The Luncheon by W. Somerset Maugham

A well-crafted short story is a pleasure to read. I used to read a lot of them in my youth and some of the well-known practitioners of this art are O. Henry and Guy de Maupassant. But one of my favorite authors was W. Somerset Maugham. I still recall one of my favorites and that was The Luncheon. I remembered it so well after about five decades, down to individual sentences, and for some reason this story popped into my mind recently and I was delighted to find that it is available online.

There are a few aspects of this story that have not aged well but it still remains a wonderful example of a well-crafted short story. Those of you who have ever been at an event where one is so worried about the size of the bill one would have to pay at the end that it consumes one’s thoughts will appreciate this story all the more.

Here it is.


  1. mnb0 says

    Thanks, I quite like Somerset Maugham. He has a special brand of mild irony that works very well with me.

    “There are a few aspects of this story that have not aged well.”
    Such as?

  2. Rob Grigjanis says

    As a young man, someone gave me East and West: The collected short stories of W. Somerset Maugham. I devoured it.

    If you haven’t seen it, I recommend the 1948 film Quartet, with four of his stories adapted for screen. Maugham himself appears at the beginning and end with some remarks.

  3. Trickster Goddess says

    One thing that seems dated to me is that the fan calls up the writer and asks him to lunch at a place of the fan’s choosing but the writer is expected to pay for the fan’s lunch. Why? Because the fan is a woman? If it was a male fan, would the writer still have been expected to pay the tab?

    While the writing itself is fine, that initial, unquestioned assumption about who is supposed to pay kind of wrecks the story for me.

  4. John Morales says

    Trickster Goddess, you’d rather it be anachronistic?

    Every story is a product of its time, and those that are set in the real world (rather than some sort of fantasy realm) reflects that.

  5. Trickster Goddess says

    There is also the silliness of the woman character and that the writer’s “revenge” is that the woman is now fat (294 pounds).

  6. jrkrideau says

    @ 4 Trickster Goddess
    One thing that seems dated to me is that the fan calls up the writer and asks him to lunch at a place of the fan’s choosing but the writer is expected to pay for the fan’s lunch. Why? Because the fan is a woman?

    Why, yes of course. It would be an incredible faux pas to expect a lady to pay. Maugham plays on it brilliantly but it was true.

  7. mnb0 says

    @3 MS: been there, done so. Now it’s your turn.

    I agree that the story wouldn’t make much sense in the 21st Century and I disagree that that makes the story outdated. On the contrary, the story rather shows how silly gender roles were in his time.

  8. Holms says

    From that reply:

    I would probably not have voted at all. Me being a US citizen might have influenced this decision. I would have voted for Bernie Sanders though in the preliminaries (or whatever they’re called).
    I don’t see much difference.and nothing essential.

    When I and others caricatured your position as “mnb0 thinks there is no difference between the two”, I thought were were exaggerating. My bad.

  9. mnb0 says

    @MS: “I would be happy to answer this question by you once you have answered”
    Btw my answer would have been the same if you had turned this sequence around.

    @9 Holmes: thanks for not pointing out any essential difference at all. Also thanks for neglecting my “I’ll be happy to be proven wrong” and me giving the one difference I myself gave: the Alaskan pipeline.
    With your mine-quoting you brilliantly confirmed my pre-elections suspicion that guys like you are not to be trusted when it comes to badly needed political reforms in the USA. As such you’re part of the problem that gave the world Donald the Clown.

  10. mnb0 says

    @MS: reactions like Holmes’ are a main reason (though of course I remain totally responsible for my own decisions and you should not conclude that I blame you for anything) to skip comments. That means I won’t read your answer to my question in @1 anymore either (I refer to “personal reasons”). You can save yourself the effort and got my answer to your questions in that other thread for free, as you would have anyway had I noticed them before.

  11. Sam N says

    I appreciate the reply mnbo. I don’t track threads after a couple days, but if I’m making criticisms I check back for about 4 days or so. I view this blog as a sort of Viennese cafe in the early 1900s, a community of acquaintances with strong view points. But I will likely not respond to any comments you make anymore, and recognize that when you express ignorance, that your thoughts are trash because you have no desire to learn from other genuine and earnest commenters.

    You are clearly out of your depth when it comes to American politics, so your hesitancy was for good reason. Even though I strongly disagree that there are no differences between Trump and Biden, I detest Biden, generally, too, and even took the exact course of action you would have recommended (although where I would have been voting, the margins were so large, it wouldn’t have mattered).

    I respect pursuing work in line with your values. You might be surprised at the degree many of us are willing to forgo monetary compensation--you certainly have radically misjudged me.

    If you’d like me to more forcefully iterate more differences between Biden and Trump, I’d be happy to do so. But I doubt you’ll even read this as you treat this blog more of a drive-by than a place to engage, discuss, and learn beyond what Mano wrote in the OP, so why do you even bother to leave comments?

    There are many respectful exchanges with people looking to learn here, you know. I had a very useful exchange with Consciousness Razor a few days ago.

  12. Mano Singham says


    Actually Trickster Goddess @#4 and @#6 captured well my feelings of discomfort with the story. I did not say that the story was ‘outdated’ since I am not sure what that means. I said that it had not aged well in that a reader (like me) who back in those days when I first read it did not notice those troubling elements immediately picked up on them when I re-read it now. Times have changed.

  13. Mano Singham says


    The question I asked was whether you thought “there is no difference at all between having Trump still be president and having Biden instead”. Your response is that you think there is no ‘essential’ or ‘much’ difference between the two. The addition of those two words provides a gap that one can drive a truck through.

    I suspect that few of the commenters here think that Biden is a progressive who will dismantle the neoliberal stranglehold and end wars. We are not that naive. But there are differences between what Biden has already done from what Trump did. The $1.9 trillion rescue plan (see the details here) will immediately help a large number of people who are really struggling to survive and that Trump did nothing for.

    Here are just a few items.

    The child tax credit alone is expected to cut the rate of child poverty by half.

    The policies would reduce poverty by more than half for children and for people in households experiencing job loss. Poverty would fall about 42 percent for Black, non-Hispanic people, 39 percent for Hispanic people, and 34 percent for white, non-Hispanic people, reducing the disparities in poverty rates for Black, non-Hispanic people and Hispanic people relative to white, non-Hispanic people.

    Trump would not have done this. Is that nothing to you?

    The package will help millions of people who are struggling to pay rent and risked becoming homeless. These people needed this to tide them over until the economy recovers and they get their jobs back.

    Trump would not have done this. Is that nothing to you?

    Biden has also issued an executive order on upholding the protections of LGBTQ rights that Trump ignored, especially the discrimination against trans people.

    What yesterday’s order does mean, though, is that this administration is prepared to vigorously defend and enforce the legal protections that LGBTQ people enjoy under federal law. Every state considering anti-trans bills barring trans people from sports must now consider that they will face a U.S. government that is not facilitating anti-trans discrimination but actually enforcing Title IX’s protections to stop it. Every employer, every landlord, every health care provider that is considering firing or evicting or denying health care to a transgender person must now think about the fact that all three branches of the federal government have made clear that anti-LGBTQ discrimination is illegal.

    Is that nothing to you?

    Neither I nor (I suspect) most of the commenters here expect Biden to dismantle the military-industrial-finacial complex that runs the US. But to dismiss the chance to ease the very real suffering of very real people right now because it does not lead to systemic change is to commit to a level of ideological purity that I for one would find it hard to live with.

  14. file thirteen says

    Thank you Mano, for a very thought out reply to mnb0. Wasted on him, but food for thought for the rest of us.

    mnb0 doesn’t want to grasp the difference between praising Biden and merely saying you’d vote for him to oust Trump, because he’s not here to think about such things. His self-appointed task is to criticise you Mano, not be criticised himself, and as for the rest of us -- well, we might as well be dust.

  15. bmiller says

    I guess I might throw back at mnbo the horror that is MALAYSIAN politics, with blasphemy laws, hereditary royalty in most states, deliberately racist policies, and decades-long corruption that rivals anything Trump could dream of. But others here were far more on point.

  16. Holms says

    @9 Holmes: thanks for not pointing out any essential difference at all.

    I had already done so in that thread. My comment #8 includes: “The OP contains a massive difference between Biden and Trump in plain text: Biden is sending FEMA to assist [with the unaccompanied migrant children, that is]. Oh and he also cancelled the family separation policy Trump enacted. And of course there are the many differences on other issues: Seen the covid numbers lately?”

    But you didn’t read any of that, so here you are under the mistaken impression that no one pointed to any difference between Biden and Trump.

    Also thanks for neglecting my “I’ll be happy to be proven wrong” …

    Cool. Given that I and now Mano have pointed out differences, you will now happily admit to your error. Right?

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