SRI RAMANA AND SOMERSET MAUGHAM



THE HOLY MAN, LARRY DARRELL, INDIA, AND THE RAZOR'S EDGE


the Wanderling


IS WHAT THE HOLY MAN TELLS DARRELL IN THE BOOK THE SAME OR DIFFERENT FROM THE MOVIE? IS EITHER VALID?

Below is a written account from the screenplay of the 1946 black-and-white version of W. Somerset Maugham's The Razor's Edge outlining the conversation between Larry Darrell, the central character in the book and movie, and the venerated Indian holy man Maugham has given the name Shri Ganesha. Clicking the graphic above will take you to a video outtake of that meeting. You can just read what is presented or play the video with audio on and scroll down the page as Darrell and Ganesha speak, following word for word what they say. Just below the screenplay version, in what at first may appear to be in stark contrast to the movie version, is how Maugham presented their meeting and conversation in the book


THE MOVIE VERSION:

Sorry we were interrupted. They're pilgrims.
They come from many places... some from quite far distances.
What has brought you here, my son?

I've come to learn.
Ever since the war, I've been searching for something... something that I've... I've not been able to put into words.
I've been told that from you I might find... guidance.

God is the only guide.
But perhaps if we talk, he may show me a way to help you.

To my friends, I'm a loafer afraid of responsibilities.
I can't even make those I love understand what I'm after.

The fact that you've taken the time to come this great distance in search of knowledge... proves that you're not afraid of responsibilities.
Even to admit that you want to learn is in itself courageous.

I've studied. I've traveled. I've read everything I could get my hands on... and nothing seems to satisfy me.
Oh, like everyone else, I want to succeed, I want to improve, but... not necessarily in the terms of what the world calls success.
Somehow I've lost confidence in the accepted values.
I try to get excited at the prospect of settling down... minding my own business and making good... but it only increases my urge to move on.
I know that if I do find what I'm looking for... it will be something that I can share with others.
But how to find it, and where?

All your restlessness and confusion are not unique, my son.
The whole world is restless and confused.
It will always be so... as long as men set their ideals on the wrong objects.
There can be no real happiness... until men learn that it comes from within themselves.

I know.

It is written that the wise man lives from within himself... which is from God... from within his own heart.
This is the way of calmness, forbearance... compassion, selflessness... and everlasting peace.
But that's not easy.

No.

The road to salvation is difficult to pass over... as difficult as the... sharp edge of a razor.
But this much we know, and all religions teach it:
There is, in every one of us, a spark of the infinite goodness which created us.
And when we leave this earth, we are reunited with it, as a raindrop falling from heaven... is at last reunited with the sea which gave it birth.

May I stay here with you?

Of course you may.
Our life's very simple. There are books. We will talk together.
You can even work in the fields, if you wish.
We Indians believe there are three roads that lead to God.
One is the path of faith and worship.
One is the path of good works performed for the love of God.
And then there is a third path which leads through knowledge to wisdom.
You have chosen the way of knowledge.
But you'll find in the end, my son, that the three paths are but one path.
One of my students will show you where to sleep.

Thank you.


THE BOOK VERSION:

"What have you come here for?" he asked.

I began to tell him how I'd come to India and how I'd passed my time for three years; how, on report of their wisdom and sanctity, I'd gone to one holy man after another and had found no one to give me what I looked for. He interrupted me.

"All that I know. There is no need to tell me. What have you come here for?"

"So that you may be my Guru," I answered.

"Brahman alone is the Guru," he said.

He continued to look at me with a strange intensity and then suddenly his body became rigid, his eyes seemed to turn inwards and I saw that he'd fallen into the trance which the Indians call Samadhi and in which they hold the duality of subject and object vanishes and you become Knowledge Absolute. I was sitting cross-legged on the floor, in front of him, and my heart beat violently. After how long a time I don't know he sighed and I realized that he had recovered normal consciousness. He gave me a glance sweet with loving-kindness.

"Stay," he said. "They will show you where you may sleep."


The book version of the conversation between the holy man and Darrell above, as written by Maugham, is from page 263 of the online PDF book version linked below. Of course, right away, anybody can see there appears to be a huge discrepancy between the two. The question is, why do I say there appears to be a discrepancy when it is quite obvious there is.

In a straight forward physical comparison of the two as has been done above it's hard to argue. However, in order to turn a book into a movie almost always requires a rewrite. The person who does the rewrite is called a screenwriter and what is written is called a screenplay. The Razor's Edge had three screenwriters, Maugham himself, a man named Lamar Trotti, and unusually so, Darryl F. Zanuck the head of the studios, albeit uncredited. Keeping his fingers in the mix clear up to his elbows and beyond shows how closely Zanuck was personally involved in keeping a tight reign on the production from top to bottom to ensure the movie was a success at the box office. Maugham knew books, Zanuck knew movies. As the studio top dog saw it, to be a success the book had to be streamlined for the movie going audience without losing the context or the gist of what was being said. In a book the writer has to put into words the surroundings, environment, or whatever, while in a move there's no need to as they can be shown. Huge numbers of pages can be deleted if the screenwriter can transfer visually to the screen what the writer has written about.

When reading a book you can usually pick it up or set down anytime. You can backtrack, start again, or jump forward whenever you like. If you don't get something you can research it or talk it over with friends, simply coming back to it later or chuck the whole thing. A movie going audience doesn't have that luxury. If you don't understand or know about a given concept beforehand, or if the movie doesn't make it clear, you're out of luck. Zanuck had a tough one on his hands. He had bought the screen rights from Maugham for $250,000 against 20 per cent of the profits and he wasn't about to lose his ass. Money-wise Maugham would come out ahead one way .or the other, but as a matter of pride or self-worth he didn't want his creativity impugned or come to be thought of in an unfavorable light.[1]

Maugham was in Hollywood from the early 1940's to around 1945 or so working on the screenplay to ensure his concerns were met among other things.[2] He refused any payment for his work on the screenplay. Instead, studio heads learning Maugham was an avid art collector, compensated him for his work by giving him an Impressionist painting. When word came to him for such an arrangement he selected a painting by Pissarro, but Zanuck, through advice of those close to Maugham gave him a Matisse. Maugham immediately traded the Matisse for the Pissarro he wanted. It should be noted, except for parts, 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. The Pissarro Maugham kept was titled The Quai Saint-Sever, Rouen, as shown below:



THE QUAI SAINT-SEVER, ROUEN, CAMILLE PISSARRO 1896
(please click image)


The Razor's Edge, as written by Maugham is not done in straight linear time, meaning as he presents things in his book he jumps back and forth, sometimes telling the reader something that actually happened after a given event before the event, something that can become confusing if presented in a movie. The screenwriter took Maugham's book, scaled it down to fit into a movie then pretty much ran the events out in real time, roughly straight through from 1919 to 1938. Of course, in conversation Darrell does tell Mangham of events that already happened such as events in the war for example, but in doing so it is usually fairly clear, something that would have been difficult if the movie stuck straight to how Maugham wrote it. In the end, both the book and the movie work out quite well, especially if you take each one as an entity unto itself.

So, by now you pretty much figured out there are differences between the book version and the movie version, at least page by page. Not only are some things left out in the movie, some things that were never in the book are in the movie. So too, some things in the book that are in the movie have been modified or reconfigured so the movie goer still gets the punchline even though it's not presented in the same manner as presented in the book.


Maugham writes that immediately following Darrell's arrival in India he departs the ship in Bombay and goes to see the caves at Elephanta, which are located about an hour and a half away from Bombay by boat-launch. While observing the giant stone sculptures a man in a saffron robe strikes up a conversation with him. The man discusses Bhahma, Vishnu, and Siva being the three manifestations of Ultimate Reality. After a while the man puts the palms of his hands together and with the slightest indication of a bow strolls on. Maugham writes that Darrell had actually met the same man earlier during the voyage to India, only that on board the ship, instead of being in saffron, he always wore a checkered suit.

That night, rather than return to the docks, at least as Maugham writes it, albeit still with an element of truth but not exactly how it unfolded, Darrell travels third-class by train to Benares with, according to Maugham, the man in the checkered suit. Darrell stays in Benares six months. From Benares he travels to a northern Indian capital and is introduced to another person. Later on, in the book, the other person turns out to be the holy man Darrell eventually meets in the temple in Madura.

All along the way each man has something to tell Darrell about India, Hinduism, and the Absolute --- information that is really intended for the reader to know. Maugham is taking a simple literary device called the novelist's privilege and using a few straight-line sequential facts told to him by the Darrell character in real life, and dividing, scrambling, and puffing them up in order to impart information he wants the reader to know.[3]

The screenwriter has done the same thing with the movie when it comes to the conversation between the holy man and Darrell. Notice both the movie version and the book version start out and end the same way. The movie version opens with "What has brought you here, my son?," the book with "What have you come here for?". The movie version closes with "One of my students will show you where to sleep," the book with "They will show you where you may sleep." The all important everything the holy man in the movie tells Darrell between the opening and closing isn't in the book version between the opening and closing except for one comment. In the movie the holy man says "God is the only guide" and in the book he says "Brahman alone is the Guru" Brahman in Hinduism being the main god of gods, the guru a guide. The Hindu view of Brahman was too much to explain for the movie to get across so they simplified it to God. Otherwise, even though what the holy man said in the movie isn't in the book word-for-word as presented to Darrell, it doesn't mean it isn't in the book. It is. It's just spread out.

If you continue reading the book past what Maugham has written the holy man said, although it is hinted at throughout the novel, you will find that in a few pages everything the movie holy man says shows up, just spread out in meaning over several pages. Since that information couldn't be incorporated into the movie for the movie going audience in a simple fashion, information the audience needs to know in order to make sense of the story, just like Maugham did in the book with the three aforementioned travelers telling Darrell about India, Hinduism, and the Absolute, the screenwriter squeezed the gist of it out of those five or six pages, condensed and putting it into the holy man's mouth. Instead of being spread out over several pages the information is told verbally in a few short minutes.

What Maugham is imparting to his reading audience is a philosophical concept emanating from a conceptual construct. As a brain-thought sculpted in the mind into words and dispensed verbally it can be written down then read and understood, but can't be filmed then visually depicted. For example, in telling about Darrell leaving the ashram to meditate prior to his Awakening, Maugham writes:


It was a two-day journey; first you had to go by bus to the forestry officer's village, then you had to walk, but when you got there it was magnificent in its grandeur and its solitude. I took what I could in a knapsack on my back and hired a bearer to carry provisions for me, and I stayed till they were exhausted. It was only a log cabin with a cookhouse behind it and for furniture there was nothing but a trestle bed on which to put your sleeping-mat, a table and a couple of chairs. It was cool up there and at times it was pleasant to light a fire at night. It gave me a wonderful thrill to know that there wasn't a living soul within twenty miles of me.


Maugham uses over a 130 words to describe the above that is only just shown in the movie. No words are necessary. The astute reader will note however that the forester's bungalow described as a log cabin with a cookhouse behind it has, in the movie, become a cabin built of irregular flat stones with a really nice fire place, albeit still stark with it's furnishings. It also seems to be in what most people take as the Himalayas. In those days it was probably well over the two day journey from the southern India location of the ashram mentioned in the novel to the Himalayas, the Himalayas being at the very least a minimum of 1,000 miles away. Unlike the mountain retreat the philosophical conceptual construct can't be photographed or filmed then depicted on the screen, but the viewing audience still requires the information for the film version to make sense. The same way as the movie making folk took liberty with the forester's bungalow by turning it into stone and placing it in the Himalayas, they took liberty with the speech by the holy man.

David Godman in his article on Maugham and Ramana titled "Somerset Maugham and the Razor's Edge," writes:


"The speech that Bhagavan makes is a confection of platitudes that has little or no connection to Bhagavan's real teachings, or even to the words that Maugham attributed to him in the book."


Which is true.

Maugham had traveled the length and breadth of the country interviewing swamis, sadhus, fakirs, and holy men up and down the scale and the things he heard from them he heard over and over, and that was the crux of the matter. In "The Writer's Notebook," (1946), in sort of a last straw, of one sufi Maugham concludes:


"He said the things I had heard from others twenty times before That is the worst of the Indian thinkers, they say the same things in the same words

"(T)hey repeat it like parrots, there is no denying the fact that it is irksome to listen interminably to the same statements. You wish at least they could think of other metaphors, similes, illustrations than those of the Upanishads. Your heart sinks when you hear again the one about the snake and the rope."


What any critic, reviewer, scholar, movie going audience member, or book reader worth their salt wants to know is: does what the holy man say in the book carry any weight behind it or is it all just a bunch of pablum? Initially, what the holy man says comes from what Larry Darrell tells Maugham, after that it is from the mind, hand, and pen of Maugham. Maugham himself says in Chapter One (i), "I do not pretend that the conversations I have recorded can be regarded as verbatim reports. I never kept notes of what was said on this or the other occasion, but I have a good memory for what concerns me." The question then becomes, since Maugham pulls the strings of the holy man, putting the words into his mouth for us to read, at what level does Maugham come from in imparting such information that it's credible? The meaning behind what Maugham has the holy man say in the book and what the screenwriters have him say in the movie is actually spread out over several pages if not the whole book.

In Chapter Six (v) Page 235 Larry asks Maugham, "Do you know anything about Hinduism?" Maugham answers with, "Very little." A few pages later in Chapter Six (vii) Page 241, Maugham elaborates on his answer by saying:


"I must interrupt myself to make it plain that I am not attempting here to give anything in the nature of a description of the philosophical system known as Vedanta. I have not the knowledge to do so, but even if I had this would not be the proper place lor it. Our conversation was a long one and Larry told me a great deal more than I have felt it possible to set down in what after all purports to be a novel."


In 1958 Maugham put together a book published under the title "Points of View" that was a compilation of five essays of which one was titled The Saint, referring to the Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi, the role model for his holy man in The Razor's Edge. Immediately upon Maugham's return to Madras after having left the ashram and the Maharshi he wrote the following down, which in turn ended as part of the essay chapter titled The Saint in "Points of View:"


"The story I wish to tell is strange and moving, and I should like to tell it as simply as I can, without comment or animadversion, without criticism of behaviour that to a Western reader must seem extravagant; as naively, in short, as those old monks wrote the lives of famous saints. But before setting about this, I must give the reader some account of the Maharshi's religious beliefs, for unless he knows something of them his motives and behaviour, his mode of life, will be hardly intelligible. I embark upon this undertaking with trepidation, since I am dealing with a matter with which my acquaintance is but superficial. What I know about it, I have read in books. The most important of these are Sir Charles Eliot's Hinduism and Buddhism; Radhakrishnan's History of Indian Philosophy and his translation of the Upanishads; Krisnaswami Iyer's Vedanta, or the Science of Reality; Brahma-Knowledge by Professor Barnett; and Sankara's Vivekachudamani. "


If you scroll down the page you will find that just beneath the first cover graphic below is a second cover graphic. Clicking that graphic will take you to a PDF scanned version of the special Vanguard Library Edition of The Razor's Edge just as it was when first published. The version has been scanned directly from the original pages and, by using the buttons along the bottom of the screen can be made to show one page on the screen, two pages, or even more. The pages can be expanded or increased in size and as well, by using the search function on the sidebar to the left, the book is fully searchable by typing in any word, name, or phrase.


Any internet search seeking information regarding William Somerset Maugham being in India will return a ton of results, especially if you include his novel The Razor's Edge and/or his main character in the novel, Larry Darrell. The same is true if you ask whether the novel is true or false. In that ton of responses two highly relevant sites float to the top. One, mine, titled Somerset Maugham: Travels In India and the other Somerset Maugham and the Razor's Edge by the highly eminent author of things Ramana, David Godman.

Of the two, as well as related others among the ton of responses, mine, because of my views sometimes being considered controversial, blankets it and most of my works.

People along the path, especially so westerners who are interested basically in meditation or possibly learning the Way of Enlightenment a la Advaita Vedanta (the non-dualistic school of Hindu philosophy), or via Buddhism, Zen, and/or Zen outside the tradition, often start with or turn to Maugham and The Razor's Edge, many times as their first step. They find themselves uncomfortable when such concepts as translocation, bilocation, or the ability to fly are introduced into the mix --- although both translocation and the ability to fly maintain a rare but high profile in the history of the aforementioned philosophies or religions. When I write about such things as the Incident at Supai or The Mystic Aztec Sun God, it is bad enough, but translocation of gurus thousands of miles from India to America is too much for a lot of people even though it is not without precedent.

When most people come across such phenomenon as translocation, bilocation, or the ability to fly, even if they do stop and consider them as potential possibilities they still pretty much reject them as actually having transpired in reality. They think of it at the most as a tall tale like the myths of a dragons lost in the mist of time, a trick, a hallucination, or simply a misinterpretation of facts down through the ages by people on and off the scene. Even in the context of a Zen or Buddhist legend most people would say that it just could not happen. When any minor relinquishing of their doubts do creep in they usually morph into some sort of a questionable spiritual miracle category.


DO YOU THINK FLYING IN

THE SKY IS MAGICAL?

(click image)

While it is true that throughout his life the Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi never exhibited even the slightest interest in Siddhis, occult abilities, or psychic powers to outsiders, he did have a number of recorded fully conscious bilocation experiences he rarely discussed wherein he was translocated from his ashram in a matter of minutes to the presence of others many, many miles away., even to other countries.


THE MEETING: AN UNTOLD STORY OF SRI RAMANA


Quite frankly, most run-in-the-mill Sri Ramana supporters don't like to discuss translocation or bilocation. Many Ramana supporters even express surprise when I remind them of well documented similar circumstances surrounding such high-powered spiritual adepts as Ganapathi Muni and Paul Brunton as well as the low key and little known Ramana adherent, Robert Adams. In the weight of such circumstances, transpiring as they have, it may be easy for some to simply blow off myself or possibly even Adams as being weird, but Muni and Brunton are somewhat more difficult.

Serious researchers, authors, writers, and critics pretty much disregard what I have to say about Maugham, The Razor's Edge, and who Larry Darrell was in real life and what happened to him even though the amount of evidence I provide through research, footnotes, and sources is almost insurmountable, with a whole lot of my early research done personally at a number of Maugham university archives around the country.[4]

The quote below, although out of context, does show the depth of my research as most archives are not digital and require an actual hands on presence. From the source so cited:


"In my research on Maugham, Ramana, and The Razor's edge I have personally seen, held and read both letters mentioned above and both have clearly been mailed from India, postmarked and/or dated in 1938 --- again the letter to Rothenstein January 11, 1938 and the one to Karl Pfeiffer February 26, 1938. Those letters, along with many others are in legitimate university archives and available (sometimes with restrictions) to any serious Maugham researcher. It is not likely that Maugham, in writing casual letters to friends or cohorts while in India would put dates written or typed in his own hand on the letters that were not accurate."

William Somerset Maugham: Travels in India


A huge amount of flack has come my way regarding what has been presented about Maugham, The Razor's Edge and Larry Darrell. What upsets most people, not so much the regular folk, but mostly the literati and sometimes the Maharshi in-crowd, is that the Larry Darrell character ended up not being "someone." They don't like the idea that Maugham would have used somebody that was a nobody. However, all anyone with any amount of acumen has to do --- lay-person, fan, critic, or intelligentsia alike --- is just sit down and read what Maugham has to say and the whole thing becomes clear. It would defeat his purpose and overall thesis if Darrell was in real life a major personage of sorts. In the very beginning on the very first page of the novel Maugham writes "The man I am writing about is not famous. It may be that he never will be." Then, after the whole novel unfolds, all the trials and tribulations and all the adventures and misadventures are over, in the closing pages of the book Maugham solidifies his whole thesis and writes of Darrell and his Awakened state, presenting to reader and critic alike, the following:


He has no desire for fame. To become anything of a public figure would be deeply distasteful to him; and so it may be that he is satisfied to lead his chosen life and be no more than just himself. He is too modest to set himself up as an example to others; but it may be he thinks that a few uncertain souls, drawn to him like moths to a candle, will be brought in time to share his own glowing belief that ultimate satisfaction can only be found in the life of the spirit, and that by himself following with selflessness and renunciation the path of perfection he will serve as well as if he wrote books or addressed multitudes."[5]


David Godman's online page "Somerset Maugham and the Razor's Edge" first appeared in print, published in The Mountain Path, the official arm of the Sri Ramana Ashram, Volume 24, Number 4, October 1988, long before any internet craze. However, with the rise of the internet as a viable means of disseminating information, like millions of others, Godman switched his article online.

The official date that original article first went online isn't clear, but it showed up for the first time in the internet archive May 1, 2003. By that archived date Godman had already listed my site on the page using my old, albeit at the time, valid GeoCities URL. That particular URL had been archived as early as April 5, 2001, after having been transferred there earlier from another free server (possibly fortunecity.com, freeyellow.com, or angelfire.com). In April 2009, GeoCities announced they would be closing their services and by October 26, 2009 it was shut down. Sometime after their initial announcement my wanderling.com version went online and somewhere in that timeframe I notified Godman. Almost immediately, or at least by November 29, 2009, he had switched to my new URL.

You will find that by going to the original version of his page my site had the honor of being the only outside click-through link. When his new version went online, and a fine version it is at that, the link back to me, much to my dismay, was not retained, and in my view, at a loss to his readers. If you would like to see Godman's original Ramana-Maugham-Razor's Edge page that had the link back to me please visit the following:


SOMERSET MAUGHAM AND THE RAZOR'S EDGE


WILLIAM SOMERSET MAUGHAM


THE RAZOR'S EDGE PDF


(please click image)


(please click image)


The graphic below will take you to the complete Razor's Edge movie including how Darrell was led to the point where he met the holy man and what happened after. To watch is free with no sign ups and is expandable to full screen size. It is well worth watching:



(for full length movie please click image)

THE RAZOR'S EDGE: TRUE OR FALSE?


SHRI GANESHA, SRI RAMANA, AND MAUGHAM


WILLIAM SOMERSET MAUGHAM'S TRAVELS IN INDIA


LARRY DARRELL, THE HOLY MAN, AND SWAMI RAMDAS




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)


HOW TO ACHIEVE ENLIGHTENMENT


ZEN ENLIGHTENMENT IN A NUTSHELL


30 MINUTES TO ENLIGHTENMENT


VETERAN'S ZEN



CLICK
HERE FOR
ENLIGHTENMENT

ON THE RAZOR'S
EDGE


E-MAIL
THE WANDERLING

(please click)






"Real Masters never charge for their services, nor do they accept payment in any form
nor in any sort of material benefits for their instructions. This is a universal law among
Masters, and yet amazingly, it is a fact that thousands of eager seekers in America and
elsewhere, go on paying large amounts of money for "spiritual instruction." Masters are
always self-sustaining and are never supported by their students or by public charity."

---Julian P. Johnson, The Path of the Masters (1939)





As to the subject of donations, for those of you who may be interested in doing so as it applies to the gratefulness of my works, I invariably suggest any funds be directed toward THE WOUNDED WARRIOR PROJECT and/or THE AMERICAN RED CROSS.
































Footnote [1]

The movie The Razor's Edge, based on the best selling novel of the same name, was released in 1946 by 20th Century Fox. The following year 20th Century Fox released Nightmare Alley, also based on a best seller. It just so happened the lead actor in The Razor's Edge, Tyrone Power, was the lead actor in Nightmare Alley. So too, both films shared the same director, Edmund Goulding.

The author of Nightmare Alley, William Lindsay Gresham, like Maugham before him, wanting to ensure the studio stayed faithful to his book traveled to Hollywood to keep an eye on production. At the time the head of studio production, Darryl F. Zanuck, was staying out of it. In researching both Powers and Goulding, Gresham came across the fact that the two had worked together on a movie released the year before. After approaching them neither could care less about Gresham's concerns, Power having bought the rights outright and except for code restrictions he was going to do as he pleased, his main concern being to make himself look good and expand his range as a more marketable actor. However, Gresham, in his vetting of the two, learning the theme to Maugham's novel compared to the sham spirituality of the midway, he himself became more deeply involved in a Darrell like spiritual search. Although never coming anywhere close to being a Larry Darrell he did became more stringently aware of the possibility of Enlightenment as a potential route towards his own survival and well being, and did for awhile investigate that route for his own salvation. At age 53, apparently after reaching no headway, Gresham committed suicide.

A good portion of the Nightmare Alley plot circulates around a circus sideshow and denizens so in, with an in depth look into the macabre and seedy side of carnivals, midways, and the people who inhabit them. My father, a one time side show carny and roustabout, and William Lindsay Gresham were friends and drinking buddies. My dad, who helped build liberty ships during World War II, worked on studio back lots after the war. He and and Gresham were put together by 20th Century Fox big shots and powers that be in 1947 in conjunction with the making of Midnight Alley.


WILLIAM LINDSAY GRESHAM, NIGHTMARE ALLEY

AND THE WANDERLING'S FATHER

















Footnote [2]

Maugham was living comfortably in his villa in the south of France as he had been for sometime when on May 10, 1940, the Nazi war machine crossed into France and raced toward Paris. Waiting too long, he was forced to flee seeking refuge aboard his then only means of escape, one of two coal barges slowly plying their way off the coast of the Mediterranean. His escape turned out to be a horrific twenty-day voyage to England. Onboard the barge, a vessel that was not designed for even one passenger, he was at age sixty-six, crammed together with 500 other fellow escapees. It has been reported a number of the children as well as older and weaker refugees, because of the severe and crowded conditions and lack of food and water and other amenities, died of malnutrition and thirst. 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.


"Sometime in the early-mid 1940s my Mentor had a vague connection with the Pasadena Playhouse. There was a dowager patron of the arts that contributed to the Playhouse and in the process of that support she and my Mentor became friends. She lived in a California community above Pasadena called Sierra Madre' and had an avid interest in things Indian and Asian, of which my Mentor had some knowledge. I met her ten years later, sometime in the mid 1950s, she having visited the man next door various times during that period. Also, since he didn't drive, but loved riding around in my wooden Ford station wagon, he requested I take him to her house on occasion. It was she that told me that in 1944 or so, a famous English author had come to the Playhouse to talk with him about a 'sequel' and that in 1945 or 1946 he had joined the author on a one or two week trip to San Francisco and Lake Tahoe."

ZEN ENLIGHTENMENT: The Path Unfolds


After the war things returned to or surpassed what Maugham offered visitors to Villa Mauresque. Anybody and everybody that was anybody showed up there at one time or the other. Regular going on's and invitee parties differed with the regular going on's, often approaching what I wrote in Dan Rowan of the Rowen and Martin comedy team. Unrelated to Rowan in any fashion at the time I had been asked to attend an invitation only private party in the Hollywood Hills by the editor-publisher of a string of highly successful porno magazines. I wrote that Caligula would have cringed. Maugham's invite only parties, usually surrounding dinners and cocktails, were for the most part much different, except perhaps after they went into the early morning hours. The high class invite parties were almost always overseen and coordinated by Maugham's closet female friend and confidant Barbara Back. Of Barbara Back the following has been written as found in the link so cited:


"Barbara came often to the Mauresque, usually on her own, as her flamboyant and far from faithful husband, Ivor Back, was rarely able to accompany her; this suited Maugham, who liked to have Barbara to himself. She for her part knew exactly how to handle him, with a combination of mischief and respect; he loved her earthiness and her guttersnipe humor, and he relied on her long chatty letters to provide him with all the most indiscreet gossip of the town. "Your letters are a boon and a blessing," he told her. 'They bring a whiff of London down to the Riviera.'"


BARBARA BACK
MAUGHAM'S FEMALE CONFIDANT

MAUGHAM'S VILLA MAURESQUE

















Footnote [3]

In the main text above where I say "at least as Maugham writes it, albeit still with an element of truth but not exactly how it unfolded," the question is, if if there is an element of truth but not how Maugham writes it, just what truth to the unfolding really happen?

The holy man Darrell went to Benares with was not the same person he met in the caves. I am not discounting he may well have met a person of Indian descent on the boat and went with him to Benares by train, but it wasn't the same person in the saffron robe that talked to him at Elephanta. Nor was the man he went to Benares with the same person who recognized him enough to attract his attention by touching him on the arm in the temple at Madura. In real life the holy man in Madura and the holy man he met at the caves was one and the same person. Maugham just shuffled them together to make the story flow easier.

It was at the temple in Madura the holy man told the young American to go and see the Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi saying, "He will give you what you are looking for."



There is a massive 1749 page two volume book set titled "Ashrams of India" that explores over 500 ashrams, temples, and other significant sites of eastern religious and spiritual interest located throughout the Indian sub-continent. The compilers have backed up their explorations with reems of classical, historical, and recent background information. In a section regarding westerners known to have historically visited the ashram of the Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi the following is presented:


"(S)ometime in the late 1920s a young traveller from America bumped into Swami Ramdas one night at the Meenakshi Temple in Madura, the two of them had previously met in the caves of Elephanta three years earlier. The young American would eventually gain fame, albeit anonymously, in W. Somerset Maugham's 1944 novel The Razor's Edge. Given the name Larry Darrell by Maugham in the book, that same American, in real life following the advice of Ramdas, went to see Ramana Maharshi. Through the grace and light of the Maharshi, the anonymous American awakened to the absolute."


LARRY DARRELL, THE HOLY MAN, AND SWAMI RAMDAS

















Footnote [4]

In that I had visited several Maugham archives back in the old days and readers continued to express an interest in how they could do the same, I put a page online at least as early as 2001 that contained most of the university and foundations around the country that had Maugham archives. I listed where they were, what you had to do to access them, how to contact the archive holders and their homepages. As with a number of my sites on free web servers, after about six years it went down and I never got around to bringing it back.

Most internet researchers, in that almost all of the material in the Maugham archives have not been digitalized, more or less pass on it and simply regurgitate what can be found on the net. As for myself I used to find it fun. Go into some university town, study all day, eat cup of noodles, crash on the floor for a few nights at some graduate student's dump. Meet new people and other researchers. Talk all night long in some coffee house.















FOOTNOTE [5]


---RONALD NIXON


When it comes to possible role models for Larry Darrell in Maugham's novel The Razor's Edge two people rise to the top, Guy Hague and Ronald Nixon. Hague is delt with quite extensively elsewhere leaving us, for those who may be so interested, Nixon to discuss.

Nixon is often confused with my mentor because of a number of similarities, especially the early years. Although my mentor and Nixon knew each other because they flew together during World War I they were two widely separate people. Nixon's nationality, life before the war, and his years relative to India after the war are just too different too reconcile.

During the four years I was in high school the president of the United States was Dwight D. Eisenhower. Just as I was graduating Eisenhower ran for a second term and won. Both times his vice presidential running mate was Richard Nixon. Just before the start of my junior year I met my mentor, with the following junior year then my senior year paralleling the last two years of the first Eisenhower-Nixon administration. Those two years, and especially the last was filled with an ever continuous onslaught of Eisenhower-Nixon re-election hoopla.

My mentor never expressed himself politically one way or the other. However, one day when we were walking together he saw a newspaper headline related to Richard Nixon and out of the blue told me that during the war he flew with a man named Nixon. Since it was always hard to get anything out of him about the war I pressed him on it.

He told me the man was named Ronald Nixon. They were both fairly young to be aviators, with my mentor the youngest of the two 16 when he joined age 17 by the time they began flying with Nixon one year older. They had similar experiences in the war, ending with similar yet different outcomes, both involving India.

My mentor was an American and had never been to college, Nixon was British and right after the war ended he entered one of the colleges of Cambridge University, studying English literature and philosophy. During that period my mentor traveled and learned on his own throughout Europe and into Asia, with both he and Nixon eventually ending up in India.

Nixon graduated in 1921 and after going to India was offered and accepted a lecturer position teaching literature at the University of Lucknow, located in northern India, eventually taking a high paying professorship at Banaras Hindu University, In 1925 my mentor arrived in Bombay by ship. Not long after seeing the city sights and visiting the Caves of Elephanta he took a train third-class to Benares. He used Benares as a home base, operating in and around the general area for about six months. I know he went to Japur on the way to see the Hemis Manuscripts and Lucknow. In Benares he was able to see his former flying buddy on regular occasion, then well established as a professor at the university while seeking an ever deepening spiritual awareness.

In 1928, Sri Yashoda Mai, the wife of the university vice-chancellor, initiated Nixon into the Gaudiya Vaishnavite, a religious movement within Vaishnavism, one of the main Hindu schools of thought, after which he adopted Krishna Prem as his monastic name. Two years later, in 1930, Sri Yashoda Mai and Krishna Prem founded an ashram at Mirtola, near Almora, in north-central India.

Two years earlier, in i928, after traveling throughout India and Asia my mentor showed up at the ashram of the venerated Indian holy man the Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi in Tiruvannamalai south India. Two years later, in the fall of 1930, he experienced Absolute Awakening at the same level as the ancient classical masters.

There is nothing anywhere that indicates Maugham ever met, knew, or knew of Ronald Nixon other than the possibilities of my mentor mentioning him. If you remember Nixion joined the military at age 16 or 17 only to return after the war and attend college which straightforward thereafter he immediately left for India never to leave. People continue to go on-and-on about Darrell but always forget the obvious that Maugham himself said in connection to him:


"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


In 1948, twenty years after my mentor first visited Sri Ramana, Krishna Prem, aka Ronald Nixon, traveled to his ashram in Tiruvannamalai to meet with the Bhagavan. That meeting is fully recorded in "FACE TO FACE WITH SRI RAMANA MAHARSHI: Enchanting and Uplifting Reminiscences of 202 Persons" Number 117, accessible by clicking HERE.


GUY HAGUE

















The Best of The Maugham Biographies:


Spiritual guides, gurus, and teachers used by Maugham in The Razor's Edge other than the Maharshi: