When I watched the movie The Painted Veil a few years ago, I knew little about the writer of the novel based on which the movie was made. Subsequently when I came across a copy of the book by the same name by British playwright W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965), I bought it and got down to reading it. The story which was first published in 1925 was beautifully written and made me want to read more books by the author.
It was around that time my husband’s uncle, (I’ll refer to him as Uncle Sydney from here on) who had been an avid book collector was giving way some of his books and had decided to present me one of Maugham books called “A Writer’s Note Book” . The book contains entries the author has handpicked from the many volumes of note books he had collected over the years between the years 1892 to 1944.
I soon found out that this copy of “A Writer’s Note Book “is a very special one because pasted on the inner side of the outer cover of the book is a letter sent by W. Somerset Maugham to Uncle Sydney in August, 1950. The letter had been sent in response to one he had written to the author querying from him if Maugham had ever visited Sri Lanka as well as if Larry Darrell, the protagonist of one of his most popular books, The Razor’s Edge’ is based on the life of (Christopher) Isherwood who was another leading writer at the time and a close friend of Maugham.
Uncle Sydney’s query on the possible connection between Isherwood and the main character in The Razor’s Edge had been prompted due to speculation at the time that Maugham was inspired by his friend to create the character.
It has been well documented that Isherwood translated for Maugham the quote with which The Razor’s Edge begins. The quote is taken from the Katha Upanishad, a section of the early Hindu philosophical texts which dates back to between 1000-400 B.C.
Isherwood who had been a follower of Swami Vivekananda and hence studied Sanskrit.
For those of you who have not read The Razor’s Edge, I’ll include here the quote contained in the book. It says:-
“The sharp edge of a razor is difficult to pass over;
The wise say the path to Salvation is hard.”
The book is well worth a read and as are many of Maugham’s other writings.