‘The Luncheon’ is one of the most fantastically funny stories. It’s a narrative about a lunch date with a lady who likes Maugham’s stories. She gains the author’s favour and declares her desire to see him at Foyot, a high-end restaurant. In the story, the author exposes the bogus motives of the middle classes’ moderate eating habits with a touch of humour.
The storey is set in Paris and is seperated into three parts.
Part I (Present)
(20 years later)
The book writer and the woman meet again after they last saw each other 20 years before, and then he starts to recall the luncheon on that day.
The author only communicated with the lady through the mail. So, he is rather surprised to meet a woman of forty. She gives him “the impression of having more teeth, white and large and even, than were necessary for any practical purpose.”
The author only has eighty francs in his pocket to get him through the rest of the month. However, the lady proposed that to eat at one of the most costly restaurants. As a result, he is concerned about dining at Fayot, where only the wealthy and prominent can afford to dine. She continues to consume such rich foods and beverages at the restaurant. But she is constantly chastising Maugham for eating red meat, despite the fact that he had ordered mutton:
“You see, you’ve filled your stomach with a lot of meat”—my one miserable little chop— “and you can’t eat any more. But I’ve just had a snack and I shall enjoy a peach.”
Summary of the Luncheon
The Story ‘The Luncheon’ relates about a lady who admires the author. Having won the author’s favour, she expresses her with to meet aim at an expensive restaurant. Maugham exposes the false motives of the middle class eating habits with a touch of humour.
The story narrates an event, twenty years earlier when the author was living in Paris. It was here that he had met this admirer, a lady. She had met him at a play. She had read a book written by him and had written a letter to him about her views. Another letter was posted stating her visit and a desire to have a little luncheon at a rich restaurant ‘Foyots where French senators dined. Maugham was not a rich man and had never dreamt of entering this place but could not refuse her request. He estimated the cost of the luncheon as not more than fifteen Francs; he decided to cut down coffee from his menu so that he had enough for the next two weeks. He fixed their so called ‘meeting’ on Thursday at half past twelve. The lady was middle-aged, around forty, talkative but not attractive. She ordered for expensive dishes on the menu like salmon and Caviare while the author ordered for the cheapest dish mutton chops.
After the meal she ordered for white champagne. She kept enjoying the meal and chatting about art, literature and music while William kept worrying about the bill. The bill of fare was soaring. When the waiter had come with the bill, the woman brushed him aside and ordered for Asparagus, an extremely expensive dish. The author’s heart sank and his mouth watered but he had to control his emotions. To add to his misery, she ordered for ice-cream and then coffee. While doing this, she kept announcing that ‘ she never ate anything for luncheon just a bite. William started conniving how he could feign of being pick-pocketed and how he could pay the bill.
To his utter dismay, the head-waiter walked up to the table with a large basket full of huge peaches. She demanded peaches. The bill was finally paid. William found himself with just a few Francs for the tip and not a penny left for the entire month. The author however, had his final revenge when he met the woman after twenty years and found that she weighed one hundred and thirty six kilograms.
This brings us back to the present, when the narrator and the lady have finally met after twenty years apart. The author concludes by stating that he is not a vengeful man. However, the immortal gods exacted their vengeance for the luncheon ordeal. Now consider this lady, who only eats light lunches and only one thing at a time. She now “weighs twenty-one stones” (nearly 295 pounds).
He is a young, inexperienced young writer who is living in Paris. He is also an educated man, polite from a good family tradition. He is very poor and can hardly keep body and soul together. When the narrator meets the lady at Foyot’s, he has only eight francs to pay the bill. At last, the narrator is left with no money at all. When he gets the letter from the lady who was admired by his work and want to meet him. He feels flattered and is unable, to be honest with her. He cannot say ‘NO’ to women because of his traditional etiquettes. He can’t afford expensive food but still allows her to have it. His Character develops throughout the story. His feelings change from flattery and excitement to disgust and anger to revenge.The story depicts the his initial childlike feelings of flattery and excitement to disgust and anger due to the unfortunate sequence of events caused by the insensitive woman. In the end, the young protagonist learns that he should not be too generous for fear of being taken advantage of.
The lady was 40 yrs old, talkative and not attractive. She loved the writing of the narrator. She had read of his books and wrote a letter to congratulate him on his work. She manipulates him by requesting to chat with him and a little lunch at Foyot- an expensive restaurant that he cannot afford to dine at. She gets what she wants but the poor author has to pay the price.She was in fact a woman of a charming age. But she is not one that excites a sudden and overwhelming passion at first sight. She is an extremely food loving and, ravenous woman. She doesn’t even think a bit about the costs of the expensive dishes, that narrator has to pay for the lunch. Her, “I never eat more than one thing” is her signature dialogue. This woman is smart, experienced, selfish and hardly bothered about the expense.She has her own way and just thinks about herself: her interests, her longings etc. She doesn’t consider whether the poor author can afford such expensive dishes.
Theme of the Story
The key themes of Somerset Maugham’s short storey “Luncheon” are appearance vs reality, extravagance, manipulation, and vengeance. In ‘Luncheon,’ the speaker hopes from the start that his date (the lady) be a lovely lady. In his head, he sees a beautiful lady. But when he goes to have lunch with her, she surprises him. She is the polar opposite of what he expected. She is a food-obsessed and hungry woman who is unconcerned about the speaker’s lunch expenses. She has a huge appetite and devours even the most expensive delicacies. The verbal irony contained in the phrases she utters to the speaker is the most intriguing part: “I never eat more than one thing.” Her speeches’ sarcasm contributes to the development of the major theme.
❖ The story is full of irony. The luncheon date is proposed to the author by a woman whom he ironically thinks is a supporter of his art. But, the lady intends to exploit the narrator by pretending an interest and admiration for his work. She was not feeling any actual interest.
❖ The irony is that the narrator takes her to an expensive restaurant where he’d never dared to go himself. He can never afford it because of his meagre income.
❖ “I never eat more than one thing”, “I never eat anything for luncheon”, and “I never drink anything for luncheon” are the very ironical statement made by the lady. Because, she ends up eating a lol of horribly expensive dishes like Salmon, Caviar, Asparagus, Peaches, Exotic Ice-cream etc.
❖ These ironies make ‘Luncheon’ a comic story in the true sense.