugham writes it, the conversationalist in the hotel calls the person he killed SOMEONE," but carefully, not a man. For some reason, how Maugham has chosen to word the situation just does not ring true for me. It is like he reworded it specifically so the story would still be true, only delivered in such a way that any references to a WOMAN were deleted.

Third, is how the man "left them flabbergasted." He finished his drink, got up, nodded, and went out through the swinging doors without any response from the group. Maugham was stunned into inaction with not much more than a dropped jaw because the person the man killed related to the dead woman found floating in the harbor in Toulan --- not any woman mind you, but a woman Maugham knew of personally --- while the rest of the group, not knowing of any connection with the Toulan incident, was however, equally as stunned and unable to respond because the person the man said he murdered was NOT a man, but a woman! I mean, staid British gentlemen sitting in the lounge of a Victorian hotel in Worthing talking over drinks and a man comes up and tells them he murdered a woman just for fun and the thrill of it all --- you probably could have heard gasps from around the room clear to France.

Finally, what caps my belief most convincingly that it was a WOMAN the man was talking about he murdered is because I am of the opinion the conversation he overheard between the men in the hotel lounge centered around the so-called Brighton Station Trunk murder --- one of the most infamous of unsolved murders in the West Sussex area. More than likely some new clue or another had surfaced and the story appeared in the local papers, dominating the topic of discussion like it always did.

On June 17th 1934, only three short years before the discussion in the hotel, at the Brighton Train Station, the stop before Worthing, an attendant noticed a foul odor emanating from a trunk that had been left on the platform. He notified railway police who opened the trunk. Inside was the headless, naked torso of a young woman. The next day a matching or similar trunk was discovered at Kings Cross Station in London. Railway police, upon opening that trunk, found the head and legs of the women who had been found at the Brighton Station. The whole country was up in arms and a massive nationwide operation was set into motion to try to identify the women and apprehend her murderer. Scotland Yard and the police appealed directly to the public for help using the press for the very first time. Lists of young women who had been reported missing were published along with a description of the dead woman and photographs of the trunks. Thousands of statements were taken and hundreds of letters received. All to no avail.

The dead woman to this day remains unidentified and her murderer, just like the murderer that killed the woman found floating in the harbor in Toulan --- and the reason I think the stranger stepped up to the table and taunted Maugham in the first place --- was never brought to justice.

Again, before the year was out and right on the heels of the 1937 conversation in the hotel in Worthing, with Larry out of the picture and having gone back to the states without even a goodbye, and with so many questions regarding Enlightenment and the Absolute still left unanswered, Maugham, as if being driven on a quest, started putting everything on the back burner and making plans to go to the only place that could provide those answers: India and the Maharshi.

In January 1938, on a well planned itinerary Maugham Travels in India. By February, using the plan he devised --- which basically followed Larry Darrell's path to the ashrama when he returned to India following two years of travel throughout Asia(see) --- Maugham had met the Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi.






Fundamentally, our experience as experienced is not different from the Zen master's. Where
we differ is that we place a fog, a particular kind of conceptual overlay onto that experience
and then make an emotional investment in that overlay, taking it to be "real" in and of itself.








(please click)

The following is found in ZEN ENLIGHTENMENT: The Path Unfolds, page two:

"In his novel Maugham pretty much focuses on 'Larry's' travels in Europe and India. However, in the spring of 1931 'Larry's' former fiancee' 'Isabel' mentions she knew the bank manager in Chicago that handled his account and he told her "...that every now and then he got a draft from some queer place. China, Burma, India." My mentor told me he had been to China, Japan, and the Philippines, even mentioning he had a son in the Philippines. Also, when I was at the house of the dowager I saw an intricately hand carved glass-covered wood coffee table he brought back from Japan that he gave her, that had been at one time, a lid to a trunk. It is my belief it was during his travels to Japan in his continuing search for the truth that the then twenty-three year-old met the thirty-eight year-old Yasutani Hakuun Roshi.

The page on Father Ensheim, the Benedictine monk Darrell met in Europe and who inturn, using the Hemis Manuscripts as a ploy, suggested Darrell go to India to find what he was seeking, goes into some depth as to Darrell's travels during the three year or so period he was in Asia before he showed up at the ashram of the Maharshi. There is a footnote on the bottom of the page titled The Missing Years of The Razor's Edge that explores even further how long Darrell actually went missing and his itinerary during those years.




Even though I write there were just not that many American women plying their trade on the streets of Paris, especially so during the war, it is not to say there were not any. By saying not many I'm speaking percentage wise. Matter of fact I personally know the existence of at least one and from the same source have heard of possibly two or three others, having actually met one of the women in real life. Her name: Fifie Malouf. Over the years Fifie Malouf has been reputed by many, including even a few of her own family members, as having been a "madam" and at one time running a house of ill repute, otherwise known as a brothel, in my old home town of Redondo Beach, California. To wit, the following as found in the source so linked below.

"According to a couple of the women that were associated with her and chit-chatting one afternoon between themselves at the Happy Hour Cafe with me sitting with them, Fifie became enamored with Paris and France when she visited the world's fair and had been chaffing at the bit to get back. When she divorced her second husband in 1913, as soon as she could she headed back to Europe and Paris. However, no sooner had she arrived in Europe and settled in than in 1914 World War I broke out and the whole of the continent went into disarray, and she ended up being trapped somehow with no immediate way out. Without getting into all of the details of how she survived or what she did during the war years in Europe they did say that at the end of the war in 1918 Fifie was smuggled along with a couple of other women onto a troopship that was returning G.I.s to the U.S. and by the time the ship arrived in New York she was rich."

In the overall grand scheme of things Fifie is actually connected back to the exact same time and place World War I milieu as my mentor, Patsy and Sophie, et al, even to the point of my mentor discussing in the main text above about a young woman he knew from his childhood who overdosed as a young woman in the exact same manner as Sophie.

During World War I Paris was crawling with French, British, Irish, Canadian, and American pilots. They lived fast and died fast as you may have learned by now from Patsy's experience. One of those pilots was Charles Nungesser, a member of the Lafayette Escadrille and France's number three flying ace with 45 confirmed kills. Fifie knew Nungesser and even had a framed photograph of him similar to if not the same as the one below in her establishment.