W. Somerset Maugham: Mr Know-all

This is also an old story, much anthologised.

This setting is a shipboard. There is an assortment of travellers cruising from the US to Japan. Among them is Kaleda, a fellow who brags that he knows everything and that he can never be wrong.

The narrator dislikes him for his breezy manners and for his cocksureness.

There is the inevitable cardgame and during one session Kaleda bets that the pearl necklace that an Ambassador’s wife was wearing was of high quality. This is disputed by the diplomat who says it is an imitation jewellery.

Kaleda discloses that he is in pearl business and ought to know. He then bets an amount and asks the lady to unfasten and give the necklace for him to examine.

Did he win the bet or not?

Reread or read:


Readers may pardon me if I am recalling classic stories. Please remember that this is a personal record of short stories that I have read through my life and have liked to return to them again and again.

And is Somerset Maugham read still? It so happened that after I chose  this story this morning and then opened my mailbox, I had a message from a niece who wrote: “In the last few weeks having run out of books to read, I picked up from my collection (my favourite old-time SS writer) Maugham’s South Seas stories for the train commute.”

Of course there are so many other good stories by this master storyteller like “Rain” and maybe I will mention some in my future postings but this one, Mr. Know-All is just unforgettable.

I find that this story is sometimes included in textbooks meant for young adults but how unthinking the anthologists can be! Certainly schoolgoing yongsters are sure to miss the subtle suggestion at the end of the story and it can be embarrassing for a parent or teacher to be explaining what it is all about.


2 Responses to W. Somerset Maugham: Mr Know-all

  1. Very interesting story! The discretion in conveying the exact information without embarrassing frankness, rude truthfulness is a sterling quality not found in many modern writers!

  2. Shuchi says:

    This story was part of my school English class. You are right, some stories are better appreciated when we are older. There was another one called ‘A Cup Of Tea’ (I forget the author) which I now think wasn’t a good choice for a school textbook.

    In all of Maugham’s works, the quality that shines through is his grasp of the greys of human nature. ‘Mr. Know-All’ is a classic example.

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