The English author William S. Maugham is best known for his short story “Mr. Know All”, in which he employs the irony technique brilliantly. Written in the same fashion is “The Verger”, another short story about the path of making success of an illiterate verger. Maugham, in this amazingly ironic literary work, has put the art of utilizing irony to the top degree with the reply of Foreman the protagonist to the bank manager at the end of the story.
Foreman has been the verger of St. Peter’s for sixteen years, which seems lengthy enough to assure him a life-time service there. Since “the vergers of St. Peter’s, like the popes Rome, were there for life”, Foreman could never, even in his wildest dream, think of the day when he would leave the church and no longer be a verger. Yet everything is not what it seems. That very day has come when the newly-appointed vicar comes to him with the forceful and cold announcement that he is to resign because of his being unable to read and write. To the new vicar, illiteracy can be dangerous and “at a church like St. Peter’s Neville Square, we cannot have a verger who can neither read nor write”. These seems quite reasonable, but the new vicar has ignored the fact that Foreman has managed well without literacy for sixteen years! The vicar fails to examine the situation with sympathy and open-mindedness. Ironically, the Church – the representative of God – does not save his life but let him down, and it is not a peaceful place for people as it is said to be.
“Save the best for last”, Maugham undoubtedly has bared this in mind as he lets the irony reach its peak at the very end of the story. Now that Foreman has become a successful businessman with more than 10 tobacco shops under his hand, he comes to the bank for his regular depositing. The bank manager, impressed by his great wealth, invites him to invest his fortune and is stunned to learn of his client’s being illiterate. Questions flash in his mind what would have...
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