Theatre by W Somerset Maugham
(also known as Being Julia)
published 1937 chapter 20
[Julia Lambert is a famous actress. Her son Roger has asked her to see a young woman about getting a job in the theatre]
She suddenly remembered who Joan Denver was… She was the girl who had seduced poor Roger. Her face went grim. But she was curious to see her… "Tell her I'll see her after the play."
She wore in the last act an evening dress with a train; it was a very grand dress and showed her beautiful figure to advantage. She wore diamonds in her dark hair and diamond bracelets on her arms. She looked, as indeed the part required, majestic. She received Joan Denver the moment she had taken her last call. Julia could in the twinkling of an eye leap from her part into private life, but now without an effort she continued to play the imperious, aloof, stately and well-bred woman of the play. "I've kept you waiting so long I thought I wouldn't keep you till I'd got changed." …Her cordial smile was the smile of a queen; her graciousness kept you at a respectful distance. In a glance she had taken in the young girl who entered her dressing-room. She was young, with a pretty little face and a snub nose, a good deal made-up and not very well made-up.
observations: This is a fabulous book, which is why it is featuring for the third time on the blog. W Somerset Maugham is very under-regarded now, and that seems a shame when his books are so very readable, and, as we keep stressing, his women characters are streets ahead of most male (and a lot of female) writers of his era. He is very realistic about the way women think and act and – very unusual – he does not judge them for sexual misbehaviour. If you think about it, that is not something you could say of many others.
Julia is a wonderful creation: vain, clever, manipulative, amoral and tremendously attractive. Mind you, she does judge women for sexual misbehaviour – Joan, above, will get short shrift as her son’s seducer, but that is just a practice run for what Julia is going to do to another young woman whom she thinks has stolen her man/men.
Links up with: two other entries from this book, and click on Maugham’s label below to see more from him. This book has a theatrical setting, and these young women could easily be so many Joans. Julia could surely have starred in the play Romance.
The picture is of the Baroness de Guestre, from the Library of Congress Bain collection. She featured before in this entry: apparently she had many different dresses and rooms to be photographed in, but just the one pose.