The difference between 𝒊𝒏 and 𝒐𝒏 here may be similar to their difference when used with time or place. We say 𝒐𝒏 Monday, 𝒐𝒏 the weekend, 𝒐𝒏 vacation, and 𝒐𝒏 a bike, but 𝒊𝒏 April, 𝒊𝒏 2015, and 𝒊𝒏 a car when it comes to something longer or bigger.
Similarly, I think 𝒆𝒏𝒈𝒂𝒈𝒆𝒅 𝒐𝒏 suggests lighter, partial, or temporary involvement, like a side project, compared with the full-on case of 𝒊𝒏. So my guess is that Maugham picked 𝒐𝒏 on purpose for this effect (you wouldn’t think someone like Maugham would have been sloppy with his choice of words
I found the following examples:
“They are engaged in talks with the Irish government.”
“They were engaged in conversation.”
“He is now engaged on his second novel.”
Am I right in thinking that “talks” and “conversation” are composed of mutual actions “in” which each of them is involved?
If you are sitting on a bench, your hip is not in the bench but on the bench. You do not belong to the bench on which your friends are also sitting. If you are now engaged “on” your second novel, even if you are engaged “in” conversation with your main characters “in” the novel, you are engaged “on” the project.
I suppose that is another kind of difference between “in” and “on”.
Yeah, I agree the quoted “in” examples are for mutual involvement and the “novel” is a personal one. I think it kind of agrees with the “degree of involvement” criterion too, since it is more difficult to be partially involved when you are talking to someone.
This is really getting deep, haha, most of us will just know “…engaged in…” and that will be it. It seems like you have a writer’s (or a mathematician’s) streak in you, which should be a good thing.
If you are ‘engaged in’ something, it means you are actively participating in it without distraction. If you are engaged in conversation, you are speaking with someone intently. You are focused on the conversation.
As a stand-alone adjective, ‘engaged’ can also more generally mean that you are occupied or busy with something for a short period of time, or you are working on something over a longer period of time. I think this is the sense in which Maugham was using the word.
He wasn’t yet writing the book, he was working on writing the book, doing the research:
A number of years ago, as I was working on writing a book about Spain in the Golden Age, I had reason to go back and read the plays of Calderón again.
I suppose if you are writing about the Golden Age of Spain, you would want to go back and read or reread the plays of a famous 17th century Spanish playwright.
If you ask me, Maugham’s style was influenced by the Romantic period. The opening of this story is reminiscent of the Romantic style of Edgar Allan Poe. Reading one of the plays is a device for recalling a strange, distant, yet vivid memory.