A String of Beads by W. Somerset Maugham
In A String of Beads by W. Somerset Maugham we have the theme of appearance, class, jealousy, materialism, equality, independence and morality. Taken from his Collected Short Stories collection the story is narrated in the first person by an unnamed male narrator and after reading the story the reader realises that Maugham may be exploring the theme of appearance. Laura seems to be fixated on Miss Robinson and the fact that she is the governess to the Livingstones. It is as though Laura believes that Miss Robinson had no place in being at the Livingstones’ dinner. This may be important as Laura seems to be judging Miss Robinson based solely on her class. She is not middle or upper class like Laura and as such Laura considers Miss Robinson to be no more than an unwelcome extra at the Livingstones’ dinner. It also seems to irritate Laura that Miss Robinson became the centre of attention at the dinner. In many ways the reader senses that Laura is jealous of Miss Robinson and dislikes the spotlight being placed on Miss Robinson by Count Borselli and the other guests at the dinner. It is as though somebody of Miss Robinson’s class does not deserve to be the centre of attention. At least not in Laura’s eyes.
Mrs Livingstones’ role in the story may also be important as she appears to either sell Miss Robinson the clothes she does not want or she gives them to her. It is difficult to say. However what is interesting about the clothes is the fact that Mrs Livingstone is in many ways shaping Miss Robinson into the woman she thinks Miss Robinson should be. Rather than allow Miss Robinson any independence Miss Livingstone is moulding Miss Robinson into her definition of what a woman should be. Something that Laura also attempts to do by way of judging Miss Robinson based solely on her socio-economic background. It might also be important that when Miss Robinson has a chance to live her life independently of others while on holiday she grabs the opportunity. Though some critics might suggest that Miss Robinson would have been served better if she had saved the three hundred pounds rather than spending it all in one go. What is also interesting is that the only real judge of how Miss Robinson lives her life is Miss Robinson herself. Morally Laura thinks that Miss Robinson is corrupt. Though again as readers we are aware that Laura is jealous of Miss Robinson.
Laura if she could may live her life exactly as Miss Robinson is. Miss Robinson when she gives up her job as governess appears to be happy. Though it is noticeable that all provisions towards Miss Robinson are by male admirers. Which may be the point that Maugham is attempting to make. He may be suggesting that Miss Robinson has become an object for her suitors. Though this is a point that does not appear to bother Miss Robinson. She seems to be happy having material possessions rather than continuing in her job as the Livingstones’ governess. Which may be important as just as Miss Robinson lacked any sort of independence when she worked for the Livingstones. While living in France she may also lack independence. Relying on wealthy suitors to provide her with a life that she has never previously known. As far as Miss Robinson is concerned she might be living her life as she would like to live it. Though at the time the story was written women were not treated as equals to men and were in fact considered subservient to men. As such Miss Robinson and many women were not independent.
The end of the story is also interesting particularly the way that Laura would write the story. Rather than embracing Miss Robinson’s good fortune. Laura sees Miss Robinson struggling through life and never advancing beyond the role of a governess. This may be important as Laura’s version of how the story should be written suggests that she is keeping Miss Robinson in her place (regards class) rather than allowing Miss Robinson the opportunity to progress as others might. There is a clear divide for Laura between the classes and in Laura’s eyes Miss Robinson is to live her life struggling. Which leaves the reader suspecting again that Laura is jealous of the life that Miss Robinson has found for herself. The fact that Laura considers her version of the story to be morally correct might also be significant as it suggests that Laura is imposing her moral values on Miss Robinson. She is the one who is deciding what is right and what is wrong. At no stage in the story does Laura look upon Miss Robinson as being her equal as a woman nor does she consider how Miss Robinson chooses to live her life as being morally acceptable. This tells the reader more about Laura than it does about Miss Robinson. Laura throughout the story has judged Miss Robinson based solely on her class. She is living her life with clear lines as to what an individual’s role in life is. Basing this role on a person’s class.