The Verger by W. Somerset Maugham
In The Verger by W. Somerset Maugham we have the theme of appearance, opportunity, dedication, independence and humility. Taken from his Collected Short Stories collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and after reading the story the reader realises that Maugham may be exploring the theme of appearance. Albert Edward doesn’t like wearing his new verger’s gown for christenings. He prefers to keep it for weddings and funerals. Considering it more appropriate to wear the new gown for these occasions. This may be important as Maugham may be suggesting that appearance is important to Albert Edward. Similarly the vicar seems to think appearance is important too. Things like being able to read and write set a standard that the vicar believes everybody should attain. This may also be significant as it suggests that the vicar believes that the ability to read and write reflects on the good character of St. Peter’s. Since Albert Edward can’t read or write and the fact that he is not prepared to learn goes against what the vicar thinks is good for St. Peter’s. It also doesn’t help Albert Edward that he has never been in trouble with the authorities of the church and that he has an impeccable record. As a representative of St. Peter’s the vicar doesn’t believe that Albert Edward is good enough. He does not have the skills that the vicar thinks a verger must have.
Maugham may also be exploring the theme of opportunity. Rather than being downcast about the fact that he has lost his job. Albert Edward turns his loss into an opportunity by deciding to set up a tobacconists and newsagents. From defeat Albert Edward manages to grasp victory and eventually owns ten shops. Which in many ways shows the dedication that Albert Edward has. It is this same dedication that had previously made him a successful verger. Once focused Albert Edward appears to throw all his energies into whatever effort (verger or shop owner) he is undertaking. It is as though Albert is driven not by profit but by a desire to be the best that he can be. Even if he can’t read and write. It may also be a case that Maugham is attempting through Albert Edward’s success to ridicule the vicar. Someone who appears to be aloof and disconnected from those around him. What the vicar considers to be important is not necessarily the same for others. Something that is noticeable by the fact that Albert Edward resigns his position from the church.
Though some critics might suggest that being a verger is an important role in the church. That it has an element of prestige. It is not the same as being self-sufficient something that Albert now is with his ten shops. From being answerable to others (the vicar) Albert Edward has become his own boss. Answerable to nobody but himself. Which is a dramatic change in circumstances for Albert Edward and again it is probably important to remember that Albert Edward achieved everything he has without being able to read or write. If anything Albert Edward has been an underdog throughout the story. Answerable to others. Forced to resign and still managing to make a success out of his life. The fact that the vicar also gave Albert Edward an ultimatum which Albert Edward decided against following shows that Albert Edward has an independent streak. He does not conform just because he is told to by the vicar. Rather Albert submits his resignation and continues on with the rest of his life. If anything Albert Edward remains undefeated.
It may also be significant that Albert Edward does not allow the success he has go to his head. If anything he remains as humble as he was when he was a verger. Where others might use their success to live a dissolute life. This is not the case with Albert Edward. How humble Albert might actually be is noticeable by his reply to the bank manager when the bank manger wonders how successful Albert could have been if he did know how to read or write. By telling the bank manager that he would be the verger of St. Peter’s Albert Edward manages to show humility. He has not forgotten where he came from nor does he wish to change his past. It is as though Albert Edward despite having to resign from a position he enjoyed holds no animosity towards anybody (the vicar). Albert Edward is living a satisfied life whereas others may not be as fortunate as Albert Edward. He has shown ingenuity and flexibility in his life. Something that the vicar was unable to do. If anything the vicar lived by a set of rigid rules that Albert Edward did not comply with nor did he wish to comply with. Albert Edward has made a success out of his life and remained humble throughout. Whereas the vicar may have been driven by his own inflated ego.