Book Notes: 'Don Fernando' by W. Somerset Maugham

Don FernandoDon Fernando by W. Somerset Maugham

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I must admit to feeling I read this book out of order. Although the cover blurb suggests that this is Maugham's greatest work, it would seem that Don Fernando was a sketch of the research Maugham did for what would later become Catalina. It has the feel of a travel book, somewhat similar in intent to On a Chinese Screen, but held together by a personal story relating to Don Fernando and an historical book he insisted Maugham should have. I kept waiting to hear more about Don Fernando but instead found myself enthralled in a treatise on Spanish art, literature, and architecture amid life during the Counter-Reformation, and the artists and mystics who made it all happen. I am often impressed by the depth of historical knowledge of the literary greats. Indeed, Maugham claims to have read some three hundred books as research for a planned novel that had not happened by the time Don Fernando was published. It is clear that one doesn't write true 'literature' without a hefty amount of research. The trouble with reading such scholarly work is the reminder that great works do not come easy, and my ability to absorb literature vociferously is limited by my work and the professional reading I must continue to do. I recall an interview in the Paris Review where an author spoke of the limited time for reading that remained in his life, and the need to be strategic about what one reads after age fifty. Sadly, Don Fernando reminds me of that fast-approaching fact, and there is so much in Maugham's work here that deserves further investigation. I am afraid I will have to abandon the details and enjoy the ephemeral sensation of my newly gained yet thin knowledge.

View all my reviews