“The Lotus Eater” by William Somerset Maugham as a short story
William Somerset Maugham’s reputation much lies up on the short stories he has contributed to English literature. Though lacking the intellectual brightness, witty stunt, or sudden explosion of humour, often characterizing his writings. The Lotus Eater is one of the most heart-touching of his short stories. The mystery of character, a hallmark of him, forms the greatest appeal of this story.
The story centers around the last part of the life of Wilson, a modern lotus-eater, who left his job just at the age of thirty-five on viewing the natural beauty of Capri, where he had come on a holiday trip. Transformed into a slave of this beauty and desiring to indulge in a life of ease and comfort, he forewent his retirement benefit and chose to buy a quarter of a century of absolute comfort amid this natural beauty in exchange for all his properties. He pawned his life with the belief that “Leisure…is the most priceless thing a man can have”.
The first part of the story begins with the narrator being introduced to Wilson by a common friend at a time when Wilson has spent most of his allotted period of leisure. This extraordinary man explains his attraction to the island before the narrator as he says, “It wasn’t wine that made me drunk, it was the shape of the island and those jabbering (jabber=to talk rapidly) people, the moon and the sea and the oleander in the hotel garden.” Wilson’s plan of putting an end to the end of twenty-five years of annuity drives a shiver through the narrator’s spine and rouses the reader’s tragic anticipation.
The second part of the story opens with the narrator asking his friend about the end of Wilson and the friend telling him about the sordid end of Wilson’s life. The friend explains how Wilson had made a great mistake in thinking that he would be able to end his life at the end of his period of leisure. The long life of passivity had snatched his power to work and his effort at suicide resulted in his losing his mental sanity. He had to live at the mercy of his former servants after being reduced to a pauper. But the manner of his death suggests that in spite of his bestial life, he remained in his heart of hearts the same ardent lover of nature’s beauty. He was supposed to have died enjoying the beauty of the full moon rising between the two great rocks, a sight that had made Wilson an ardent lover of Capri. Like the mariners accompanying Ulysses who ate lotus and got converted into the resident’s lotus land, Wilson drank the beauty of Capri and became attached to that place forever. He was the modern lotus-eater, dying of the love for beauty.
Graced with Maugham’s brilliant prose style, an appropriate title, and effective similes, Wilson’s ironical tale forms an appealing short story.