Up at the Villa
W. Somerset Maugham
The villa on the Hill, edited by Redbook, 1940 Bantam Book, Doubleday an Company, 1950, 8th reprint.
About the story
The story is a melodrama. It takes place at Firenze, an artistic city in Italy. Mary, just widowed, stays in the villa of her friends, the Leonards, to forget about her sorrow. The villa is situated on a hill with an outlook on the city of Firenze. It is a very large villa, with fine furniture and old wall paintings.
Edgar, at the end of a successful diplomatic career, asked Mary to marry him and would return a week later to get her answer.
In the meantime, Mary is invited by a local baroness to a dinner in the city. A local orchestra plays at the restaurant. Only Mary gave them very much money. When returning home, she stops on an outlook platform and meets there with Karl, being the violist of the orchestra. Karl tells her his story of nazi refugee, of poverty and misery, and behaves very grateful and romantic to Mary because she gave so much money. Mary is taken by pity and takes Karl to the villa. She gives him food. Karl, being af pathetic nature, thanks her, kneels for her and declares her his love. Since Mary was a little bit high in the wind, they finally make love to eachother. Early in the morning, Mary asks him to leave, because the servants should not see him. She tells him that they never would meet again. This makes Karl so desperate that he takes Edgar’s revolver from Mary’s bag and kills himself.
Mary is desperate and not knowing what to do she calls her friend Rowley. Toghether, they make the body, the traces and the revolver disappear in a ravine. When Edgar returns to get the marriage answer, Mary cannot keep her mouth shut and tells him what happened. Edgar still loves her and is prepared to retire in order to marry her. In marrying her after these facts, his unblamed reputation could be harmed, if his revolver would be found back. Mary now realizes that she does not really love Edgar and that she only wanted to marry him because of him having been like her father to her and because of his high position. She does not want to pass the rest of her life with an old, retired man. Hence, Edgar takes his conclusions and leaves her forever. The next day, Rowley shows up telling her that he saw Edgar pack and leave quickly. His conclusion was that their marriage would not take place. Since they have so many secrets now toghether and since they know eachother much better now, they finally decide to stay toghether, to get married and to leave for Kenya, in order to manage both Rowleys farm.
The main character from the story is Mary. She is beautiful, dark haired, sweet, naive, generous and widowed. “Ever since I was sixteen, men have been making love to me. Whatever they are, old or young, ugly or handsome, they seem to think I’m there for no other pupose...”
There are three more main characters in the book:
Edgar. An upright, ambitious and ruthless man of unspoken behaviour, “peachfully correct”.
“ I’ve had a long fight and it’s satisfactory to find oneself near the top of the tree at last...” “I like power...”
Rowley. A charming, not very handsome, rich idle and irresponsible man who nevertheless has studied very much. This he never told to anybody. Therefore, he is not liked very much in the “high society”. “I like women. And strangely enough, they like me. I’m young and I know youth doesn’t last forever. Why shouldn’t I have as good a time as I can while I have the chance?...”
Karl. He was young, exiled from nazi Austria, penniless and very proud.
“If I’d only had enough money to buy a revolver I’d shot myself”...”But I regret nothing any more. It’s all been worth it for this wonderful night...”
All three men are or fell in love with Mary. Edgar, being a friend of her father asked to marry her. He knew Mary since her childhood and has been responsible for a great deal of her education. Edgar just got nominated as Governor of India. He wanted Mary because he loved her and because she was of pure and undiscussed behaviour.
Mary indeed took care of her allways drunken husband, untill he died in a motor accident.
Rowley was married to at least three women. His reputation in “the society” is bad. Rowley is involved in the drama which stroke Mary, which brought them more toghether.
Karl at last, comes in the story as a sudden, passes a wild and romantic night with Mary and killes himself afterwoods, when he discoveres that Mary is unfaithful to him.
The story is situated at the beginning of World-War II. This is mentioned in the book by the customs being described, the type of Mary’s car, the fact that the Indian Colony still belonged to Great Britain, the nazi-refugee from Austria, Karl and the fact that the house personnel talkes about Mussolini.
The most striking theme in the book is not really the self-killing of the poor refugee, but the moment that Mary discoveres and realizes that Edgar would not be the ideal husband for her, but that it would be Rowley. This passes only at the end of the story, in a long passage of conversations and philosophical considerations between mary one the one side and Edgar or Rowley onthe other side. It is the ripening process of a naive and almost childisch woman, learning about life and its consequences. Here Mary discoveres also her own personality.
The story is in fact a continuous act, covering only one week of time and changing many person’s lives. Of course, there are flashbacks, when the main person Mary, in her lonelyness, thinks about her life. The structure of the book is fourfold: The introduction with the description of the place and the leaving of Edgar with the openstanding question for marriage; the dinner at the restaurant followed by the dramatic scenery with the Austrian refugee; the episode of help from Rowley to make Karl’s body disappear and finally the discussions with the returned Edgar and the sincerely loving Rowley, where Mary finally realizes who she really is and what she really wants.
The appearing and most sensational climax in the story is of course the short, wild and romantic relationship with Karl, ending up in a drama. But in fact the most striking and most interesting part is the end, described in $5.
The story is told by an outsider, who even might never have been the witness. It could however been the autobiography of Mary, telling about the most striking moment in her life.
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