Saturday, December 04, 2010
Extract from the novel 'Theatre' by Somerset Maugham
"Have you made up your mind what you are going to be yet?"
"No, is there any hurry yet?"
"You know how ignorant I am about everything. Your father says that if you are going to be a barrister you ought to work at law when you go to Cambridge. On the other hand, if you fancy the Foreign Office, you should take up modern languages."
He looked at her for so long, with that queer, reflecting air of his, that Julia had some difficulty in holding her light playful and yet affectionate expression.
"If I believed in God I'd be a priest", he said at last.
"A priest?" Julia could hardly believe her ears. "That was all right in the sixteenth century.", she said. "It is too late in the day for that"
"What is it that you want?"
Once gain he gave her his disconcerting stare. It is hard to know if he was serious, for his eyes faintly shined merely with amusement. "Reality."
"What do you mean?"
"You see. I've lived all my life in an atmosphere of make believe. I want to get down to brass tacks. You and father are all right breathing this air, it's the only air you know and you think its the air of heaven. It stifles me."
"Dear, we are actors and successul ones in that and thats why we have been able to surround you with luxuries."
"I'm very grateful for all that you have done."
"Then, what are you reproaching me for?"
"I'm not reproaching you. As a child, I used to believe in all the stage emotions you showed. But, when I realized it was all false, it shook me up badly. I decided I am not going to be fooled again by you."
"But, darling thats acting." She gave him her delightful and disarming smile. "I think your understanding is wrong."
"Of course you do. You dont know the difference between make believe and reality. You never stop acting. Its second nature to you. You act when there's a party here. You act to the servants, you act to father, you act to me. To me, you act the part of the fond, indulgent, celebrated mother. You don't exist, you're only the innumerable parts you've played. I've often wondered if there was ever a you or if you were never anything more than a vehicle for all these other people that you've pretended to be. When I've seen you go into an empty room I've sometimes wanted to open the door suddenly, but I've been afraid to in case I found nobody there."
She looked up at him quickly. She shivered, for what he said gave her an eerie sensation. She listened to him attentively, with a certain anxiety, for he was so serious that she felt he was expressing something that had burdened him for years. She had never in his whole life heard him talk so much.
"Do you think I am only sham?"
"Not quite. Because sham is all you are. Sham is your truth. Just as margarine is butter to people who dont know what butter is."
She had a vague feeling of guilt. "You can hardly say that your father does not exist."
"Poor father, I suppose he is good at his job. But he is not very intelligent, is he? He is busy being the handsomest man in England."
"I dont think it is very nice to speak of your dad like that."
"Have I told you something that you did not know already?"
Julia wanted to smile, but would not allow the look of somewhat pained dignity to leave her face. "Its our weakness, not our strength that endears us to those who love us," she replied.
"In what play did you say that?"
She repressed a gesture of annoyance. The words had come naturally to her lips, but as she said them she remembered that they were out of a play. Little brute! But they came in very appositely."You're hard," she said plaintively. She was beginning to feel more and more like Hamlets mother. "Don't you love me?"
"I might, if I could find you. But where are you? If one stripped you of your exhibitionism, if one took your technique away from you, if one peeled you as one peels an onion of skin after skin of pretense and insincerity, of tags of old parts and shreds of faked emotions, would one come upon a soul at last?" He looked at her with his grave eyes and he smiled a little. "I like you all right."
"Do you believe I love you?"
"In your way."
Julias face was suddenly discomposed."If only you knew tha agony I suffered when you were ill! I don't know what I should have done if you'd died!"
"You would have given a beautiful performance of a bereaved mother of her only child."
"Not nearly such a good performance as if I'd had the opportunity of rehearsing it a few times," Julia answered tartly. "You see, what you dont understand is that acting is not natural; it's art and art is something you create. Real grief is ugly; the business of the actor is to represent it not only with truth but with beauty. Its cruel to say that I am not fond of you. I'm devoted to you. You've been the only thing in my life."
"No, you were fond of me when I was a kid and you could have me photographed with you. It made a lovely picture and it was fine publicity. But, since then, you have not bothered much about me. I dont blame you. You had'not got time in your life for anyone but yourself."
Julia was beginning to grow a trifle impatient. He was getting too near to the truth for her comfort. "You forget that young things can be pretty boring."
"But then why do you pretend that you can't bear to let me out of your sight. Thats just acting too."
"You make me very unhappy. You make me feel as if I had'nt done my duty to you."
"But you have. You have done something to me for which I shall always be grateful to you. You'v left me alone."
"I don't understand what you want."
"I told you. Reality."