W. Somerset Maugham Mural

by Christopher James Stone

Time to properly pay tribute to town’s prolific playwright

There are plans afoot to paint a mural in commemoration of one of Whitstable’s most famous sons: W. Somerset Maugham.

Actually he’s not so well known these days, having gone somewhat out of fashion, but back in the early 20th century he was the world’s most famous, and most highly paid, writer. He was marvellously prolific and produced a string of plays, essays, novels and short stories. This year marks the 100th anniversary of his most famous work, The Moon and Sixpence.

He spent most of his life in Cap Ferrat in the South of France, where he used to throw glittering parties for the jet-set, but lived in Whitstable in his childhood.

It’s sometimes said that he didn’t like the town. This isn’t strictly true. What’s true is that he was very unhappy while he was here. English was his second language, having been born in France, and he was teased about his accent, plus the uncle he lived with was a cold and undemonstrative man.

He does show a certain affection for the town in the two books he set here: Cakes and Ale, and Of Human Bondage.

He doesn’t do much to disguise the places he’s writing about. Whitstable is called Blackstable (after which Blackstable Court on Canterbury Road is named) and Canterbury is called Tercanbury.

Here is a description from Cakes and Ale: “In winter the natives… walked down the empty street with a hurried gait, screwing themselves up in order to expose as little surface as possible to the bitterness of the east wind, but now they dawdled; they stood about in groups in the space between the Duke of Kent and the Bear and Key.”

The Duke of Kent is obviously the Duke of Cumberland, and the Bear and Key is now Prezzo, but the site of this scene is almost the exact point where the mural will be painted, on the outer wall of the Whitstable Produce Store on Harbour Street, overlooking the Whitstable Improvement Trust garden.

The work is being organised by Ben Dickson, the linocut artist. You can see samples of Ben’s work in Valentines and Samphire. The mural is based upon one of Ben’s prints and will include a speech bubble containing a quote.

This hasn’t been decided yet. The current favourite is: “It was such a lovely day I thought it a pity to get up,” but some people have suggested that this isn’t appropriate.

Personally I like it. It is meant ironically and is typical of Maugham’s witty style.

If you check out his entry on Wikiquote you will will find a whole host of equally pithy statements.

Ben needs to raise £3,000 to cover the costs. This is for scaffolding, painting and repairing the wall, hiring a mural artist, administration and – possibly – the cost of getting planning permission.

There will also be a plaque with information about the great man and his connection to the town.

If you would like to support this project, the address is: https://www.gofundme.com/f/somerset-maugham-mural-in-whitstable


From The Whitstable Gazette 3/10/19

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