The British Empire as a Family in W. Somerset Maugham’s “The Force of Circumstance”
Keywords:British Empire, concubinage, family, ideology, marriage, metaphor, narrative, prototype, sexuality
Set in the context of early 20 th century Malaya, W. Somerset Maugham’s (1874–1965) short story “The Force of Circumstance” (1926) concisely represents the conflicting attitudes to sex and family life among the British colonial employees. The narrative, which develops around the main hero Guy’s relationships with his English wife Doris and an unnamed Malay concubine, reflects a contrast between the attitudes to sex dominant in the official imperial ideology of that time and the practice in the colonies. The frameworks of narratology and Cognitive Poetics make it possible to read the complicated situation of the main hero as an extended metaphor of the British Empire, in which formal and informal family relations map onto the relations between Great Britain and the dependent states. Though the British imperial ideology used the concept of family to strengthen the relations between the metropole and the colonies, Maugham’s story represents the Empire as a not-so happy family – a result of circumstances rather than of mutual bond and consent.