Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Maugham on Friendships

I have now ventured into the next phase of my life after college and I am meeting new faces. It is time to make new acquaintances and new friends. To be able to do that, I need to be free from prejudices and conclusions. As I have come to understand, people tend to make their conclusions very fast and end up losing a few potential friends. In this context, I’d like to use this blog to convey what Somerset Maugham thought of friendship when he writes beautifully in his mostly-autobiographical work – A writer’s notebook.

“There are two kinds of friendship. The first is a friendship of animal attraction; you like your friend not for any particular qualities or gifts, but simply because you are drawn to him. It is unreasoning and unreasonable; and by the irony of things it is probable that you will have this feeling for someone quite unworthy of it. This kind of friendship, though sex has no active part in it, is really akin to love. It arises in the same way and it is not improbable that it declines in the same way.

The second kind of friendship is intellectual. You are attracted by the gifts of your new acquaintance. His ideas are unfamiliar; he has seen sides of life of which you are ignorant; his experience is impressive.

But every well has a bottom and finally your friend will come to the end of what he has to tell you; this is the moment decisive for the continuation of your friendship. If he has nothing more in him than his experience and his reading have taught him, he can no longer interest or amuse you. The well is empty and when you let the bucket down, nothing comes up. This explains why one so quickly makes warm friendships with new acquaintances and as quickly breaks them: also the dislike one feels for these persons afterwards, for the disappointment one feels on discovering that one’s admiration was misplaced turns into contempt and aversion.

Sometimes, for one reason or the other, however, you continue to frequent these people. The way to profit by their society then is to make them yield you the advantages of new friends; by seeing them only at sufficiently long intervals to allow them to acquire fresh experiences and new thoughts. Gradually the disappointment you experienced at the discovery of their shallowness will wear off, habit brings with it an indulgence for their defects and you may keep up a pleasant friendship with them for many years.

But, if having got to the end of your friend’s acquired knowledge, you find that he has got something more, character, sensibility and a restless mind, then your friendship will grow stronger, and you will have a relationship as delightful in its way as the other friendship of physical attraction.

It is conceivable that these two friendships should find their object in one and the same person; that would be the perfect friend. But to ask for that is to ask for the moon. On the other hand, when, as sometimes happens, there is an animal attraction on one side and an intellectual one on the other, only discord can ensue.”

After reading this, I am amazed at the way Maugham has managed to convey what a majority of us sometimes struggle to understand. As always, I am indebted to the person who introduced me to the world of Maugham and his works.

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