Appeared in Fall 1990, Vol. XVI, No. 3

In this fine essay (his first for the Journal), Professor Centore exposes the hypocrisy behind so much of contemporary liberal jargon by revealing its subtle denial of objective value.

Maugham’s Success Story

William Somerset Maugham (1874-1965), in his 1943 Novel The Razor’s Edge, has a character named Sophie Macdonald. In one of the movie versions of Maugham’s novel, Sophie’s husband and baby are killed in an automobile accident, and Sophie is taken to a hospital operated by Catholic nuns. As part of the hospital scene, Sophie, who has just returned to consciousness, and who has just learned about the full extent of the tragedy, is confronted by a fresh-faced young nun who tells Sophie that everything is really all right because her dead husband and baby are in heaven with God. Instead of being comforted, however, Sophie flies into a rage, condemning the young nun as a completely unfeeling and vacuous woman; not a real woman at all, but some sort of shell and shabby facade.

As a good novelist, Maugham knew better than to include such an implausible scene in his work. As any counselor knows, even one just starting out, talking philosophy and theology to someone who is in a highly excited and distraught emotional state is bound to be counter-productive. What Sophie needed just then was physical contact with another warm human being over owing with sympathy and concern. Hugs and kisses were required, not Hegel and Kierkegaard. Even a young nun would have known that. And Maugham, as an experienced observer of human nature, would have known that she would have known it.

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