What Is "The Luncheon" by W. Somerset Maugham About?

W. Somerset Maugham's short story "The Luncheon" is a satirical piece about a painful anecdote from the narrator's past when he received a request to take a woman out to a lunch that ends up costing him his entire monthly budget. In addition to illustrating the woman's hypocrisy, "The Luncheon" also mocks the conventions of high society that force him to comply with her increasingly costly dietary requests.

The woman repeatedly claims to never eat more than one item for lunch before proceeding to order salmon, caviar, champagne, asparagus, peaches, and dessert while criticizing the narrator for eating only a mutton chop and water, cautioning him against such a heavy and unhealthy meal. The humor and irony of the anecdote come into play some twenty years later when the narrator recalls the encounter and complacently remarks that she now weighs almost 300 pounds. Because she is a woman, the narrator must assume responsibility for the bill despite her having not only invited him to lunch but also chosen the location and ostensibly being of higher social standing and wealth. In this way, the short story can be read as a humorous criticism of how the upper class exploits the impoverished lower classes.