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Book Description

Octavo in 16s (227 x 152mm), pp. xvi, 349, [1 (blank)], [2 (blank l.)]. Title printed in red and black. (Some extremely light marginal browning, very light offsetting from title onto limitation l.) Original vellum-backed blue buckram, boards ruled in gilt, Maugham’s symbol in blind on the upper board, gilt morocco lettering-piece on spine, top edges gilt, others uncut. (Slight fading on upper edge of boards, a few light marks, extremities lightly rubbed and bumped.) A very good, fresh copy.
Dealer Notes
First complete edition, no. 497 of 1,000 specially-bound copies signed by the author. Published in the author’s seventy-fifth year, A Writer’s Notebook was based upon the notebooks which Maugham (1874-1965) kept throughout his life from the age of eighteen, feeling that ‘when you know that you are going to make a note of something, you look at it more attentively than you otherwise would, and in the process of doing so the words are borne in upon you that will give it its private place in reality’ (p xiii); however, he also acknowledges that ‘[t]he danger in using notes is that you find yourself inclined to rely on them, and so lose the even and natural flow of your writing which comes from allowing the unconscious that full activity which is somewhat pompously known as inspiration. You are also inclined to drag in your jottings whether they fit in or not’ (loc. cit.). Warning that the notebooks ‘do not pretend to be a journal’ (and thus do not record his encounters with the many notable and gifted figures he encountered in the course of his life), Maugham states that ‘I never made a note of anything that I did not think would be useful to me at one time or another in my work, and though, especially in the early notebooks, I jotted down all kinds of thoughts and emotions of a personal nature, it was only with the intention of ascribing them sooner or later to the creatures of my invention. I meant my notebooks to be a storehouse of materials for future use and nothing else. As I grew older and more aware of my intentions, I used my notebooks less to record my private opinions, and more to put down while still fresh my impressions of such persons and places as seemed likely to be of service to me for the particular purpose I had in view at the moment’ (p. xiv).

The manuscript notebooks were bound in ‘fifteen stoutish volumes’, but Maugham excised any material which had been published previously – such as the notes which formed his travel narrative On a Chinese Screen (1922) – when editing them for this edition, whilst retaining passages by his teenage self ‘which seem to me now very exaggerated and foolish. […] I have no wish to make myself out more sensible than I was. I was ignorant, ingenuous, enthusiastic, and callow’ (p. xv). His preface concludes with the words, ‘I do not publish [A Writer’s Notebook] because I am so arrogant as to suppose that my every word deserves to be perpetuated. I publish it because I am interested in the technique of literary production and in the process of creation, and if such a volume as this by some other author came into my hands I should turn to it with avidity. […] I should have looked upon it as an impertinence to publish such a book when I was in the full flow of my literary activity; it would have seemed to claim an importance for myself which would have been offensive to my fellow writers; but now I am an old man, I can be no one’s rival, for I have retired from the hurly-burly and ensconced myself not uncomfortably on the shelf. Any ambition I may have had has long since been satisfied. I contend with none not because none is worth my strife, but because I have said my say and I am well pleased to let others occupy my small place in the world of letters. I have done what I wanted to do and now silence becomes me. I am told that in these days you are quickly forgotten if you do not by some new work keep your name before the public, and I have little doubt that it is true. Well, I am prepared for that. When my obituary at last appears in The Times, and they say: “What, I though he died years ago,” my ghost will gently chuckle’ (pp. xv-xvi).

A condensed version of A Writer’s Notebook were published in Cosmopolitan in the United States between June and August 1949 (in tandem with a privately issued ‘preprint’ volume of 133 pages reproducing the condensed text), and the first complete edition of A Writer’s Notebook was published by Heinemann in London on 3 October 1949 in two, simultaneous issues: the trade edition of 59,500 copies priced at 12s. 6d. and this signed, limited issue, which was printed from the forms of the trade issue on laid paper in a larger format, specially bound, and priced at £2 2s.

Stott (1973) A70c.
Author MAUGHAM, William Somerset
Date 1949
Publisher London: The Windmill Press for William Heinemann Ltd

Price: £250.00

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