‘The Luncheon’ by William Somerset Maugham: Short Story Analysis
This is a reflective and humorous story by the author William Somerset Maugham about the incorrigible behavior of a middle-aged women out to eat up his meagre earnings as a writer. She does so by making him invite her to luncheon at the Foyot’s restaurant in Paris and eating sumptuously while the author has to pay for her unusually large appetite. I want to make mention here that there is another short story titled ‘The Luncheon’ penned by bestselling author Jefferey Archer which appears in his book of short stories ‘A Quiver Full of Arrows’. He makes mention in the book that his ‘The Luncheon’ was inspired by Maugham’s tale. I have, however, analyzed below the original story ‘The Luncheon’ penned by William Somerset Maugham.
The woman in this story by Maugham is a charmer. She portrays to be a woman of good breeding who knows a great deal about art, literature, and music. However, she has a habit of talking too much as well as a huge appetite for good food. In this short luncheon meeting with Maugham, she downs:
- A salmon
- Half a bottle of champagne
- A dish of asparagus
- Ice cream
- A pear
Poor Maugham manages only to down one measly mutton chop while the woman goes on to narrate how unhealthy his choice of food is. The repetitions of the lines ‘I eat nothing’ or ‘I ever have much for luncheon’ as well as ‘I really don’t eat luncheon’ adds to the humor of the short story. She keeps on making these declarations as she literally gormandizes the author out of his 80 francs which was his monthly earnings. He is left penniless for the month at the end of the episode of ‘The Luncheon’ while the woman goes on to gain 133 kgs at a later date, naturally according to the author as a punishment for ruining him that day. To read Maugham’s ‘The Luncheon’ and not to yourself feel a bit overfull is impossible; the lady does certainly eat quite a bit. The humor is in the additions of each dish, the pauperism of the author, and her constantly referring to what she was eating as one meal or ‘just one thing’. By the addition of each expensive dish one after another, one is bound to crack up a bit. More humor is added by Maugham claiming that he would fake it that his wallet had been pinched and so he couldn’t pay the exorbitant bill of fare. Humor is also added by the waiter who is out to make a good tip by adding one after another to the wants of the pretentious overeating woman. At the end of the day, all it boils down to is something that in today’s 21st century we would call as body-shaming but in Maugham’s time was a fitting end to a woman who had made him broke for a month during the early years of his career as a writer. One must not also miss the point of the absurdity of the meal the woman ate. Everything was expensive, most were out of season and everything was very heavy to digest in one’s stomach. This in indicative of the irony that although it was the pretentious woman who was eating indigestible food, it was the writer Maugham who was getting the indigestion and acting like he couldn’t ‘stomach’ it all. Foyot’s in Paris is to be remembered as a very extraordinarily expensive chain of restaurants. It is to be remembered that it was the woman who invited Maugham and not the other way around. As is always in the humorous stories of Maugham, it is a pleasure to read and very precise, to the point sentences. None of the extravagant frivolity of Oscar Wilde or Saki. Although for a reader who may be unaware of the reality of the expensive dishes, this tale will make no sense at all. One must be a regular eater at restaurants oneself to understand the implications of all the food mentioned in this exceedingly hilarious tale. People like me who are reclusive introverts from eastern cultures would take a second longer to understand the implications of the menu, but there are enough clues in the short story to make one laugh out loud. I especially was amused with the lady claiming that her doctor would not let her drink anything but champagne as it was with less alcohol. The meagre tip given by the author is cringe worthy for those of us who know what waiters are like these days and relatable with people who are victims of proud, greedy, garrulous and very conceited women. Her guidelines in the short story to a good and healthy luncheon is noteworthy for its absurdity. The woman appears to be someone who often made others pay for her food. The take away points for this amusing but very precise short story called ‘The Luncheon’ is as follows:
- The way the woman seduces the author by flattery of his writing to get him to Foyot’s.
- The fact that the woman was garrulous as well as the allusion by the author that she had too many teeth than wanted in her mouth.
- The woman at the end ignoring her greed and calling the author a humorist which validates that is what Maugham wants us also to feel at the end of this short story.
- The act of God which is seen in the hugeness of the woman after years of gormandizing other people’s pockets.
All in all, this is indeed one of the funnier stories I keep on coming back to from time to time. I will be typing a short story analysis of the second ‘The Luncheon’ by Jefferey Archer at a later date for a comparative study. For more of my book reviews, short story analysis and author interviews visit my blog insaneowl.com. If you would like to purchase my books visit my website fizapathanpublishing.us or fizapathan.com. Happy reading to you always this weekend!
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