The Lotus Eater by Somerset Maugham Summary
Maugham’s short story, ‘The Lotus Eater’, is a modern version of the ancient story of the lotus eaters as found in Homer’s Odyssey. According to Homer, the Greek companions of Ulysses lost their determination to go back home after they had taste of a fruit called the lotus. Tennyson also wrote a poem, entitled ‘The Lotos-Eaters’, that captured the spirit of indolence pervading the whole land of the lotus eaters or the ‘lotophagi’, in his musical lines having effect of a Jullaby.
Maugham’s Capri, with its mountains forests and the sea, with its two rocks called the Faraglioni standing out of the sea, with Vesuvius giving out ‘a great red plume of smoke’ rising from the sea, with the full moon over the sea, had such a captivating effect upon the soul of Wilson that he refused to go back to his old service in the bank in London and settled to lead a life of comfort drinking the beauty of nature. After twenty-five years of comfort he had to endure a life of discomfort. He had lost all capacity for doing any work as he had to face no obstacles in life for twenty-five years. Herein lies the modern element in the story. And Maugham gives here his own criticism of life. Ultimately Wilson died of the beauty of the sight of Faraglioni on one full-moon night
The Lotus Eater Eaters Summary
Most people live a conventional life. But there are people who choose sometimes an unusual way of life. Wilson was one such person.
Thomas Wilson was an odd sort of man. He made an experiment which, however, ended very sadly. The writer heard of him, but wanted to hear the facts of his life from his own mouth.
The author’s friend introduced Wilson to him in an afternoon of the month of August on the Piazza in Capri overlooking the Bay of Naples in Italy. The sight was one of the most beautiful sights in the world. The author and his friend had a drink with Wilson
The physical appearance of Wilson was plain, and his dress also was simple. The author took him to be a manager of an insurance company. The author, his friend and Wilson came to Morgano’s inn and had drinks. They had a chat for a while. Then Wilson left them. The author found nothing extraordinary in Wilson while his friend said that Wilson could do something uncommon.
A day or two afterwards the author and his friend came to bathe at a beach called the Baths of Tiberius. They saw Wilson. After taking bath the author came to Wilson who was reading a book. Wilson told him that what was known as the baths of Tiberius was really one of the villas of Tiberius. Wilson felt to have been living there in historical times. The author found him well read.
Wilson told him the story of the mythical German who came to Capri for a lunch and stayed there for forty years. Wilson had to stay there for twenty-five years. The author’s friend came and the conversation turned to other things
They met several times. One full-moon night on the mountain Monte Solaro the author and Wilson had their dinner. Wilson said that the purpose of all work was leisure but the people forgot it. Wilson began the story of his love for Capri.
Fifteen years ago Wilson came to Capri and settled there for life. One year before settling there for life, he had come, and at once fell in love with the beauty of the place, and was determined in his purpose. So he went back to the bank, resigned his post, received a gratuity, and sold his property. With the money from gratuity, from his savings and from the sale proceeds of his property, he bought an annuity for twenty five years. This made him lose a year.
And then with that annuity he was having a comfortable life there enjoying the beauty of Nature in and around Capri. He had lost his wife and his only child. He was a lonely man with none to look after him and none to be looked after by him. Assunta, the wife of his landlord, was doing the rooms and the cooking. He played on the piano, he played patience with a pack of cards, he read hooks, and he wandered about seeing the beauty of Nature. He liked people, he was of no service to others. He did no harm to others.
The author left the island. That was in 1913. The year after the first World War broke out. The author came back to the island after thirteen years. He met his friend again. The friend was living in the room where Wilson had been living. The author had forgotten all about Wilson. He now asked his friend if Wilson had committed suicide after the ten years he had before him elapsed. The friend told him a grim story about the last years of Wilson’s life. Wilson’s plan was all right with the exception that a long period of comfort and absence of struggle would make one incapable of facing life with all the money exhausted. Wilson had lived a year on credit.
After that his landlord asked him to pay off or leave the house. The night before the day of leaving the house he closed the door and the window and kept a tray of charcoal burning. In the morning Assunta found him unconscious. He was taken to hospital from where he recovered but he had no means of sustenance. Assunta took pity on him. He stayed on in her house sharing their meals but doing hard labour for the landlord. He avoided acquaintances. But Wilson’s life was horrible. He met Wilson while he and his friend were strolling along a narrow path. But he hid behind an olive tree. He watched them, but could not face them.
After enduring this miserable existence for six years, he died. He was found one morning on the mountain side lying peacefully. Probably he went to his favourite spot at night to enjoy the moonlit beauty of the mountains.
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