Liza of Lambeth

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Liza of Lambeth (1897) was W. Somerset Maugham's first novel, which he wrote while working as a doctor at a hospital in Lambeth[1], then a working class district of London. It depicts the short life and death of Liza Kemp, an 18-year-old factory worker who lives together with her aging mother in Vere Street (obviously fictional) off Westminster Bridge Road (real) in Lambeth. All in all, it gives the reader an interesting insight into the everyday lives of working class Londoners at the turn of the century.


Plot summary

The action covers a period of roughly four months—from August to November—around the time of Queen Victoria's Jubilee. Liza Kemp is an 18-year-old factory worker and the youngest of 13 children, now living alone with her ageing and incompetent mother. Very popular with all the residents—both young and old—of Vere Street, Lambeth, she cannot really make up her mind as far as her love life is concerned. She very much likes Tom, a boy her age, but when he proposes to her she rejects him ("I don't love yer so as ter marry yer"). Nevertheless she is persuaded to join a party of 32 who make a coach trip (in a horse-drawn coach, of course) to a nearby village on the August Bank Holiday Monday. Some of the other members of the party are Tom; Liza's friend Sally and her boyfriend Harry; and Jim Blakeston, a 40-year-old father of nine who has recently moved to Vere Street with his large family, and his wife (while their eldest daughter, Polly, is taking care of her siblings). The outing is a lot of fun, and they all get more or less drunk on beer. On their way back, in the dark, Liza realizes that Jim Blakeston is making a pass at her by holding her hand. After their arrival back home, Jim manages to speak to her alone and to steal a kiss from her.

Seemingly without considering either the moral implications or the consequences of her actions, Liza feels attracted to Jim. They never appear together in public because they do not want the other residents of Vere Street or their workmates to start talking about them. One of Jim Blakeston's first steps to win Liza's heart is to go to a melodramatic play with her on Saturday night. Afterwards, he succeeds in seducing her (although we never learn where they do it—obviously in the open):

But in the end they do "slide down into the darkness of the passage". (The reader never learns whether at that time Liza is still a virgin or not.) Liza is overwhelmed by love. ("Thus began a time of love and joy.")

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