‘Louise’ by Somerset Maugham

Louise by Somerset Maugham, 1925

The magic trick:

Creating a character whose dominant trait is so interesting it carries an entire story

We drift into O. Henry territory – all comedic irony and dramatic endings. The key aspect of this story is the titular character. She has learned to manipulate life around her by feigning a weak heart. It’s kind of funny, it’s a little bit mean-spirited, it’s definitely memorable. I’m not sure the story does a whole lot from there, but this main characteristic of Louise’s is enough to carry the plot forward for at least six pages.

And that’s quite a trick on Maugham’s part.

The selection:

On one occasion seeing her walk eight miles on an expedition that she especially wanted to make, I remarked to Tom Maitland that she was stronger than one would have thought. He shook his head and sighed.

“No, no, she’s dreadfully delicate. She’s been to all the best heart specialists in the world and they all say that her life hangs on a thread. But she has a wonderfully strong spirit.” He told her that I had remarked on her endurance.

“I shall pay for it tomorrow,” she said to me in her melancholy way. “I shall be at death’s door.”

“I sometimes think that you’re quite strong enough to do the things you want to,” I murmured.

I had noticed that if a party was amusing she could dance till five in the morning, but if it was dull she felt very poorly and Tom had to take her home early. I am afraid she did not like my reply, for though she gave me a sad little smile I saw no amusement in her large blue eyes.

“You can’t expect me to fall down dead just to please you,” she answered.

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