Basically, Larry was struck by the fragility of life in his experiences as a flyer in WWI. This led him to begin a literary search for life’s meaning after the war. He conducted much of that search in Paris and it consisted of reading the works of major philosophers (Spinoza, Nietzsche, etc) and more literary writers. He eventually even got into the works of some mystics (like Ruysbroek). So he basically gave himself a liberal arts education in literature with some mysticism thrown in. He eventually reached India and seemed to find the illumination he was seeking in Hinduism.
The movie did not go into the specifics of Larry’s search, but in his book, Mr. Maugham gives us Larry’s thoughts on religion, God, and spirituality. At one point, a Catholic priest describes him as “a deeply religious man who doesn’t believe in God.”
There’s a lot in The Razor’s Edge that I found inspiring and just so “right on” in its observations on life and people. I mention some of that in my review. There are a couple of ideas, though, that I want to comment on here.
One is simply the idea of “the seeker.” That is, a person who is just cannot accept the conventional wisdom and has to search out for himself/herself the true meaning of life (if there is any). I like that Larry’s search was (at first, anyway) a literary one. He availed himself of what others had written over the centuries about their own quest for truth. His single-mindedly determined search is illustrated in the description of his hotel room in Paris:
There was a single bed in the room, with a night table beside it, a heavy wardrobe with a large mirror, an upholstered but straightbacked armchair, and a table between the windows on which were a typewriter, papers, and a number of books. The chimney piece was piled with paper-bound volumes.
Sounds like he had all the necessities, and I’m sure the piles of books provided an ambiance that was agreeable to him. That is, his room, though humble in appearance, nevertheless held an atmosphere charged with wisdom and the potential for living in a wider world.
There are a couple of other passages that also speak to this idea of the world’s wonder, and the potential for more inspired and fulfilling living. Both contain the idea of “place,” amplified in the one case by nature.
The first describes inspiration from a natural landscape:
It was a dull landscape, but the sunshine and the glowing tints of the waning year gave it that day an intimate loveliness. There was an exhilaration in the great space that was spread before you…just then it was strangely exciting, for the vastness of the view invited the soul to adventure.
I felt such inspiration many times in my youth, though I never fulfilled it (at least, not adequately).
Then there is the passage where Mr. Maugham describes one of his favorite places—the port city of Tolon in France:
…Tolon gives you the effect of a terminal on which all the ways of the wide world converge; and as you sit in a cafe, your eyes a little dazzled by the brightness of sea and sky, your fancy takes golden journeys to the uttermost parts of the earth.
It was apparently a place you could sit in a cafe overlooking the harbor, and plan the great journeys your soul longs for.
It seems to me, though, that such inspirations are gone from the world, because we have lost the God-given natural world that is their source. Because we can no longer exult in a brilliant, cloudless, blue sky, because so many run to and fro with increased knowledge but decreased morality, it seems we can no longer dream of wonder and adventure beyond the horizon.
Such are my ponderings as we enter a new year.
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This is why we can no longer exult in a brilliant, cloudless, blue sky.
You can find my Ray-view of The Razor’s Edge by W. Somerset Maugham here.