The Wrong Thing to Live for

Imagine looking back at the age of 75 and realising that you chose the wrong thing to live for?  Realising that all those years of work and sacrifice were for something that you now do not value?

Living to Please Elizabeth

Over at the excellent Art of Manliness blog there is a recent post about Walter Raleigh.  He was of the best of his age: smart, connected, quick-witted and strong. He sought a life of fame and fortune.

He decided that pleasing Queen Elizabeth was the path to success.  He sacrificed time with his family, sold himself short on his own values… anything to keep pleasing the Queen.  He found riches and fame for a time…

Eventually Elizabeth tired of him and had him thrown into The Tower of London.  He never left the tower.

We Find What We Seek

My favourite novel is Somerset Maugham’s “The Razor’s Edge”.

RazorsEdgeNew

The Razor’s Edge book cover

The Razor’s Edge tells the story of Larry, an American pilot deeply changed by his experiences in World War I.  Larry rejects the conventional, safe path that awaits him and lives in search of meaning.

He is surrounded by 5 main characters: Isobel, Gray, Elliot, Sophie and Maugham himself (who is both author and a central character in the book).

Isobel seeks financial security.  Although deeply in love, she breaks her engagement to Larry once she sees that he will not follow the path of financial security.  She marries Gray, a millionaire stockbroker and heir to a fortune.  She sacrifices love for money.  Gray will go on to lose his fortune.

Elliot wants to be part of aristocratic society.  He will do anything to be invited to the right parties and will sacrifice anything in order to be around people with titles.  As he lies dying, not a single one of his aristocratic friends makes the trip to visit him.  Elliot dies alone.

Sophie drifts into Larry’s life.  She has fallen into alcohol and promiscuity after her family life fell apart.  Larry tries to save her, but triggers Isobel’s jealousy.  Sophie is alcohol-free with Larry, but Isobel tempts her back with a bottle of vodka.  One bottle triggers a collapse into complete alcoholism.

Maugham ends suggesting that all the characters got what they desired: “Elliott achieved social eminence, Isabel achieved a secure position, Sophie, death, and Larry found happiness.”

What are you searching for?  You will find it.

* Photo of The Razor’s Edge – Source Wikimedia under Fair use

2 comments

  1. The Razor’s Edge is a terrific novel. I read it years ago and it has had an influence. Your post might just prompt me to pick it up again. Thanks for sharing these important ideas.

    1. Thanks John. I loved the book. I was lent a first edition of the book by a good friend. It was a special thing to read – knowing it was so important to my friend and knowing that I was reading from the original print edition 😉

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Centrifugal Performer

By Milica Ilic

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