Department of English
Faculty of Arts, Chulalongkorn University
2202232 Introduction to the Study of English Fiction
W. Somerset Maugham, "The Colonel's Lady"
Brit. old-fashioned informal a person who avoids showing or telling other people what he or she is thinking or intending (Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary)
ex. You old slyboots! Why didn't you tell us about your new girlfriend?
a sly tricky person; especially: one who is cunning or mischievous in an engaging way (Merriam-Webster Online)
Informal (used with a singular verb) A sly person. (American Heritage Dictionary)
53 When Pyramids Decay: Is this an allusion to Emily Dickinson's poem in which there is the line "Though pyramids decay"?
56 The boy stood on the burning deck: first line from Felicia Heman's poem "Casabianca." See the poem with background note at U. Penn's website.
56 Ruin seize thee, ruthless king!: first line from Thomas Gray's poem "The Bard. A Pindaric Ode." See entire poem with Gray's annotations at The Thomas Gray Archive.
60 Heine: Heinrich Heine (1797-1856), German romantic poet who said "Out of my great sorrows I make my little songs."
60 Sappho: Sappho is an ancient Greek poet who lived over 2,600 years ago
Sample Student Reading Responses to W. Somerset Maugham's "The Colonel's Lady"
1: The Modern Eve
We have discussed the significance of names in class looking at the name Peregrine. Its association with falconry hearkens back to an old culture of chivalry and legacy, one that corresponds nicely to “the walls” where “George Peregrine’s ancestors, painted by the fashionable painters of the day, looked down upon them,” the current couple upholding the Peregrine heritage (53). Being a bird of prey, the peregrine falcon also matches George’s love for the hunt with several “trophies of the chase” to show off his skill (54).
I have extended the examination of names to that of Evie, which comes from Eva, and shares the same root as Eve, the biblical first woman, the helpmeet and companion of man, and mankind’s first mother. The name Eve is derived from Latin Ēva from Hebrew Havva which means “a living being” or “Life.” In the biblical story, Adam gives names to all the animals and also to his wife. Each name designates a different animal and defines what the animal is. In the same way, Eve means, and is, life, and part of her identity is “mother of all living.”
In Maugham’s “The Colonel’s Lady,” Evie as George’s wife, contrary to the legacy of her namesake, is said to be “barren” (55). Unlike Adam’s Eve, she cannot be a mother. She cannot continue the Peregrine family line. George thinks “she hadn’t any vitality,” is “faded” and “thin as a rail” (55) and goes to another “blonde and luscious” woman (56), one who seems more fertile and full of life than Evie.
George, however, is wrong. Evie’s book, Dashwood says, “throbs” with passion “in every line” (60). Contrary to George’s perception, Evie shows that she is full of vitality (from the Latin vitalis “of life” from vita “life”). She gives birth to a new tradition and generation of man. Her legacy is a society where women can be creative, not in the physical terms of making babies, but in the intellectual and emotional terms of producing a work of art. This is the creation and contribution of the new Eve—“fresh and original, very modern without being obscure” that from conception has taken on a life of its own and grown beyond the imagining and control of its parent, just like a child (59).
Colonel George Peregrine
Lady Eva Katherine Hamilton Peregrine
Study Guide for Maugham's "The Colonel's Lady"
Other topics that you can think about:
Time and Memory: The events in this story take place over how many days? Is the time of day in which an event takes place significant? There is a backstory of the colonel and his wife's married life that hovers in the background of present events. What is the relation between the passage of time and memory in the story? Do you agree with Harry Blane's advice to George that "the world moves so quickly and people's memories are so short. They'll forget" (72)? Aside from memory, what things does time take away and what things can time give?
Reading: Who reads in the story? What do they read? How are the materials they read different from each other? How does each character approach reading? How is reading narrated? Look at when the act of reading of a character is interrupted. What things interrupt the smooth flow of concentrated reading? What ideas about reading are mentioned in the story? How is one supposed to read? What constitutes good reading, what constitutes bad reading? Critics are those who read for a profession and write about what they read. Are they presented as good readers? Are they shown to be reliable interpreters and judges of what they read? Plot advancement happens through the act of reading several times. The plot of Evie's book When Pyramids Decay, for example, is told through George's reading of the story. What were your impressions of the book from "reading over the shoulder" of George? Were your impressions the same as his? Did you draw the same conclusions that he did about the characters involved in that story?
Evie's Book: What is the function of the book in Maugham's short story? Is it another character in the story? Is it a plot? What does it reveal about Evie? What does it reveal about George? Do you see parallels in the plot of Evie's book and the plot of George and Evie's life? How does the title of the book When Pyramids Decay comment on other themes and images in the short story: life, fame, history, empire, love, marriage, war, culture, society?
War: War is a kind of conflict. Look at instances of war or war-related words or images in the story. What militant terms do you find? What are they describing? Who is warring against what?
Walls: Walls shelter us from danger outside. At the same time walls also block us from connection with one another. The Great Wall of China, the Berlin Wall--both structures protect as much as they divide. What walls are mentioned in the story? How do they protect their inhabitants? How do they divide, obstruct or confine their inhabitants?
Names and Identity: Names and identity are given particular attention in Maugham's "The Colonel's Lady": George is "proud of his own unusual name" and Daphne "was the name of the girl with whom he was in the habit of passing a few agreeable hours whenever he went to town" (57-58). When are names used to identify people, when are they not? What other terms are used instead of a name? How does name use vary throughout the story and at what events in the plot do they occur? What is the significance of Evie using her maiden name in her book? If it is to obscure identity, then what does it achieve if "Everyone knows E. K. Hamilton is your wife," as an old friend of George's declares (59)? How many different ways is Evie referred to in the story? What difference does it make what she is called? Does it also reflect how she is viewed? What do you think of the identity suggested by the title "The Colonel's Lady"?
The Smile: Your friend brought up the interesting image of the smile in class on Wednesday. Does everyone smile in the story? Who uses smiles in the story? to what purpose? How does the smile affect the meaning of the words spoken with it? When are smiles used? Does it create mystery like the Mona Lisa's smile? Does it ease conflict or create them? Does it complicate an action? If so, how? Smiles are usually associated with humor or pleasure? Do they always express this in the story?
Key Terms to Date
conflict, internal conflict, external conflict, clash of actions, clash of ideas, clash of desires, clash of wills
man v. self
man v. man
man v. society
man v. nature
direct presentation of character
indirect presentation of character
show v. tell
consistency in character behavior
plausibility of character
|W. Somerset Maugham|
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Last updated August 2, 2007