"The man I am writing about is not famous. It may be that he never will be. It may be that when his life at last comes to an end he will leave no more trace of his sojourn on earth than a stone thrown into a river leaves on the surface of the water. But it may be that the way of life that he has chosen for himself and the peculiar strength and sweetness of his character may have an ever-growing influence over his fellow men so that, long after his death perhaps, it may be realized that there lived in this age a very remarkable creature."
W. Somerset Maugham, THE RAZOR'S EDGE
Many people have read the paperback Penguin Classic edition of the The Razor's Edge that in the preface mentions a man by the name of Guy Hague (sometimes spelled 'Hauge') that has been suggested as possibly being the model for Maugham's main character Larry Darrell. In the same paragraph as the above quote Maugham writes:
"I have invented nothing. To save embarrassment to people still living I have given to the persons who play a part in this story names of my own contriving, and I have in other ways taken pains to make sure that no one should recognize them."
Maugham then goes on to say:
"I think my book, within its acknowledged limitations, will be a useful source of information for my friend's biographers."
As a fairly high profile biographer of sorts of Maugham's "friend" as he calls the Darrell character in the above sentence, the question of Guy Hague being Larry Darrell has been brought up to me on many occasions. The question is asked of me sometimes for clarification, sometimes for accuracy, sometimes in seeking the truth, and sometimes in an effort to make the case that IF the model for Maugham's novel was Hague, or anybody else they can name for that matter, then the man in ZEN ENLIGHTENMENT: The Path Unfolds that I claim to be the actual real life role model for Darrell, could not be. However, any speculation that it was Hague that Maugham used as his model is incorrect. Nor was anybody else the factual Darrell in real life other than the person I outline below.
Now it is true Maugham was a writer, and as a writer he had a literary license to create, mix, match, invent or use whatever was at his disposal, and I would not be surprised if Hague-like concepts were interjected to make the novel and Darrell's character possibly somewhat more viable. As Maugham writes:
"I have done this for the same reasons as the historians have, to give liveliness and verisimilitude to scenes that would have been ineffective if they had been merely recounted."
However, again, Hague was NOT the role model for Darrell.
How can I be so sure? There are a number of things, but the most blaring IS the literary license --- or as Maugham calls it on the very first page of his book, the novelist's privilege. In that Maugham was writing a novel, he was able to make up just about anything he liked. He didn't. Matter of fact he stuck to a fairly interesting set of facts, facts that as an author, if he were just making up the story out of whole cloth, could have been written or rewritten in another way if he had so chose. Again, he didn't.
To start with, the story is about a young man, Larry Darrell, in search of spiritual awakening following World War I. The most critical factor in his quest was seeing his best friend die in front of his eyes. His best friend, like Darrell, was a pilot flying for the British against the Germans. In the novel Maugham has him say, speaking of his friend, "We were due for a spot of leave early in March, in 'eighteen," (1918) and, "The day before we were to go we were sent up over enemy lines..." When Darrell gets back following a dogfight he finds his friend laying on the ground waiting for an ambulance and "looking deathly white." In front of Darrell's eyes he dies. Darrell tells Maugham in the narrative of the story his friend was age twenty-two, that is, twenty-two in 1918. Earlier in the novel Maugham had written, speaking of Darrell's girlfriend Isabel in Chicago following the war, that "She's nineteen and he's (Darrell) only just twenty." Maugham states Darrell was flying at the time of the armistice, which he doesn't write, but is quite well known as being on November 11, 1918. Maugham, after writing earlier that he was "in Chicago in the autumn of 1919," speaking to Darrell about not wanting to go to college says "...after being in the war for two years..." which, when all the facts above are taken together (i.e., he's only just twenty following the war, being in the war two years, etc.), it comes out to Darrell being born in 1899.
So what? Well, it's very critical. Why? Because of the chronology of it all is very important. To have fought in World War I the Darrell character was just about at the lower limits of age that would allow him to particpate. After all his best friend was twenty-two, Darrell being nearly four years younger or so in 1918. Darrell's age plays NO part in the novel except that he had to be the right age to be in the war to see his best friend die, so inturn, he would go on his spiritual quest. He could have been twenty-two like his best friend, or even twenty-five, but he wasn't. Why? Because it was the actual age of the person Maugham used as his model --- the SAME person from here on out that I call "my mentor" or sometimes "the man next door," although it must be said, with the coming of my mentor into my life, in an incredible set of coincidences, it wasn't the first time World War I pilots had a significant impact on my growing up and childhood.(see)
My mentor was born in 1899. I remember the year specifically. He never gave me his actual birthdate, but he did tell me he was born in the fall of 1899. Again, as mentioned above, Maugham was in Chicago in the autumn (fall) of 1919, and he writes that Darrell is just twenty. The reason the year so impressed me was when he mentioned it I was a teenage boy growing up in the 1950s. I mean, born in the eighteen-hundreds...how old could a guy be?
It is no secret that that Maugham visited the ashrama of Sri Ramana Maharshi, the person he used as a model for the holy man in his novel, and met the Bhagavan sometime toward the end of the 1930s. It was also around that time period that Guy Hauge was there. In the article by feminine seductress Mercedes De Acosta "My Meeting With Ramana Maharshi" as well as her book "Here Lies the Heart" it is stated she was at the ashrama in 1938 for three days. She writes of meeting Hague during that time and that he "...originally came from Long Beach, California, had been honorably discharged from the American navy, and had been at the ashrama for a year." In the ashrama publication "Talks With Sri Ramana" #594 dated December 15, 1938, Hague is mentioned as "a temporary resident (at the ashrama) for the last two months," and that "he was an American mining engineer."
My mentor told me he had arrived in India a year after his to be teacher (the Maharshi) had been accosted by ruffians in his ashrama. That has been dated at June 26, 1924, which would make his arrival in India at least mid-1925. He traveled in "China, Burma, India" according to Maugham.(see) Darrell says, " Two years later I was in a place down south called Madura."(see) He also mentions he stayed at Madura for sometime "because it was the only temple in India a white man can walk about freely." I have him arriving at the ashrama in the fall of 1928. It was on his birthday two years later Maugham quotes Darrell as saying, "When I had been at the ashrama just two years I went up to my forest retreat for a reason that'll make you smile. I wanted to spend my birthday there." It was his thirty-first birthday and in the fall of the year 1930. De Acosta writes she visited the ashrama in 1938 and that Hague had been there for a year. "Talks With Sri Ramana" #594 dated December 15, 1938 relates that Hague had been a temporary resident for at least two months. In either case it puts Hague's arrival at the ashrama a minimum of six and possibly eight years AFTER not only Darrell's Awakening-experience, but his departure from India as well.
In the continuing theme that the chronology is wrong, Hague is said to have been variously "a mining engineer" or "an aeronautical engineer," as well as having "...been discharged from the American navy." Maugham has Darrell on record as saying, "...they all wanted me to go to college. I couldn't." Typically engineers require some sort of degree. The timing for Darrell to go to war and India, getting a degree and to have been in the American navy, especially after having been an aviator in World War I is all wrong.
The final problem is could have Maugham and Hague even met in India prior to the writing of the novel the first place? Again, "Talks With Sri Ramana" #594 dated December 15, 1938 mentions Hague was "a temporary resident for the last two months." De Acosta was there at the end of November, 1938, which makes Hague's stay at the ashrama having started sometime after late September, 1938. Maugham was in India only three months arriving by ship in January, 1938 and departing by ship March 31, 1938 (see WSM Travels In India link above). If such was the case then they missed even crossing paths with each other by nearly six months.
In so saying then, what is right? Well, there are a half a dozen or more major universities that have rather large Somerset Maugham Archives and research collections, including Stanford, Harvard, Columbia, and Cornell. Combined they have hundreds of volumes, manuscripts, originals, and handwritten notes, letters, and pieces of correspondence composed by Maugham and either submitted by himself or by the recipients or others. There are probably close to two dozen biographies available as well, some written by people that knew Maugham personally, some researched from the above mentioned university collections, and some from personal interviews with family and friends. Some biographies simply used each other as sources. In all that material nowhere has anyone come up with a specific "real person" said to be such by Maugham himself to "be" Larry Darrell. True, for most people researching and focusing on Maugham and his works, the Darrell character is minor at best amongst all that there is. However, for our purposes here the focus IS Larry Darrell.
There has been speculations on many of the characters in the novel, including for example, the Elliott Templeton character, who has been pinpointed quite accurately, as has the holy man, Shri Ganesha, who everybody knows is Sri Ramana. However the Larry Darrell character has remained elusive. As mentioned previously, Guy Hague among others, have been suggested many times.
In 1959 one of the first Maugham biographies showed up. Penned by a friend of Maugham's, Karl Pfeiffer, titled "W. SOMERSET MAUGHAM: A Candid Portrait," it was met with strong disapproval by Maugham, still alive at the time. Pfeiffer and Maugham met in 1923 and by 1946 Pfeiffer had tacit approval to write a biography. By 1954 Maugham had changed his mind and when Pfeiffer continued, their friendship soured.
If you go through the various Maugham biographies, and even semi-autobiographies such as Maugham's "A Writer's Notebook" many discrepancies show up and are often cited by each other as proof that "their" version is correct, hence the others are wrong. In that Pfeiffer's came first it has been true grist for the mill. To me it is neither here nor there. What matters is Darrell.
The germ of "The Razor's Edge" was a chance meeting at a dinner party in Chicago in 1919, just as Maugham states in his first chapter. Larry's prototype was a young man at the dinner party, and Maugham never saw him again. He remembered just one remark the young man made, to the effect that he didn't want to go into the family business and hoped instead to make something interesting of his life.
The above notwithstanding, what most people don't realize is that the basic theme of "The Razor's Edge" was at least the THIRD attempt by Maugham using basically the exact same plot. The first time occurred well before the aforementioned 1919 dinner party in Chicago cited above by Pieffer, showing up in his third novel "The Hero" published in 1901. It was followed by a play version retitled as "The Unknown" in 1920.
In 1924 Maugham wrote an unproduced and unpublished play titled The Road Uphill which is an almost exact duplicate of "The Razor's Edge," following the plot line nearly thought for thought, scene for scene. The play opens in Chicago in 1919 at the home of Mrs. Cornelius Sheridan. She has two sons, both of which have just returned from the war, of which both have unsettled war experiences. One son, Ford, is writing a play, the other, Joe, has done nothing. Mrs. Sheridan's brother, a dilettante visiting from Paris, lives for his clothes, Louis the XV apartment, and dogs. Ford stops writing and goes into the bond business with a multi-millionaire named Howard Green. Joe, unable to adjust, goes to Paris to paint. Two years later Joe's girlfriend shows up and tries to convince him "to settle down and do a man's work." He doesn't. She returns to the states and marries Howard Green. Joe comes back after several years and his ex-girlfriend and Green now have a child, although it is clear she still loves Joe. Howard is hit with financial ruin speculating with other people's money, etc., etc. It is fairly clear that Mrs. Sheridan's brother is Elliott Templeton, Howard Green is Gray Maturin (note the names are "colors" in both cases), the ex-girlfriend is Isabel.
Similar close patterns and character names, places, etc. show up in the aforementioned "The Hero" and "The Unknown." A short story "The Fall of Edward Barnard" (1921) predates "The Road Uphill" by a few years and doesn't allow for much character development because of its short length, but it too is basically "The Razor's Edge." Barnard, a young man rejects business, career, social life, and marriage is a prototype of Larry. His girlfriend is even named Isabel.
Interestingly enough, in "The Road Uphill," as mentioned above, the Templeton-like person is in Chicago visiting his sister in 1919 and is said to "live for his dogs." It should be noted Maugham was in Hollywood in the 1940-45 period working on the screenplay for the 1946 movie version of "The Razor's Edge" among other things. Although no mention of dogs is made in the book, in the movie version a black Standard Poodle, apparently belonging to Elliott Templeton is seen very briefly twice. The dog is first seen in Chicago while Elliott is visiting his sister Louisa and again at his house in Paris. Although the case could be made that both he and his sister own black Standard Poodles with short cropped tails, it seems clearer it is one dog and owned by Elliott. Maugham was paid for his work on the screenplay by being given an Impressionist painting. It should be noted his screenplay was NOT used, but he did keep the painting. The studio said Maugham's version had too much talking. Maugham, although generally satisfied with the final result, thought the movie had too much dancing.
So, now the question arises, how does all of this fit together? It's fairly simple. In the 1920's a woman living in South Pasadena named Carrie Mead Wyckoff became acquainted with a young monk sent to America by the Ramakrishna Paramahamsa Order of India. In 1929 he established what he called the Vedanta Society of Southern California in a house in the Hollywood hills given to the Order as a gift by Mrs. Wyckoff. By the 1940's the Society had attracted a number of noted writers and intellectuals that had been showing up in the general Hollywood area about that time. It was in 1940 as well that Maugham sought refuge as the Nazi military machine plunged through Europe, forcing him to flee his villa in the south of France aboard one of two coal barges on what turned out to be a horrific twenty-day voyage to England crammed together with 500 other British refugees. He ended up in the United States for the duration, first settling in South Carolina at a former plantation called Parker's Ferry owned by his publisher Nelson Doubleday. There he started, or continued work on, The Razor's Edge. Doubleday had refurbished a somewhat secluded place called Bonny Hall along the banks of the Combahee River so Maugham could write undisturbed. Shortly after that he moved into the Hollywood milieu to work on the screenplay for the novel.
It has been stated many times by many people that it was Paul Brunton and his book A Search in Secret India (1934) that inspired Maugham to visit Sri Ramana in India and write The Razor's Edge. I don't think so. It is my contention that, just as presented in the novel, sometime between the time my Mentor left India, BUT prior to his departure from Europe for the United States, he and Maugham somehow crossed paths, formally or informally, albeit for the first time, instilling in Maugham the need or desire to meet with the Maharshi.
Cafe Du' Dome, Paris, circa 1929. The man just left of the waiter is thought to be Maugham.
Their first encounter probably unfolded very similar to how Maugham describes it in the novel when he meets Darrell in Paris following the spiritual traveler's Awakening experience in India. His Enlightenment transpired on his birthday during the fall of 1930 and the Paris meeting some six months later, in the spring of 1931. The novel has Darrell being in Paris about a month when he and Maugham meet inadvertently at a sidewalk cafe, which in real life is most likely a fairly close portrayal of actual events. Maugham had been there only half the amount of that time himself, having arrived in Paris barely two weeks before. He was sitting outdoors one evening in the front row of the Cafe Du' Dome having a drink when a man walking by stopped at his table displaying, as Maugham notes, "a grin with a set of very white teeth." He wore no hat, had unkempt, uncut hair, his face was concealed by a thick brown beard. He wore a frayed shirt, threadbare coat with holes in the elbows and shabby grey slacks. His forehead and neck was deeply tanned. Following a short salutation Maugham writes that to the best of his belief he had never seen the man before and, in the course of the rather brief interlude, even goes so far as to quote himself as saying, "I've never set eyes on you in my life." In the novel, of course, Maugham quickly reneges on his assumption, as the man turns out to be Darrell.* In real life, such was not the case --- that is, unlike as portrayed by Maugham in the novel, they had NOT met before. This was their FIRST encounter.
At the moment here, the unknown is, if the above events are layed out as I have suggested, how in such a simple interaction did this destitute vagabond sort of a fellow in a "threadbare coat with holes in the elbows" and the well dressed sophisticated playwright and author strike up a conversation at a sidewalk cafe that eventually led to further talks AND a best selling novel --- especially if, as Maugham says and I contend, he had never set eyes on him before in his life?
The connection is multifold. Later on I write that sometime in the early-mid 1940s my mentor had a vague association of sorts with the Pasadena Playhouse. He also told me in passing, although not claiming to be any sort of an actor, that at one time he had been in at least one play. He said he had a role as a spearbearer and even had a single speaking line that went something like "Caesar waits without, sire." I think my mentor had an interest in plays and the theater and may have even traveled somewhat in those circles, where a playwright of Maugham's stature would be, if not revered, at least known.
I know that sometime after my mentor left Europe and arrived in the United States he remained on the east coast for a while. During that period he met with a man he knew by the name of Frederick Mathias Alexander, an actor who began his career as a Shakespearean recitalist and orator. If you recall in ZEN ENLIGHTENMENT: The Path Unfolds, talking about the first time I ever spoke with my mentor --- and well before I ever heard of Alexander or any sort of a connection between he and my mentor, I wrote:
"One morning I parked my car in the driveway in order to work on the wood for the umpteenth trillionth time when I noticed the man next door had stopped to look at the wagon. In a mellow, almost Shakespearean voice he told me how beautiful he thought the wood was and how he admired my endeavors to keep it so."
Alexander had developed a semi deep-meditation technique that some people said paralleled in a sense, albeit a strongly western version of, Zazen, of which my mentor had, along with Zazen's counterpart, Shikantaza, an extreme interest in. Interestingly enough, my Uncle --- who was highly prominent in my own life prior to meeting my mentor --- had also, at one time, met Alexander, the only known connection between my uncle and my mentor except for possibly the artist and onetime wartime medical orderly William Rothenstein and one Robert Adams, mentioned to me by both at one time or the other briefly in passing for reasons I am unable to recall at the moment.
I think it is probable my mentor recognized Maugham for who he was, a playwright and author of some renown, stepped up to his table, and was politely rebuffed, not only because Maugham did not know him, but also in a big part it would seem, because of his scruffy appearance. Two other additional contributions happen as well. First, in the novel, a few days later Darrell shows up after flying to London for new clothes from Maugham's own tailor, and is all clean shaven and well dressed. I think my mentor did the same thing, then he and Maugham either crossed paths again in Paris and/or he re-presented himself, which, seeing the once desheveled young man now all cleaned up, is exactly the type thing that would intrigue Maugham, especially so if he was all suited up in clothes from Maugham's own tailor.(see)
Secondly, Maugham goes on and on intermitantly over several pages about the man's eyes, how his eyes came from the black of the iris being as black as that of the pupil which gave them at once intensity and opaqueness. Continuing with how they seem to express something within, saying for example how "his eyes fixed on my face in a meditative unblinking gaze," and "he was listening to me not with his ears, but with some inner more sensitive organ of hearing." Maugham also states that whatever it was about the man it was "not very comfortable," a sort of unknown that Maugham just didn't have the full fund of understanding to grasp during those early stages. Later he writes, "I felt that there was something within him, I don't know whether to call it awareness or a sensibility or a force, that remained strangely aloof." Now true, although it is presented to the reader as though Maugham has no knowledge of the Maharshi, it was really written by him after the fact, that is, after Maugham had gone to India and met the Maharshi --- but, I think before the fact, the 1931 meeting we are talking about here in Paris, the man's eyes DID play a big role. A role big enough that a much longer second encounter ensued, because, after all, if you remember, my mentor, six months fresh from India, paralleling Darrell's experiences as Maugham writes them, is now Enlightened. Even after the man goes to London, cleans himself up, and re-presents himself in expensive clothes, Maugham was still able to recognize him. I think it was because of his eyes. Maugham senses some kind of something, but is unable to quite put his finger on it. The experience impacted him so strongly however, it became a must write for the reader.
The eye contact may not seem like much to the casual observer and is never brought up or thought of as being any sort of an important event by most readers and reviewers, however I consider it a major tangent point because of my own personal experience.* Twenty- five years later, in ZEN ENLIGHTENMENT: The Path Unfolds in regards to our own first encounter I write: "When we made eye contact for the first time I was set aback, almost stunned, by the overwhelming calmness and serenity that seemed to abide in his presence." I think Maugham was equally as stunned. Following those minor early and possibly awkward initial contacts, there grew a more indepth interest. Maugham's highly honed wiles as an author and writer were enough that the man was willing to talk and Maugham was willing to listen. By the time the meeting at the Brasserie Graf described below ensued, Maugham was driven to go to India, meet the Maharshi himself, and eventually write The Razor's Edge.(see)
We know from the novel, as cited above, that Darrell returned from India, showing up in Paris in the spring of 1931. However there are no clear dates saying specifically when Darrell, thus then, that is, my Mentor, left Europe for the U.S. Nor is there anything in the novel indicating how long he was on the continent following his sojourn to India, but it could have been as late as 1936, maybe even 1938. However, we do know that Darrell had his Enlightnement experience in the fall of 1930 and sometime thereafter, after some travels in India where he paid homage to Swami Ramdas and met Shunyata, and possibly even traveling with Shunyata, left for Europe, eventually showing up in Paris six months later. Maugham writes that a full year and a half after their initial meeting at the Dome, in the Autumn of 1932, he and Darrell met for "eggs and bacon" during the early morning hours at the Brasserie Graf in Paris, a date you will notice that precedes the publication of Brunton's book by nearly two years.(see) During conversation Darrell lays out his whole India itinerary, including meeting his holy man and his Awakening experience. I think a similar conversation actually took place. When and where, if it was actually in Paris or not, or even in 1932 or not, is not known. The possibility even exists that it may have not been just one specific meeting, but perhaps a series of impromtu and/or scheduled meetings over a period of months. In the novel Darrell does mention to Maugham at the aforementioned 1932 meeting that he was not going back to America until the following spring, which would be the spring of 1933, saying he had a cottage in Sanary and was going to spend the winter there. However, after mulling over the bits and pieces of the conversation, for me at least, it doesn't seem that in reality a whole lot of time elapsed between the meeting at the Brasserie Graf (or wherever) and the time Maugham left for India, where he sought out and personally met with the Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi --- fainting, by the way, in the process the first time he saw him. Maugham's meeting with the Maharshi has been dated as February, 1938, which entertains the possibility of a much later departure from Europe for the Darrell character than the spring of 1933. In Travels In India it is cited that Maugham went to Bombay during his trip to visit with two disciples of Sadguru Siddharameshwar Maharaj. One of the disciples, Sri Ranjit Maharaj, he heard knew of a connection "that existed between Siddharameshwar and the person Maugham was to write about in his novel The Razor's Edge," a connection known as Vihangam Marg (the birds' way). Although the information on Sri Ranjit and "the birds' way" could have been passed on to him by someone at the Ramana ashrama, it seems most likely Maugham had knowledge of both prior to his departure for India. If such was the case, although it doesn't substantiate Darrell's departure time for America, it does substantiate the meeting between Darrell and Maugham, or a similar one or ones as mentioned above, at the Brasserie Graf, the Dome, or elsewhere in Paris, prior to Maugham's departure for India.(see)
When I first started trying to make sense of the Maugham-Darrell puzzle with the facts I had, I thought the two of them had actually met during the war. Although nowhere in the book is his knowledge of wartime ambulance drivers used, Maugham, like many authors and writers of the time, had been a volunteer ambulance driver in France during the war, one of the so-called Literary Ambulance Drivers of the day. In The Razor's Edge Maugham outlines the death of Darrell's best friend Patsy in "eighteen" and has Darrell say, "He was lying on the ground and they were waiting for the ambulance to come up." Thinking the ambulance driver might have been Maugham in real life proved not to be so. Research revealed the U.S. Army took over the volunteer ambulance corps in August, 1917. Patsy was killed in 1918. Up to the time of the army takeover the volunteers had been treated like officers. Under the army's umbrella they would be no more than privates, so everybody left, including Maugham. An interesting sidelight to all of this, of course, is that Maugham had the personal experience of being an ambulance driver himself and COULD have drawn on that experience to make the Darrell character an ambulance driver, a la the way Hemingway did with his character Frederic Henry in A Farwell to Arms. But he didn't. Instead, just like the person in real life, he wrote about a young American pilot.
There is a possible interesting twist to this Literary Ambulance thing, although based on pure speculation or an inner gut feeling rather than fact. In Razor's Edge Notes as well as found in the novel, it is stated that Darrell was wounded twice. The nature of those wounds are not discussed, nor did my mentor ever mention any such wounds. However I came across him meditating nearly nude in the living room of his house one afternoon and I noticed his left front chest shoulder area was covered by scar tissue as large as a man's hand that looked as though it had healed from a burn. Since the dates or timing of those wounds are not part of the story, it could be that the Darrell character, in the process of one or the other or both wounds was picked up by Maugham PRIOR to his departure from the ambulance service. Now Maugham might not have remembered Darrell, but from my own experience, Darrell might have remembered him. Any army medic, or Maugham as an ambulance driver, could have assisted hundreds of wounded, and in turn, most of those wounded would eventually become not much more than just a blur to him. The opposite would happen to the person wounded. I say so because of my own experience being found in a ditch unconscious with my stomach ripped open. The very second I saw the staff sergeant that found me for the first time after recovering from the incident, even though I knew I didn't "know" him, I "recognized" him instantly.(see) * Not to discard or play down my thesis above about the theater contributing to the meeting along the sidewalk in Paris, such a scenario surrounding the wounds, albeit unproven, may have played a role --- and could have been an initiating co-factor for the Darrell character to step up to Maugham in the first place. When I asked my mentor about his shoulder one day, he simply replied, "Jousting with dragons." Later, after meeting the virtually unknown and somewhat obscure American Zen master Alfred Pulyan, I would figure out my mentor meant pulling the giant hydrogen filled airships called Zeppelins out of the sky in air to air combat.
In early-mid 1941, Maugham arrived in Hollywood working on The Razor's Edge, the movie script for the novel, and various war-related propaganda efforts for England. He found Hollywood an "intellectual wasteland" and was "bored to tears." Soon he found himself seeking out the writers in the Vedanta movement, some of whom he knew personally, and one of which he approached to translate the Katha Upanishad where the title The Razor's Edge came from. Around the same time my "to-be-mentor" showed up from the east coast attracted to the possibilities of what he heard was unfolding on on the west coast. What he found he wasn't too impressed with. He had experienced Awakening years before under the grace of Maharshi Ramana and when he came west for what he thought would be a spiritual atmosphere similar to Ramana's offerings he was highly disappointed. He knew Ramakrishna had initially been a devotee to Kali-ma, but attained Enlightenment under the auspices of the mysterious wandering monk Totapuri, so the followers of Ramakrishna should have been familar with Enlightenment. They talked the Absolute, Awakening, and Enlightenment, but that was about it, talk. They were so wrapped up in themselves that, like the wandering ascetic, Upaka, on the road to Benares that met the Buddha during his post Enlightenment pause and didn't realize he was Awakened --- they didn't or wouldn't know Enlightenment when or if they saw it --- continually going on and on about Samadhi and not much else.
The dowager (see page two) lived in Sierra Madre, a community adjacent to Pasadena and South Pasadena where Mrs. Wyckoff lived. As a patron of the arts the dowager traveled in the same general circles, bringing my Mentor into those same circles. Mixed into the milieu comes Maugham. Maugham, being familiar with but not as swept up in mysticism as the other writers, crosses paths a second time with my-to-be-mentor within the milieu, and immediately becomes aware of something "different," something he sensed in Paris, but couldn't put his finger on. That difference being something ungraspable, but close to or akin to the same serenity, aura, influence, or presence he had exprienced or felt, and caused him to faint, under the presence of the Maharshi. Apparently, even though Maugham listened intently to Darrell's story in Paris initially, perhaps because he was a westerner and everything being so out of context and all, Maugham was not fully able to grasp what Darrell was saying about his Enlightenment experience until AFTER he himself actually came within the presence of the Maharshi.
It should be noted the possibility exists that my Mentor and Maugham MAY have met at Bonny Hall in South Carolina under Maugham's invitation following the Paris meeting and after Maugham's trip to India. I have heard rumors of such a meeting and it may be so, however, the events following Maugham visiting the Maharshi THEN meeting my Mentor again stateside still stand rather it unfolded in South Carolina, California, or both. In conversation it is brought up that they BOTH have met Ramana NOW, and, coupled with his experience with the Maharshi and what he knew about my Mentor's World War I experiences, Maugham instantly has the KEY he needed to make his "three time tried template" work. The missing key: my Mentor. Like Karma the exact same theme Maugham had been trying to make work since 1901 fit my Mentor like a glove and the result was Maugham's novel "The Razor's Edge."
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THE ROAD UPHILL
THE RAZOR'S EDGE: TRUE OR FALSE?
THE AWAKENING EXPERIENCE IN THE MODERN ERA
ON THE RAZOR'S
It should be brought to the attention of the reader that the meeting of my mentor was not the first time I came to know of World War I pilots that in one way or the other became important to me. In an incredible set of coincidences two of my primary childhood heroes, taken from the pages of comic books and serials and albeit fiction, Captain Midnight and Buck Rogers are both written by their creator-authors as having been pilots in World War One and from there gone off to great and daring feats and grand adventures. Captain Midnight Code-O-Graphs and Buck Rogers' U-235 Atomic Pistol, collected and saved from my childhood played significant roles in life long before ever meeting my mentor, and even after.
For example, a Captain Midnight Code-O-Graph played an ever larger continuing role throughout my life, from childhood right on into adulthood, especially so after my brother inadvertently sent the one I owned as a kid to me while I was in the Army. See:
THE CODE MAKER, THE ZEN MAKER
SHANGRI-LA, SHAMBHALA, GYANGANJ, BUDDHISM AND ZEN
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-oldYasutani Hakuun Roshi.
The page on Father Ensheim, the Benedictine monk Darrell met in Europe and who inturn, 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.
I never met Somerset Maugham in person nor did I ever talk or communicate with him regarding The Razor's Edge. However, over time I have met and known many people either peripheral to or central to the story and the story behind the story. In discussions regarding some of the issues, the spring of 1931 meeting between Maugham and Isabel and how it relates to Darrell has come up.
Like shuffling a deck of cards and out of the random shuffled cards getting the winning hand, so too if you shuffle what Maugham writes, what I write and what was brought up in the discussions, a plausible explanation, of which I am willing to embrace, emerges.
Again, Isabel was Templeton's neice. By the spring of 1931 she had been in Paris for sometime. During that 1931 spring Darrell showed up in Paris and had been in Paris about a month when he met up with Maugham, who had been in Paris the latter half of that time, or about two weeks. In the book Darrell inadvertently runs into Maugham at the Cafe Du' Dome and at the time of that meeting Darrell does not know Isabel is in Paris. How it really happened, according to my aforementioned discussions, is that in real life Darrell DID meet up with Isabel during the early part of that one month period he was in Paris, having done so prior to Maugham's arrival. Maugham writes Darrell as not knowing Isabel is in Paris, but actually he did as he went to see her almost immediately. Isabel was aghast at what she saw during their encounter, completely overiding any saintly persona Darrell may have projected following his Enlightenment. All she sees is her former fiancee' going from a dashing clean cut young man in a officers uniform with a chest full of shiny medals to some guy with unkempt, uncut hair, with a wind-burned dark face concealed by a thick brown beard. Instead of a dashing uniform, he shows up at her door in a frayed shirt, threadbare coat with holes in the elbows and shabby slacks. A few weeks later Maugham arrives in Paris and visits Templeton. There he meets Isabel who, in the course of conversation, tells Maugham about her fiancee' and how he had disintegrated from how she remembered him to becoming nothing but a bum after being in China, Burma, and India for ten years. Maugham, intrigued, has Isabel, Templeton, or both arrange a meeting, the same meeting that comes off at Cafe Du' Dome. So said, if thus done in such a manner, the meeting would not have happened as inadvertently as I have suggested or how it comes across in the book, but actually prearranged, possibly even done covertly by Maugham in collusion with Templeton and Isabel, leaving Darrell not knowing it was a set up.
As mentioned above, in The Razor's Edge Notes as well as found in the novel, it is stated that my mentor, that is, Larry Darrell, was wounded twice. The nature of those wounds are not discussed in Maugham's book, nor did my mentor ever mention any such wounds. Like I say I did come across him meditating in the living room of his house one afternoon and noticed that his left front chest shoulder area was covered by scar tissue as large as a man's hand that looked as though it had healed from a burn. When I inquired about the scar he simply replied, "Jousting with dragons." Later I figured out, in that he had been a pilot in World War I, he meant doing battle with the giant hydrogen filled German airships called Zeppelins.
When Britain declared war on Germany at the start of World War I, Maugham joined a Red Cross unit in France and served as an ambulance driver, becoming one of what later became to be known as the Literary Ambulance Drivers. In August of 1917 the U. S. Army absorbed the ambulance units. Up to that time the volunteers had been treated like officers. Under the army's umbrella they would be no more than privates, so a good portion of volunteers either left or transfered out, including Maugham.
I have speculated previously in the above main text that, in the process of one or the other or both wounds, my mentor could have possibly been picked up by Maugham PRIOR to Maugham's departure from the ambulance service. I write that Maugham might not have remembered him, but my mentor most likely would have "remembered" Maugham --- at least enough to recognize him on sight. Any army medic, or Maugham as an ambulance driver, could have, in the process of their duties, assisted hundreds if not thousands of wounded, and in turn, most of those wounded would eventually become not much more than just a blur. The opposite would happen to the person wounded, as found in the above:
"I say so because of my own experience being found in a ditch unconscious with my stomach ripped open. The very second I saw the staff sergeant that found me for the first time after recovering from the incident, even though I knew I didn't 'know' him, I 'recognized' him instantly."
When the gist of the above paragraph was discussed in conversation between my mentor and me one day, neither Maugham nor The Razor's Edge came up. However, without elaborating the extent of his wounds or how bad he was hurt he did mention a medical orderly in his recovery he remembered quite well, a man by the name of William Rothenstein. Rothenstein was an official war artist for the British Government War Propaganda Bureau. He was in the Somme in France covering a good part of the British Expeditionary Force's bloody eight-and-a-half month battle to make it over the 19 kilometers (12 miles) between the French town of Albert and it's objective Bapaume. He then moved to the British Fifth Army during the German Spring Offensive of 1918. It was during the Spring Offensive he was recruited as an unofficial medical orderly, and most likely when he and my mentor crossed paths.
In the main text I have also presented:
"Interestingly enough, my uncle --- who was highly prominent in my own life prior to meeting my mentor --- had also, at one time, met Alexander, the only known connection between my uncle and my mentor except for possibly the artist and onetime wartime medical orderly William Rothenstein and one Robert Adams, mentioned to me by both at one time or the other briefly in passing for reasons I am unable to recall at the moment."
Although my Uncle and I first met when I was a toddler, I really don't recall a whole lot about him until he came to help my grandmother oversee me after my mother died. Even then it was mostly after my father remarried several years later and my Stepmother asked him, because I was showing a fairly high level of artistic ability at the time for a young boy, to come oversee me that I remember him the most. So, him being in my life started off sort of intermittently at first, turning into more full time when I was around eight years old or so and continuing on and off up through the end of the summer just before the start of my freshman year of high school. It was two years later, the summer between my sophmore year and junior year of high school that I met my mentor. The male adult figure that fulfilled a father role for me the most during the years between my uncle and my mentor was the person I call My Merchant Marine Friend. It was through his auspices that I met Guy Hague.
In 1927, nine years after the war and many years before I was born, William Rothenstein, the medical orderly my mentor recalled, showed up in the United States for a short period teaching art history for a semester or two at the University of Pittsburgh. A few years before that time my uncle had met the artist John Sloan and had started following him back and forth to Santa Fe, New Mexico before finally deciding to stay permanently. My uncle had attended Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh studying art on the studio side of things and somewhere along the line he heard about Rothenstein, an accomplished portrait artist teaching art history at the University of Pittsburgh --- two areas my uncle felt he was weak in. Liking the idea of a studio artist teaching art history my uncle began sitting in or auditing Rothenstein's classes whenever the chance arose. During that period he heard about Rothenstein's friendship with Rabindranath Tagore and that he knew Albert Einstein.
DEATH HAD A FACE
There is a cavate to all of this Brunton stuff --- that is, all the discussion about when this happened or that happened relative to Brunton's book being published in 1934 and/or Maugham knowing about it or not.
In 1911 an Englishman by the name of Frank H. Humphreys visited Ramana while he was still living in the caves on the holy hill, Arunachala. In so doing, Humphreys became the Maharshi's first western disciple.
When Humphreys returned to his native England he came into contact with the editor or the International Psychic Gazette, Felicia Scatcherd, telling her of his experiences with Ramana. Inturn, in three issues of the Gazette, May, June, and July 1913, she printed Humphreys impressions describing Ramana and his instructions. In 1925 the articles from the three issues were compiled into a limited run, limited release booklet. In 1931 the articles found their way into two chapters of Ramana's early biography by B.V. Narasimha Swami, SELF REALIZATION: The Life and Teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi. Eventually they were put into a stand alone book titled Glimpses of the Life and Teachings of Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi listing Humphreys as the sole author.
Now, none of the above is meant to add strength to the fact that Maugham may have learned about the Maharshi BEFORE he met my mentor --- however, as you can see, EVEN prior to Brunton's book, there were inklings of Ramana's existence lurking in and around the English speaking world, most notedly so England where Maugham and Brunton operated out of. So, who influenced who and when could be up for debate especially IF one takes the view that Maugham's main character Larry Darrell wasn't in the picture at all. See:
SRI RAMANA'S WESTERN DISCIPLES, DEVOTEES, AND FOLLOWERS