Razor's Edge (Maugham)

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1. What is the significance of the novel's title and epigraph?

The sharp edge of a razor is difficult to pass over;
thus the wise say the path to Salvation is hard

What does the proverb mean, and how does it compare to the Christian belief in salvation—is it similar or dissimilar?

2. How would you describe Larry Darrell? What drives him: is he searching for something, or running away from something? Are you sympathetic or unsympathetic toward him? What do you think of the fact that Larry has a small inheritance? Does that make his rejection of materialism less courageous...or is it irrelevant?

3. What are the differences between Elliot Templeton and Larry Darrell? What aspect of society does Elliot represent? At the end of his life, Elliot's friends dessert him. What does that suggest about the path he has chosen in life?

4. A follow-up to Question #3: How do Elliot Templeton's religious beliefs differ from Larry's? Consider Larry's attraction to John of Ruysbroeck—what draws him to the Flemish mystic?

5. Is Isabel a sympathetic character? If you were Isabel, how would you react to Larry—would you be understanding...or impatient...or angry? Would you agree to delay the marriage? Would you accept, or reject, his later request to travel and give up a life of material comfort? Does your attitude toward Isabel change during the course of the novel? Larry appears to forgive her at the end. Why? Would you forgive her...do you?

6. What is the spiritual connection between Sophie Macdonald and Larry? Why does Larry ask Sophie to marry him? How are the two alike...and what path does Sophie take to alleviate her vision of evil?

7. Larry meets Kolti in the mines. How does he influence Larry—what does Larry learn from him? (Is there some symbolic significance to the mines?)

8. Larry spends several months with the Benedictines. Why does he eventually reject their conception of God? In what way does their religious faith not fulfill his needs?

9. What is elightement? What is its purpose. Why do people seek it? Is enlightenment the same as salvation?

10. A central question of the novel is, how can the spirit maintain itself in a world of corruption? What answer to that question does Hindu mysticism offer? Do you find the selflessness of mysticism a satisfying alternative to materialism? Are there other paths, different alternatives, for those who seek to live a good life in a corrupt world?

11. What is Maugham critiquing in both European and American society? Where does his eye alight to find satire? Do those same failings exist today? Are things better...or worse in the 21st century?

12. A follow-up to Question #1: Has Larry traveled along the razor's edge? Has he achieved salvation? Does he, at least, find what he's looking for?

13 What about your own spiritual state? Are you enlightened? Have you traveled along the razor's edge? Do you wish to?

14. Why would Maugham have written himself into the novel? What role does he play?

15. Do you find the ending satisfying? Do characters get what they want? Is fairness or, perhaps, goodness, achieved? 

16. Have you read other novels or short stories by Maugham? If so, how does this novel compare? If not, are you inspired to do read more of him?

17. Consider playing clips from either film version (1946 Tyrone Power; 1984 Bill Murray). Compare the book and film.

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online or off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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