‘The Luncheon’ By W S Maugham Essay, Research Paper
LUNCHEON- A REVIEW
W S Maugham was young and na?ve, and was living in Paris, some twenty years from the time of writing this striking short story with a twist of irony. His first literary works were just published. Like any young writer, he craved for admiration. And that’s what he got when he received a fan mail from a lady, lavishly praising one of his just published works. He was elated and wrote back thanking her. Then he receives a letter from the same admirer stating that she was passing through Paris and was interested to have a chat with the author. As she had a busy schedule and suggested that author might consider treating her with a little luncheon at Foyot’s on the following Thursday when she would be free.
Fyot’s is plush and expensive up scale restaurant in Paris where the French senators eat – meaning it was a place for the elite’s and a struggling writer like Maugham can never dream of eating at such place. He had only eighty francs to sustain him through the month and a modest luncheon, he thought, would not cost more than fifteen francs. This deficit of fifteen francs could be adjusted by refraining from taking daily coffee for two weeks.
Being flattered by the attention being showered on him by the lady and green in judgement about the worldly affairs, he could not decline the request and agreed to see her at Fyot’s.
The author answered his friend, known to him through letter, that he would meet her on Thursday at half past twelve, at Fyot’s. He meets his friend at foyots – she was not a young lady as he had imagined rather was an imposing woman of forty. She was having large and white teeth- and an excess of what was required for practical purpose. She was talkative and Maugham only tolerated this trait because she seemed to be talking about him-we see that human being like to be praised is reflected in this statement.
The bill of fare was brought and Maugham was surprised to find the prices were much higher than he had anticipated. But she reassured him by saying ” I never eat anything for luncheon”. The author thought that the statement was earnest and out of mere courtesy insisted her to have some thing. She said she never had more than one thing and suggested a little fish – and categorically Salmon.
Since it was off-season for Salmon so it was not in the menu. Waiter was asked and he said that a salmon had indeed come in and it was the first of the year. Here we can understand the price of the off season salmon. As is custom in upscale restaurant, the waiter asked the guest if she would prefer any thing else to eat while the salmon was being cooked. Standard reply of not having more than one thing for luncheon was repeated but opted to have some caviare. Reluctantly the author ordered caviare for her and a mutton chop for himself, that being the cheapest dish on the menu. She takes total control of the situation by rebuking him for overloading his stomach by eating meat and subsequent inability to work that would follow.
The lady uses the standard reply of not drinking any thing for luncheon and quickly adds that French white wines, being light, were excellent for digestion. And still the young writer falls for her well-laid trap and inquires about her preference. Referring her doctor, she opts for champagne. And with a depressed feeling, he ordered for a half bottle of champagne. And also adds casually that his doctor had forbidden him to drink champagne.
She consumed caviare, salmon and talked in an exalted mood about art and literature and music. But when the mutton chop ordered earlier arrive for the author, then the supreme irony of this story unfolds. She rebukes him and instructs him to follow her – take one item at luncheon. Well, she then ventured to try
some giant asparagus, which was highly expensive and sumptuous. His heart sank and he, being a gentleman, asked the waiter if they had any of those asparagus. But he prayed earnestly for a negative answer. And a smiling waiter answered in affirmative and added that it was indeed very large, tender and ‘ it was a marvel’
Here again is the twist of irony- when she said that if insisted she would not mind having some asparagus. It was ordered. And then she inquires if he was going to have any. Author said no. She again rebukes him, for taking meat, which spoils the palate.
Panic seized the author when he made mental arithmetic about paying the bill and this is the most traumatic part of the story. The mental anguish that the writer had to endure during this span of time is heart touching. His self-esteem wouldn’t permit him to borrow any short fall of cash from his guest. If the bill exceeded the amount that he had, he planned to put his hand in his pocket and cry out that his pocket had been picked. If she had no money than he would leave his watch and come back and pay later.
The enormous asparagus appeared and it looked very appetising and the smell of the melted butter tickled the author’s nostrils as the nostrils of Jehovah were tickled by burnt offerings of the virtuous Semites. While woman ate the asparagus in large voluptuous mouthfuls the author talked about state of drama in Balkans.
Later she also took coffee and ice cream. The author was, by this time, nonchalant. Her comment was again an irony- one should always get up from meal feeling a little hungry.she reiterated that she never ate more than one thing for luncheon.
Then she also took a peach from the basket brought by the headwaiter. The author uses personification when he compared the peach with an innocent girl with blush. It also had rich tone of an Italian landscape. Finally the bill came and after settling it he had barely enough to pay a decent tip.
Again there is a twist of irony when author being suggested to take only one item for luncheon, retorted back that he would eat nothing for dinner. It was a true statement. But the woman failed to understand it and called the author humorist.
Maugham had his revenge at last-not by inflicting any punishment on her but by poetic justice. Meeting her twenty year later in the theatre, found her weighing twenty-one stone. He observed with complacency the way the immortal gods mete out justice.