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Don Fernando

av W. Somerset Maugham

MedlemmarRecensionerPopularitetGenomsnittligt betygOmnämnanden
1293165,642 (3.41)12
Enchanted by the landscape and people of Spain,Maugham had long resolved to wirte a picaresque novel about the country. Instead, he wrote a living commentary assessing a great people in their greatest hour.'Don Fernando' ia s paean to Sapin's golden age of enormous creative enegy. Beginning wth the vivid tale of Loyola's life and conversion, it discusses the writings of St. Theresa and the paintings of El Greco, and comments with sagacity and wit on such illustrious figures as Cervantes, Luis de Leon, Lope de Vega, Velasquez and the creator of Don Juan.'Don Fernando' is full of happy surprises, curious facts and stimulating opinions that reflect Maugham's lifelong love and admiration for spanish culture and civilisation.… (mer)

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I must admit to feeling I read this book out of order. Although the cover blurb suggests that this is Maugham's greatest work, it would seem that Don Fernando was a sketch of the research Maugham did for what would later become Catalina. It has the feel of a travel book, somewhat similar in intent to On a Chinese Screen, but held together by a personal story relating to Don Fernando and an historical book he insisted Maugham should have. I kept waiting to hear more about Don Fernando but instead found myself enthralled in a treatise on Spanish art, literature, and architecture amid life during the Counter-Reformation, and the artists and mystics who made it all happen. I am often impressed by the depth of historical knowledge of the literary greats. Indeed, Maugham claims to have read some three hundred books as research for a planned novel that had not happened by the time Don Fernando was published. It is clear that one doesn't write true 'literature' without a hefty amount of research. The trouble with reading such scholarly work is the reminder that great works do not come easy, and my ability to absorb literature vociferously is limited by my work and the professional reading I must continue to do. I recall an interview in the Paris Review where an author spoke of the limited time for reading that remained in his life, and the need to be strategic about what one reads after age fifty. Sadly, Don Fernando reminds me of that fast-approaching fact, and there is so much in Maugham's work here that deserves further investigation. I am afraid I will have to abandon the details and enjoy the ephemeral sensation of my newly gained yet thin knowledge. ( )
  madepercy | Nov 7, 2017 |
[Author’s Note to Don Fernando, Heinemann, The Collected Edition, 1950:]

I wish to tell the reader that I have taken advantage of a new edition of this book to make certain changes in it. It is not often that a writer comes across a criticism of his work that can be of use to him. When he is lucky enough to do so he is foolish not to profit by it. That is what I have tried to do in this edition. When Mr. Desmond MacCarthy reviewed The Summing Up in The Sunday Times he remarked, but without acrimony, that I had already said quite a number of things in Don Fernando that I had said in the book he was reviewing. I knew it. I had when I wrote it no intention of writing The Summing Up and since a subject I happened to be treating Don Fernando seemed to give me a plausible excuse to say various things I very much wanted to say, I said them. As I hoped its name indicated, The Summing Up was a summing up of my reflections on most of the matters that in the course of my life had occupied it and so it seemed natural enough to repeat more or less fully what I was well aware I had said in more books than one. But since The Summing Up has had a far wider circulation than I could have expected I have thought it wise to omit in this book what in the later one I think I have said more adequately. I was indeed glad to do this, since on re-reading Don Fernando after fifteen years, I could not but see that to deal at considerable length with a topic that was not too relevant to my theme was an error in composition. I have learnt enough about the difficult business of writing to know that when you are hunting a fox you have no business to course a hare.

Mr. Raymond Mortimer in a kindly review of Don Fernando in The New Statesman* found one of the chapters tedious. It contained a long passage from a conversation-manual written in the sixteenth century by one John Minsheu to teach Englishmen such Spanish phrases as they might find useful on their travels. I inserted it because I thought it threw a curious side-light on the times. John Minsheu described his dialogues as Pleasant and Delightful, but I am prepared to believe that the general reader, who cannot be expected to share my particular interests, found them neither; so I have left the passage out and replaced it by matter which I hope will be more to his taste.

On another point on which Mr. Mortimer animadverted I could do nothing. I stated that these essays on various aspects of Spanish life during the reign of Philip III were composed out of material I had collected in order to write a novel, but which for certain reasons I never wrote. My critic thought this was all moonshine; in fact, if I remember right, he said it was as thin a pretext to account for the writing of a book as he had ever met with. I daresay it was, I could not help it; it was the plain truth. I do not believe any writer would go to the trouble of reading so many books, many of them dull, in a Spanish which the Spaniards of today themselves find none too easy to read, without an ulterior motive. To write about them. The best proof I can give that when I said what I did it was not merely an idle invention to give my book some kind of form and lead me naturally from one topic to another, is that many years later I wrote, certainly not the novel I had purposed, but another dealing with the same period in which I was able to use much of the material I had collected.**

I aim to please, and when I came to go over Don Fernando again I tried to find some way of getting round the point with which Mr. Mortimer had found fault. For it is no use to tell your readers that so and so is a fact; the fact must be plausible. But since the whole book hung on this thread, tenuous maybe, but strong enough, I thought, to bear its weight, I soon saw that the only manner in which I could get rid of this useful expedient was to re-write the book from beginning to end, and that I was not prepared to do. If it has no worse defect I can afford to be satisfied.

I am glad to have this opportunity to render my very grateful thanks to the two distinguished critics I have mentioned for criticism which has enabled me, I hope, to produce a somewhat better book than that which so many years ago I offered to the public.

[From the Preface to The Travel Books, Heinemann, 1955, pp. xii-xv:]

Don Fernando can only by courtesy be called a travel book, since, though it would never have been written but for my long sojourns in Spain, it deals for the most part not with the cities the traveller may visit nor with the famous sights that demand his attention and extort his wonder, but with excursions into Spain’s Golden Age. So great is the fascination of that country that it is not a gross exaggeration to say that nearly anyone who has been there any length of time, and can wield a pen or pound a typewriter, has found himself impelled to write a book about it. Some of these productions have become minor classics. Borrow’s The Bible in Spain, Theophile Gautier’s Voyage en Espagne, Ford’s Gatherings from Spain, written during the first half of the nineteenth century, though they describe conditions that have long since ceased to exist, can still be read with pleasure. They have a romantic glamour that the writer of today cannot hope to recapture. Since then innumerable books have been published. Of those that I have read, the most useful is H. V. Morton’s A Traveller in Spain. It gives the reader all the information he needs to make a journey in Spain instructive as well as delightful. This little book of mine can make no such pretensions; yet it may have an interest to anyone who has paid Spain more than a hurried visit and has succumbed to its lure; for the Golden Age, though long since a thing of the past, is still a living memory. It confronts you at every turn. It pervades the Escorial; it is with you in Avila and Salamanca; it animated the plays of Lope de Vega and Calderon, which are on occasion still acted in Madrid; it is there for you to see in the pictures of El Greco and Velasquez. To many a Spaniard, to far more than you would suppose, that moment of glory is a support and an inspiration. Now and then a trivial incident, a casual remark, will bring it so close to you that you are dazzled.

On one occasion, I was lunching with a friend of mine in Madrid, and he happened to ask me what I had been doing that morning. I told him that as usual I had spent it at the Prado.
''Did you look at the portrait of my ancestor, the Count-Duke of Olivares?'' he said.
''Of course,'' I answered.
He pointed to a suit of armour, elaborately damascened, that stood against the wall.
''That is the armour that Velasquez painted him in.''
A thrilling moment!

When you read the plays and novels that were written during the Golden Age, the lives of the saints and sinners, the history of the period, you gain presently a vivid impression of what those men were who, by means of clever diplomacy and profitable marriages, had become masters of half Europe, and by force of arms had added vast territories to the crown of Spain. They were proud, punctilious and elaborately courteous, passionate, brutal and ruthless, fiercely religious, but fond of a joke, especially a bawdy or a cruel one; and when their passions were not roused, gracious, charitable and kindly. I do not believe the Spaniards have greatly changed. Essentially they are the same people as they were then. Though they may not like the foreigner, they will take care not to let him see it. Gentle and common alike, they are polite. They are the politest people in Europe. […] One of the most charming traits you find in the Spaniards is the tenderness with which they treat children; however troublesome they are, they seem never to lose patience with them. You would think their indulgence and good humour were inexhaustible. But they can be ruthless still. A friend of mine, the owner of large estates in the North of Spain, told me a story which is here apposite. It was about a man, José-Maria by name; he was middle-aged, for his station fairly well-off, a quiet, respectable fellow and a good workman. He was so rash as to marry an uncommonly pretty girl twenty years younger than himself and, as might perhaps have been expected, it was not long before she took a lover. This was a young man called Antonio. In a small village everyone knows what everyone else is doing and soon the affair was the subject of common gossip. It may be that Antonio, being a Spaniard, was boastful, and not displeased that his conquest should be known. Presently the only person in the community who remained ignorant of it was the husband. The whole thing was so flagrant that it seemed impossible that he should not suspect it. It began to be thought that he knew quite well what was going on, but, in view of the disparity of age between himself and his wife, had decided to ignore it. He was a good man and well liked, but the cuckold has through the ages been an object of ridicule, and many a ribald joke was made at his expense. Months passed.

Both husband and wife went out to work early in the morning, he on one job, she on another, and came back to their little house at noon for their midday meal. Since José-Maria got in before his wife, he prepared it. One day they sat down in the kitchen, and he set on the table a savoury dish of rice. His wife began to eat it with good appetite. When she had finished, she pushed the plate back with a sigh of satisfaction.
“That was good, José-Maria,” she said. “I’ve never eaten anything better. What was the meat in it?”
“Antonio’s kidneys,” he answered.
For a moment she didn’t know what he meant; then the ghastly truth flashed across her mind, she sprang to her feet and fell to the floor in a dead faint. José-Maria went up the short flight of stairs to their bedroom to fetch the bag he had already packed. He shut and locked the door of the house behind him and walked along the street to catch the bus that went to Bilbao. He had timed everything to the minute. At Bilbao he went on board the ship that was about to sail for Argentina.

It was a grim story, and I could not but think that I could make something of it. I turned it over in my mind and had half a mind to write it. Fortunately I didn’t, since it would have got me into trouble. Some time afterwards, I went to Italy. I hadn’t read the Decameron since my first visit there when I was twenty, and I thought it high time for me to read it again. So I took it with me. I read the charming introductions once more, and then story after story. Everyone knows the plan on which they are written. A group of friends, fleeing from the plague in Florence, entertain themselves by telling a set of ten stories on succeeding days. The ninth story on the third day tells how Messer Guiglielmo Rossiglione, having killed his wife’s lover, Messer Guiglielmo Guardastagno, gives her his heart to eat. When this is made known to her, she throws herself out of the window and dies. It was in essentials the same story as my friend had told me. I was pretty sure that he had never read the Decameron, and, knowing him well, I was convinced that he had told me what he knew to have happened. I could only suppose that nature was up to its old trick of copying art. But it is odd that in this case it should have waited five hundred years before doing so.

*The review is reprinted in W. Somerset Maugham: The Critical Heritage, eds. Anthony Curtis and John Whitehead, Routledge, 1987. Ed.
**Catalina, Heinemann/Doubleday, 1948. Ed.
1 rösta WSMaugham | Jul 18, 2016 |
W. Somerset Maugham

Don Fernando

Vintage Classics, Paperback, 2000.

12mo. vii+178 pp. Author's Note, 1950 [v-vii].

First published by Heinemann, 1935.
Revised version with new Author's Note first published, 1950.


Full text here. ( )
2 rösta Waldstein | Aug 31, 2013 |
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Enchanted by the landscape and people of Spain,Maugham had long resolved to wirte a picaresque novel about the country. Instead, he wrote a living commentary assessing a great people in their greatest hour.'Don Fernando' ia s paean to Sapin's golden age of enormous creative enegy. Beginning wth the vivid tale of Loyola's life and conversion, it discusses the writings of St. Theresa and the paintings of El Greco, and comments with sagacity and wit on such illustrious figures as Cervantes, Luis de Leon, Lope de Vega, Velasquez and the creator of Don Juan.'Don Fernando' is full of happy surprises, curious facts and stimulating opinions that reflect Maugham's lifelong love and admiration for spanish culture and civilisation.

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