Page 28. " a tidy sum in gilt-edged securities "

Bonds issued by the governments of the United Kingdom, South Africa, or Ireland, so called for the gilded edge on the debt securities issued by the Bank of England.

Page 28. " Dictionary of National Biography "

Reference volume of notable persons in British history, first published in 1885. An updated version from Oxford University Press was published in 2004.

Page 29. " the New York plays only come here for limited periods "

Successful Broadway theatre productions (Broadway referring to the Theater District in New York) are often remounted in other major cities. They may play for a single night or for several weeks.

Page 30. " William James "
William James (1842 – 1910), American psychologist and philosopher, pioneering and highly influential; brother of writer Henry James. Among other subjects, William James wrote on the psychology of religious experience and mysticism.

James closely studied the philosophies of associationism and spiritualism. His own beliefs combined the two schools of thought. James believed that everyone has a soul, which exists in a spiritual universe and leads them to action in the physical world.  According to James, people use associations to move from one event to the next, but the soul must tie everything together, determining the direction of the associations.

Page 30. " it was William James's Principles of Psychology "

Classic text in the subject of psychology by William James, published in 1890. The entire text is available online.

James's method consists of analysis, introspection, experiment, and comparison. The text concerns itself with mind–body dualism, perception (of time, of space, and of reality), and the processes of logic and emotion.

Also included is a chapter on hypnotism, and some of its benefits.

Page 31. " He did not speak for so long a time that I began to find the silence awkward "

William James in Principles of Psychology in a chapter on the perception of time writes:

A day full of excitement, with no pause, is said to pass 'ere we know it.' On the contrary, a day full of waiting, of unsatisfied desire for change, will seem a small eternity. Tædium, ennui, Langweile, boredom, are words for which, probably, every language known to man has its equivalent. It comes about whenever, from the relative emptiness of content of a tract of time, we grow attentive to the passage of the time itself. Expecting, and being ready for, a new impression to succeed; when it fails to come, we get an empty time instead of it; and such experiences, ceaselessly renewed, make us most formidably aware of the extent of the mere time itself.[37] [...] The odiousness of the whole experience comes from its insipidity; for stimulation is the indispensable requisite for pleasure in an experience, and the feeling of bare time is the least stimulating experience we can have.[38] The sensation of tædium is a protest, says Volkmann, against the entire present.

The awkwardness that Maugham feels can be construed as a social dimension of this tædium.

Page 31. " He looked into vacancy, his face grave and intent, and seemed to meditate. "

William James in Principles of Psychology in a chapter on attention writes:

Most people probably fall several times a day into a fit of something like this: The eyes are fixed on vacancy, the sounds of the world melt into confused unity, the attention is dispersed so that the whole body is felt, as it were, at once, and the foreground of consciousness is filled, if by anything, by a sort of solemn sense of surrender to the empty passing of time. In the dim background of our mind we know meanwhile what we ought to be doing: getting up, dressing ourselves, answering the person who has spoken to us, trying to make the next step in our reasoning. But somehow we cannot start; the pensée de derrière la tête fails to pierce the shell of lethargy that wraps our state about. Every moment we expect the spell to break, for we know no reason why it should continue. But it does continue, pulse after pulse, and we float with it, until — also without reason that we can discover — an energy is given, something — we know not what — enables us to gather ourselves together, we wink our eyes, we shake our heads, the background-ideas become effective, and the wheels of life go round again.

This curious state or inhibition can for a few moments be produced at will by fixing the eyes on vacancy. Some persons can voluntarily empty their minds and 'think of nothing.' With many, as Professor Exner remarks of himself, this is the most efficacious means of falling asleep. It is difficult not to suppose something like this scattered condition of mind to be the usual state of brutes when not actively engaged in some pursuit. Fatigue, monotonous mechanical occupations that end by being automatically carried on, tend to reproduce it in men. It is not sleep; and yet when aroused from such a state, a person will often hardly be able to say what he has been thinking about. Subjects of the hypnotic trance seem to lapse into it when [p. 405] left to themselves; asked what they are thinking of, they reply, 'of nothing particular'![2]

The abolition of this condition is what we call the awakening of the attention. One principal object comes then into the focus of consciousness, others are temporarily suppressed. The awakening may come about either by reason of a stimulus from without, or in consequence of some unknown inner alteration; and the change it brings with it amounts to a concentration upon one single object with exclusion of aught besides, or to a condition anywhere between this and the completely dispersed state.

This momentary lapse is symbolic of the state of Larry's existence. Depending on whether you see it as voluntary or not, it is either the symptom of a diseased state or an indication of his potential to overcome that state.

Page 33. " Yale Quarterly "

Probably a reference to The Yale Review, a literary quarterly that traces its history to 1819.

Page 33. " I was struck by his evident power of concentration. "

William James in Principles of Psychology in a chapter on attention writes:

And now we can see why it is that what is called sustained attention is the easier, the richer in acquisitions and the fresher and more original the mind. In such minds, subjects bud and sprout and grow At every moment, they please by a new consequence and rivet the attention afresh. But an intellect unfurnished with materials, stagnant, unoriginal, will hardly be likely to consider any subject long. A glance exhausts its possibilities of interest. Geniuses are commonly believed to excel other men in their power of sustained attention.[23] In most of them, it is to be feared, the so-called 'power' is of the passive sort. Their ideas coruscate, every subject branches infinitely before their fertile minds, and so for hours they may be rapt. But it is their genius making them attentive, not their attention making geniuses of them. And, when we come down to the root of the matter, we see that they differ from ordinary men less in the character of their attention than in the nature of the objects upon which it is successively bestowed. In the genius, these form a concatenated series, suggesting [p. 424] each other mutually by some rational law. Therefore we call the attention 'sustained' and the topic of meditation for hours 'the same.' In the common man the series is for the most part incoherent, the objects have no rational bond, and we call the attention wandering and unfixed.

It is probable that genius tends actually to prevent a man from acquiring habits of voluntary attention, and that moderate intellectual endowments are the soil in which we may best expect, here as elsewhere, the virtues of the will, strictly so called, to thrive. But, whether the attention come by grace of genius or by dint of will, the longer one does attend to a topic the more mastery of it one has. And the faculty of voluntarily bringing back a wandering attention, over and over again, is the very root of judgment, character, and will. No one is compos sui if he have it not. An education which should improve this faculty would be the education par excellence. But it is easier to define this ideal than to give practical directions for bringing it about. The only general pedagogic maxim bearing on attention is that the more interest the child has in advance in the subject, the better he will attend. Induct him therefore in such a way as to knit each new thing on to some acquisition already there; and if possible awaken curiosity, so that the new thing shall seem to come as an answer, or part of an answer, to a question pre-existing in his mind.

Page 33. " to lunch at the Palmer House "

Palmer House, Chicago; interior.
Creative Commons AttributionPalmer House, Chicago; interior. - Credit: Kables/Kris
Palmer House is a landmark historic hotel in downtown Chicago. It was constructed by Potter Palmer as a wedding present for his bride, and was opened for business in 1871. It was destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire but rebuilt by 1875 and advertised as "The World's Only Fire Proof Hotel." The hotel featured luxurious decor; the floor of its barber shop was tiled with silver dollars.

It was expanded in the 1920s and has been part of the Hilton empire since 1945.

Page 35. " wildcat scheme "

An unsound and risky investment.

Page 36. " an apartment in the Avenue du Bois "

Avenue du Bois du Bologne (now Avenue Foch), is one of the most expensive addresses in the world. It is one of the 12 roads radiating from Place de l'Étoile (now Place Charles de Gaulle), where the Arc de Triomphe stands. The Rothschilds owned numbers 19-21 and other mansions in the Avenue.

Avenue Foch
Creative Commons AttributionAvenue Foch - Credit: Herry Lawford
Google Map


Page 36. " a château in Touraine "

The Touraine region is in the Loire Valley and is renowned for its many châteaux.

Page 37. " The old Duchess d'Uzès use to tell me "

Probably either Anne de Rochechouart de Mortemart (1840 – 1878) or Marie Thérèse d'Albert de Luynes (1871 – 1943), although Elliott seems hardly old enough to have met the former and the latter seems hardly old enough to merit Elliott's tone.

Uzès is in the Languedoc, in southern France. The title of duke of Uzès is the premier title in the peerage of France.

Page 37. " a bottle of the Montrachet "

White wine from the subregion of Montrachet in Burgundy.

Page 39. " the little sitting-room I had at the Blackstone "
The Blackstone is a historic Chicago landmark luxury hotel, opened in 1910. It has been called  the "Hotel of Presidents," for the many U.S. Presidents who have stayed there.
Page 39. " I haven't read my La Rochefoucauld for nothing. "

François VI, Duc de La Rochefoucauld, Prince de Marcillac (1613–1680), French nobleman and author of memoirs and maxims. His maxims total about 700, most consisting of just 2 or 3 lines each. The view of human conduct they describe is often summed up by the words "everything is reducible to the motive of self-interest." 

Elliott may have in mind Maxim 8: Les passions sont les seuls orateurs qui persuadent toujours. Elles sont comme un art de la nature dont les règles sont infaillibles; et l'homme le plus simple qui a de la passion persuade mieux que le plus éloquent qui n'en a point. (The passions are the only advocates which always persuade. They are a natural art, the rules of which are infallible; and the simplest man with passion will be more persuasive than the most eloquent without.)

Page 39. " Not for him were Fatimas, Chesterfields, Camels, or Lucky Strikes. "

Fatima cigarettes featured a blend of Turkish tobaccos but were produced in the United States. They were phase out of production by about 1980.

Chesterfield is a brand of American cigarettes named for Chesterfied County, Virginia, and popular in the early 20th century. They are still being made.

Camel is a brand of American cigarettes containing a blend of Turkish and Virginia tobacco.

Lucky Strike is a brand of American cigarettes featuring tobacco that's toasted rather than sun-dried.

All these brands carry a certain amount of cachet, but they're evidently not good enough for Elliott, who prefers Egyptian cigarettes. However, by 1919, Egyptian cigarettes were falling out of fashion.


Page 40. " the average American can get into the kingdom of heaen much more easily than he can get into the Boulevard St. Germain "

This recalls a Biblical quotation: It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God. (Mark 10:25)

Elliott's point is to emaphasize how prestigious and select is this segment of Parisian society. The Boulevard St. Germain on the Left Bank represented the old aristocracy, as opposed to the new bourgeoisie of the Right Bank.

Page 40. " femme du monde "

French: "woman of the world".

Page 45. " The Armours and the Swifts will pack more and better meat, the McCormicks will make more and better harvesters, and Henry Ford will turn out more and better cars. "
Page 46. " The dead look so terribly dead when they're dead. "

Probably the most-quoted line from The Razor's Edge.