The Circle; Our Betters; The Constant Wife, William Somerset Maugham

These three plays talk about love. They spare nothing or nobody, neither the men (stupid, hypocritical, quite unloving) nor the women (stupid also, strategic, idle). Utterly refreshing!

The Circle (1921)


  • p. 71: “But you know men are very funny. Even when they are in love, they’re not in love all day long.”
  • p. 73: “One sacrifices one’s life for love and then one finds that love doesn’t last. The tragedy of love isn’t death or separation. One gets over them. The tragedy of love is indifference.”


Our Betters (1917)


  • p. 103:  “My dear fellow, the degree of a nation’s civilization is marked by its disregard for the necessities of existence. You have gone so far as to waste money, but we have gone farther; we waste what is infinitely more precious, more transitory, more irreparable – we waste time.”
  • p. 129: “Pearl: “(…) As if anyone remembered an emotion when he no longer felt it!” Duchesse: “It’s true. I’ve been in love a dozen times, desperately, and when I’ve got over it and look back, though I remember I was in love, I can’t for the life of me remember my love.”


Ari: This last point is very well taken by WSM. Freud (1915) tells us in ‘The Unconscious’ that an experience is a complex of separable components, one of which is a representational component and the other one is an affective component. (This is  very much in line with the neurophysiological description of the ‘high road’ and the ‘low road’ of Joseph LeDoux.) The essential difference between both, Freud further tells us, is that the representational component leaves a ‘memory trace’ while the affect, being a mere ‘discharge process’, does not. I have proposed in my book (‘Des fantômes dans la voix’, 2007 – but probably others have proposed similar ideas) that the representational and the affective component essentially differ in the nature of their discharge or execution system. The representations have the voluntary striated muscles (the limbs, the articulation system etc.) as their execution system, the affects have the involuntary smooth muscles (delineating the inner body) as their execution system. The voluntary muscles system being so much finer organized than the smooth muscle system, this enables a finer inscription. This is why, while we can remember that we have felt a feeling, we can not remember the feeling, unless we live the feeling again – but then is it truly a memory?


The Constant Wife  (1927)


This is a hilarious play, it is ferociously truthful.

  • p. 222. “Constance:”Now listen. If I think he’s awful we’ll just talk about the weather and the crops for a few minutes and then we’ll have an ominous pause and stare at him. That always makes a man feel a perfect fool and the moment a man feels a fool he gets up and goes.”. Mrs Culver: “Sometimes they don’t know how to, poor dears, and the earth will never open and swallow them up.”
  • p.  262: Constance: “My dear, any sensible man would rather play bridge at his club than with his wife, and he’d always rather play golf with a man than with a woman. A paid secretary is a far better helpmate than a loving spouse. When all is said and done, the modern wife is nothing but a parasite.”:
  • p. 287: John: “If you think what they call free love is fun you’re mistaken. Believe me, its the most overrated amusement that was ever invented.”
  • p. 289: Mrs Culver: “(…) Men were meant by nature to be wicked and delightful and deceive their wives, and women were meant to be virtuous, and forgiving and to suffer verbosely. (…)”

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