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The sky was unclouded and the air hot and bright, but the North Sea gave it a pleasant tang so that it was a delight just to live and breathe. Chapter 3. The sequence of events is fairly straightforward: young Willie Ashenden grows up in the fictional town of Blackstable transparently based on the actual town of Whitstable on the Kent coast, in the care of his conventional uncle who is the town vicar.
They get talking and he becomes friendly with them, often meeting with them. One day Willie is flabbergasted to learn that Edward and Rosie have flown the coop, jumped the moon, done a bunk, disappeared, leaving behind a trail of debts and angry shopkeepers. Here he meets writers and artists and playwrights and is encouraged to continue the writing which he himself is pursuing in secret.
He notices that Rosie enjoys the company of a number of other young men including a painter, an actor and a writer, and finds himself becoming jealous. He gets a few opportunities to squire her around town himself, and after one of these nights out she kisses him. He invites her to his rented rooms. She slips out of her complicated Victorian dress. Naked, she is as pneumatic and life-affirming as she is in social life.
In a little while she got out of bed. I lit the candle. She turned to the glass and tied up her hair and then she looked for a moment at her naked body. Her waist was naturally small; though so well developed she was very slender; her breasts were straight and firm and they stood out from the chest as though carved in marble. It was a body made for the act of love. In the light of the candle, struggling now with the increasing day, it was all silvery gold; and the only colour was the rosy pink of the hard nipples.
Rosie stays the night. They have become lovers. The ups and downs of their relationship over the next few months are described in detail. He goes out there to visit her, now a snowy-haired 70 year old, but still with the same sparkling eyes and vivacity. She explains her real feelings for Driffield, for the narrator, for Lord George.
Her philosophy is simple: love is good, why not share it? This request creates a tangled web of narrative which overlays the actual events of the past. It was entirely due to her single-handed efforts over 10 years that Driffield eventually found himself widely lauded as a Grand Old Man of English Literature.
Which made it all the more galling and comic when he falls ill, she packs him off to Cornwall to recuperate, and he promptly marries the nurse he was sent with, Amy. And where does Ashenden come into all of this? Kear, in his feline insinuating way, invites him to dinner at his club and down to Blackstable to meet the second Mrs Driffield, because he — Kear — knows that Ashenden grew up in the same town and had contact as a boy and then as a young man with the Driffield household.
Nobody else still living has that knowledge. So the novel runs on two time frames: in the present Kear makes his first approach, takes Ashenden to dinner, has follow-up meetings, then invites him down to Blackstaple to meet the widow.
The episodes are quite substantial:. The first two episodes are extended exercises in nostalgia and social comedy. In both of them the mature narrator looks back to his earlier self with fondness and indulgence. We hear very little about his works or literary opinions.
I wish to goodness I had had the sense like Amy Driffield with her celebrated husband to take notes of her conversation, for Mrs. Hudson was a mistress of Cockney humour. She had a gift of repartee that never failed her, she had a racy style and an apt and varied vocabulary, she was never at a loss for the comic metaphor or the vivid phrase. She goes pretty near the knuckle sometimes, but she never jumps over the fence. Mrs Barton Trafford stands out as a magnificent portrait of a social schemer.
It is Love. The character of Rosie the barmaid-turned-wife of the middle-aged writer is the real star of the book. This trajectory in which the narrator becomes more and more open-minded, forgiving and tolerant reaches its apogee when Willie is having tea with Kear and the second Mrs Driffield, who both openly insult Rosie for being a wanton hussy and nymphomaniac.
For once the narrator loses his urbane self-possession and becomes quite heated in her defence. She was like Hebe. She was like a white rose. Driffield smiled and exchanged a meaning glance with Roy. Barton Trafford told me a great deal about her. I never saw her in a bad temper. You only had to say you wanted something for her to give it to you. I never heard her say a disagreeable thing about anyone. She had a heart of gold.
And it was the same with her person. And she was as good as she was beautiful. Driffield put her hand up to her mouth to hide her smile. Of course it was a blessing in disguise. But the fact remains that she was notoriously unfaithful to him. From what I hear she was absolutely promiscuous. Her instincts were healthy and ingenuous. She loved to make people happy.
She loved love. She was naturally affectionate. When she liked anyone it was quite natural for her to go to bed with him.
She never thought twice about it. She gave herself as naturally as the sun gives heat or the flowers their perfume. It was a pleasure to her and she liked to give pleasure to others. It had no effect on her character; she remained sincere, unspoiled, and artless. Driffield looked as though she had taken a dose of castor oil and had just been trying to get the taste of it out of her mouth by sucking a lemon.
And what is wrong with that? It seemed to me outrageous that gays and lesbians should be subject to different laws than straight people. Maugham was himself bisexual, with a prevalence for homosexuality. He certainly chose to live the last forty years of his life with a male partner. Who cares? As he himself put it:. My own belief is that there is hardly anyone whose sexual life, if it were broadcast, would not fill the world at large with surprise and horror. Maugham wrote it in the Villa Mauresque on the Riviera, which he had recently bought in and where made his home along with his partner Gerald Haxton for the rest of their lives.
Just turning 50, Maugham was a success, both in terms of having made a name for himself in the literary world, but also in simple cash terms, having made pots of money from his plays, short stories and from the movie adaptations which were beginning to be made of them. He lived in a big house in the sunshine by the sea with his lover and wrote this book. The wonderfully life-affirming characterisation of Rosie is embedded in a beautifully evocative portrait of rural Kentish life, and studded with wickedly satirical portraits of London bookland.
And it is cunningly and artfully constructed, with the flashbacks from the various situations in the present giving a pleasing complexity to its structure and to the canny, well-paced unfolding of the narrative. This is nowhere near a complete bibliography.
Maugham also wrote countless articles and reviews, quite a few travel books, two books of reminiscence, as well as some 25 successful stage plays and editing numerous anthologies. This is a list of the novels, short story collections, and the five plays in the Pan Selected Plays volume. You are commenting using your WordPress. You are commenting using your Google account. You are commenting using your Twitter account. You are commenting using your Facebook account.
Notify me of new comments via email. Notify me of new posts via email. This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed. Follow Books and Boots. The events The sequence of events is fairly straightforward: young Willie Ashenden grows up in the fictional town of Blackstable transparently based on the actual town of Whitstable on the Kent coast, in the care of his conventional uncle who is the town vicar.
Two track narrative So the novel runs on two time frames: in the present Kear makes his first approach, takes Ashenden to dinner, has follow-up meetings, then invites him down to Blackstaple to meet the widow.
The episodes are quite substantial: a year or so in Blackstaple when Willie was 16 a good spell in Pimlico, when Willie escorts Rosie around London, then becomes her lover for over a year , gets jealous of her continuing affairs with other young men, then she absconds the final meeting in New York 30 years later The first two episodes are extended exercises in nostalgia and social comedy. As he himself put it: My own belief is that there is hardly anyone whose sexual life, if it were broadcast, would not fill the world at large with surprise and horror.
On all levels it is a book to treasure and reread. Like this: Like Loading Leave a comment. Posted in Books , Novel.
Cakes and Ale
Late in life, Somerset Maugham claimed that this was the favourite among his novels and it is easy to see why, with its wit and provocative themes handled with consummate skill. Ashenden ultimately opts not to contribute to the project having initially supplied his memories of the time they spent together in his youth, and we eventually find out why and what he really thought of the lovely ex-barmaid Rosie and the talented Driffield, a figure closely modelled on Thomas Hardy. As my old English Lit teacher used to say, trust the text not the author, and this is triumphantly proved here. Maugham lied a lot about his inspiration for this novel and was apparently not a very nice man at all; but his work, especially in short form, remains remarkably fresh and insightful. Bigamy, murder, and forgery. Very few villains in books failed to hold the threat of exposure of one of those crimes over some helpless female. Cakes and Ale is a fine portrait of a vanished age and about literary heritage, prestige and pretension — and about what a bad idea respectability really is.
Cakes and Ale by Somerset Maugham (1930)
Out of print. Recently, a lot of skeletons fell onto me when I opened cupboards at work. As my mind stretched out to grab a healthy dose of humour to ease the stress, reading Cakes and Ale, or the Skeleton in the Cupboard seemed to be a sort of supreme irony. It proved to be a great idea, stress-wise and literary wise. William Ashenden is our narrator. I could think of no one among my contemporaries who had achieved so considerable a position on so little talent.
Somerset Maugham. Maugham exposes the misguided social snobbery levelled at the character Rosie Driffield, whose frankness, honesty, and sexual freedom make her a target of conservative propriety. Her character is treated favourably by the book's narrator, Ashenden, who understands that she was a muse to the many artists who surrounded her, and who himself enjoyed her sexual favours. Maugham drew his title from the remark of Sir Toby Belch to Malvolio in William Shakespeare 's Twelfth Night : " Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale? In his introduction to a Modern Library edition, published in , Maugham wrote, "I am willing enough to agree with common opinion that Of Human Bondage is my best work