The following excerpt has been taken from W.Somerset Maugham's short
story 'The Force of Circumstance'.
The two main characters Doris and Guy have been married for a short time and live on Malay island, a British colony
at the turn of the last century. Guy has been sent there for administrative purposes.
As a native woman keeps following Guy, he cannot but tell Doris what relationship he has to that women with
He (=Guy) spoke in a voice so low that it hardly broke the silence of the night.
"I was only eighteen when I came out here. I came straight from school. I spent three months in Kuala
Solor, and then I was sent to a station up the Sembulu river. Of course there was a Resident there and
his wife. I lived in the court-house, but I used to have my meals with them and spend the evening with
them. I had an awfully good time. Then the fellow who was here fell ill and had to go home. We were
short of men on account of the war and I was put in charge of this place. Of course I was very young,
but I spoke the language like a native, and they remembered my father. I was as pleased as punch to
be on my own."
He was silent while he knocked the ashes out of bis pipe and refilled it. When he lit a match Doris,
without looking at him, noticed that bis hand was unsteady.
"It was rather lonely in the evening to sit on the veranda and drink a gin and bitters by myself, but
I could read. And the boys were about. My own boy was called Abdul. He'd known my father. When I got
tired of reading I could give him a shout and have a bit of a jaw with him."
"It was the nights that did for me.
Night after night it was the same. I tried drinking three or four whiskies, but it's poor fun drinking
alone, and it didn't cheer me up; it only made me feel rather rotten next day. I tried going to bed
immediately after dinner, but I couldn't sleep. I used to lie in bed, getting hotter and hotter, and
more wide awake, till I didn't know what to do with myself. By George, those nights were long. D'you
know, I got so low, I was so sorry for myself that sometimes - it makes me laugh now when I think of
it, but I was only nineteen and a half - sometimes I used to cry."
"Then, one evening, after dinner, Abdul had cleared away and was
just going off, when he gave a little cough. He said, wasn't I lonely in
the house all night by myself? 'Oh, no, that's all right,' I said. I didn't
want him to know what a damned fool I was, but I expect he knew all
right. He stood there without speaking, and I knew he wanted to say
something to me.'What is it?' I said.'Spit it out. 'Then he said that if I'd like to have a girl to
come and live with me he knew one who was willing. She was a very good girl and he could recommend her.
She'd be no trouble and it would be someone to have about the bungalow. She'd mend my things for me. ...
I felt awfully low. lt had been raining all day and I hadn't been able to get any exercise. I
knew I shouldn't sleep for hours. lt wouldn't cost me very much money, he said, her people were
poor and they'd be quite satisfied with a small present. Two hundred Straits dollars. 'You look,'
he said. 'If you don't like her you send her away.' I asked him where she was. 'She's here,' he said.
'I call her.' He went to the door. She'd been walting on the steps with her mother. They came in and
sat down on the floor. I gave them some sweets. She was shy, of course, but cool enough, and when I
said something to her she gave me a smile. She was very young, hardly more than a child, they said she
was fifteen. She was awfully pretty, and she had her best clothes on. We began to talk. She didn't say
much, but she laughed a lot when I chaffed her. Abdul said I'd find she had plenty to say for
herself when she got to know me. He told her to come and sit by me. She giggled and refused,
but her mother told her to come, and I made room for her on the chair. She blushed and laughed,
but she came, and then she snuggled up to me. The boy laughed too. 'You see, she's taken to you
already,' he said. 'Do you want her to stay?' he asked. 'Do you want to?' I said to her. She
hid her face, laughing, on my shoulder. She was very soft and small. 'Very well,' I said, 'let
her stay.' "
Guy leaned forward and helped himself to a whisky and soda.
"May I speak now?" asked Doris.
"Wait a minute, I haven't finished yet I wasn't in love with her, not even at the beginning. I
only took her so as to have somebody about the bungalow. I think I should have gone mad if I hadn't,
or else taken to drink. I was at the end of my tether. I was too young to be quite alone. I was never
in love with anyone but you." He hesitated a moment. "She lived here till I went home last year on
leave. It's the woman you've seen hanging about."
"Yes, I guessed that. She had a baby in her arms. Is that your child?"
"Yes. It's a little girl."
"Is it the only one?"
"You saw the two small boys the other day in the kampong. You mentioned them."
"She has three children then?"
"It's quite a family you've got."
She felt the sudden gesture which her remark forced from him, but she did not speak.
Source: From 'The Force of Circumstance' by W.S. Maugham in 'Caught between Cultures', Klett Verlag, Stuttgart 2006, pp. 51-54
Kuala Solor - a fictional town (cf. Kuala Lumpur)
Resident - representative of the British authorities
pleased as punch - very happy
to gas - to chat
to have a jaw - to chat
kampong (Malaysia) - native village
Strait dollars - money used in Malysia (1898-1967)
to snuggle up - to sit close
at the end of o's tether - in despair
1. Describe Guy's life at the place on the Sembulu river until he got acquainted with that native girl.
2. Do you think that Guy took advantage of the young girl or would you say that they fell in love with each other?
3. Would you consider Guy's behaviour towards the young girl immoral and irresponsible?
Substantiate your opinion.
4. And what about Guy's behaviour towards Doris? Should he have told her before their marriage that
he had had that relationship to the native girl?