The Moon and Sixpence is a 1919 novel by William Somerset Maugham based on the life of the painter Paul Gauguin. The story is told in episodic form by the first-person narrator as a series of glimpses into the mind and soul of the central character, Charles Strickland, a middle aged English stock broker who abandons his wife and children abruptly in order to pursue his desire to become an artist.
Strickland first goes to Paris and lives a destitute but defiantly content life there as an artist, lodging in run-down hotels and falling prey to both illness and hunger. Strickland cares nothing for physical comfort, but is generously supported by a commercially successful yet unexceptional Dutch painter, Dirk Stroeve, who immediately recognizes Strickland's genius.
The inspiration for this story, Gauguin, is considered to be the founder of primitivism in art. The main differences between Gauguin and Strickland are that Gauguin was French rather than English, and whilst Maugham describes the character of Strickland as being ignorant of his contemporaries in Modern art, Gauguin himself was well acquainted with Van Gogh. How many of the details of the story are based on fact is not known. However, Maugham had visited the place where Gauguin lived in Tahiti, and purchased some glass panels painted by Gauguin in his final days.
According to some sources, the title, the meaning of which is not explicitly revealed in the book, was taken from a review of Of Human Bondage in which the novel's protagonist, Philip Carey, is described as "so busy yearning for the moon that he never saw the sixpence at his feet." Presumably Strickland's "moon" is the idealistic realm of Art and Beauty, while the "sixpence" represents human relationships and the ordinary pleasures of life.
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The Floating Press Ltd.
May 31, 2009
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