Theatre by W Somerset Maugham
also known as Being Julia
published 1937 chapter 24
[Noted actress Julia Lambert has decided to seduce a long-term admirer, Charles]
On Wednesday morning Julia had her face massaged and her hair waved. She could not make up her mind whether to wear for dinner a dress of flowered organdie, very pretty and spring-like with its suggestion of Botticelli's Primavera, or one of white satin beautifully cut to show off her slim young figure, and virginal; but while she was having her bath she decided on the white satin: it indicated rather delicately that the sacrifice she intended was in the nature of an expiation for her long ingratitude to [husband] Michael. She wore no jewels but a string of pearls and diamond bracelet; besides her wedding-ring only one square-cut diamond. She would have liked to put on a slight brown tan, it looked open-air-girl and suited her, but reflecting on what lay before her she refrained. She could not very well, like the actor who painted himself black all over to play Othello, tan her whole body. Always a punctual woman, she came downstairs as the front door was being opened for Charles. She greeted him with a look into which she put tenderness, a roguish charm and intimacy.
observations: The next time someone says that the Richard Strauss opera Der Rosenkavalier is a perfect picture of an aging beauty realizing that she must stand back for the next generation, must let her young lover go so that he may marry a virginal young maiden – well, point them in the direction of this book. It is a vastly superior picture of the thoughts and decisions of an aging lady, and one that I feel most women would certainly prefer. It should be much better-known – it is a splendid and very funny book, and you can always listen to Strauss while you read it.
Is it possible that the reference to ‘Michael’ above should have read ‘Charles’? – the sentence makes more sense, perhaps, if it is the admirer rather than the husband who is the subject of the ingratitude. She has held him off for a long time, but her calculated plan is going to go slightly wrong. It’s not going to matter about the fake tan, that’s for sure – and isn’t that an extraordinary couple of sentences, for all kinds of reasons?
The book was made into a film in 2004, and both will feature shortly in a Dress Down Sunday entry along with a look at what Julia is wearing under her lovely dresses. [answer: not much].
Links up with: Kingsley Amis is another male author imagining an older woman on the edge of a date – and fake tan is at issue again, strangely enough. Click on the label below for more Maugham.
The picture, by Henry Tonks, is of the beautiful Hazel Lavery. She has appeared in the blog before – by coincidence dressed as Primavera, so she could have featured whichever outfit Julia chose.