Cakes and Ale. All aboard!
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Let me first say that I have absolutely no objection to Cakes and Ale as a choice for the next group reading. Indeed, the novel is among my greatest favourites and I would be happy to re-read it yet again, and try to write a third review of it, but am really not sure when I will be able to do this. But I will try next week, even though I won't be able to post anything until the week between Christmas and New Year's Eve. (Now it occurs to me that Christmas Holiday would have been a very apposite choice, too. :))
Few random and confused reflections follow, hope it's enough to start the topic. No rush, of course. If there ever was a book to be read slowly and at leasure, it is Cakes and Ale (and some cakes and ale, or variations of them, do help indeed).
It's only fair to start with Maugham's own opinion, not to mention the three prefaces he wrote. The latter I have discussed, and given excerpts from, in my attempt for a review. Briefly, Maugham certainly had been evasive and disingenuous in 1934, just four years after Cakes and Ale, about whom he based the character of Alroy Kear upon. In 1950 he flatly said, nay even wrote, that it was Hugh Walpole but he added significantly that he had no intention to hurt Hugh's feelings and did everything to 'cover his tracks', namely he made Roy a sportsman and something of a devil with women, traits Hugh apparently never had. I have read a lot about ''malicious portrait'', ''cruel satirizing'', etc., etc. - I have never been able to find such things in the novel. Maugham portayal is devastating all right, but it's full of charm and affection too; indeed the first person narrator, certainly based firmly on Maugham, directly says at one place that he had a great deal of affection for Roy - and it shows all throughout the book. Maugham's own explanation is one his favourite dictums: we recognise our friends, not by their merits, by their defects.
As for the former point, namely Maugham's own opinion, Cakes and Ale is the only book I know of which he said he likes best of all his works - that's what he wrote in his late memoirs Looking Back (1962); he even says so in one video interview which I remember to have seen but just right now, unfortunately, I cannot find on the web.
As far as Edward Driffield-Thomas Hardy case goes, Maugham flatly denied that too, and with much better reason than Roy-Hugh situation. He mentions several times than he met Hardy but once and therefore knew much too little of him as to draw a character; and you obviously can't do that on hearsay, at least as far we know Maugham never did. Hardy is no more a model for Driffield than Gauguin was for Strickland in The Moon and Sixpence - there may be some basic similarity, but to dwell on it hardly makes any sense; there is much more in the character than that. In fact, Maugham once stated that he did indeed base Driffield on a writer from the real life, a totally obscure one he knew as a child in Whitstable (Blackstable in the novel).
Maugham was also positive that he wrote Cakes and Ale neither for Roy nor for Edward Driffield, but solely to put on paper his beloved Rosie. The story of his romance with a woman he calls Rosie is related in Looking Back, how it started flippantly, how continued for eight years and how finished with Maugham's one and only marriage proposition which was turned down. Some two decades later Maugham finally found the perfect place for Rosie: the promiscuous waitress, the skeleton in the cupboard, the woman with the loveliest smile he ever saw on human's face, for all her apparent immorality, a creature full of rare goodness and incredible charm; and he draw what more or less every critic agrees is his most compelling female character; for once, I rather agree with the critics. Maugham, of course, never mentioned her real name but it is now known that 'Rosie' was in fact Sue Jones, daughter of the famous dramatist Henry Arthur Jones. (I am not sure who was the first Maugham scholar who discovered this, but I believe it was Robert Calder in the early 1970s; need to check this).
It has been suggested that the famous love scene between the first person narrator and Rosie - by far the most explicit in all of Maugham - has been drawn from life. The scene seems to me unusually clumsy for Maugham, and I would venture a guess that this might be due exactly to his writing with a great deal of emotion about something which really did happen so in the real life. Of course, it has also been suggested that the singular restraint of the scene is due to Maugham's homosexuality; it may be so, though I naturally regard such views with suspicion.
Another truly fascinating thing about Cakes and Ale, which nobody who had read Of Human Bondage would fail to appreciate, is Maugham's depiction of his childhood: vastly different, much sunnier and full of humour, than the harrowing account in his semi-autobiographical novels; as it seems, in the 15 years between the two novels he must have come at piece with himself as regards to his childhood, at least the unhappy part of it in Whitstable.
It is also probably worth noting that Cakes and Ale is regarded by many as one of Maugham's most accomplished first person narratives and especially as a very skillful combination of past and present events. Probably only in The Razor's Edge did he surpass himself in this respect.
In short, truly compelling and multifarious novel, though definitely socially obsolete, I would be most happy to read again. Now I wonder how I could ever find this book boring, but that's exactly how I found it the first time I read it - many years ago and in translation. Now I consider it a masterpiece in pretty much every aspect. The story is great and, oh, what a turn in the end. The characters are perfectly delightful, and even the most sarcastic and satirical passages are, to my mind, devoid of malice or vitriol. The book is highly revealing about Maugham's personality and life too, for it is the most autobiographical of his novels - after Of Human Bondage of course. Last but not least, there is a great deal of food for thought: about beauty, about English and American way of life and thinking, about the literary world, the profession of letters, the literary criticism, and aobut hell of a lot more. It's one of those books that are hugely amusing and entertaining, yet they are poignant and affecting at the same time.
I wish everybody a great experience with the novel and a fruitful discussion. I would try to contribute something more of my confused mind in about two weeks. By way of conclusion, some favourite quotes of mine.
(One of the greatest opening paragraphs I've ever read.)
I have noticed that when someone asks for you on the telephone and, finding you out, leaves a message begging you to call him up the moment you came in, as it’s important, the matter is more often important to him than to you. When it comes to making you a present or doing you a favour most people are able to hold their impatience within reasonable bounds.
(Maugham, the devastating satirist of the literary world, at his absolute best.)
I had watched with admiration his rise in the world of letters. His career might well have served as a model for any young man entering upon the pursuit of literature. I could think of no one among my contemporaries who had achieved so considerable a position on so little talent. This, like the wise man’s daily dose of Bemax, might have gone into a heaped-up tablespoon. He was perfectly aware of it, and it must have seemed to him sometimes little short of a miracle that he had been able with it to compose already some thirty books. I cannot but think that he saw the white light of revelation when first he read that Thomas Carlyle in an after-dinner speech had stated that genius was an infinite capacity for taking pains. He pondered the saying. If that was all, he must have told himself, he could be a genius like the rest; when the excited reviewer of a lady’s paper, writing a notice of one of his works, used the word (and of late the critics have been doing it with agreeable frequency) he must have sighed with the satisfaction of one who after long hours of toil has completed a cross-word puzzle. No one who for years had observed his indefatigable industry could deny that at all events he deserved to be a genius.
(Beauty gets it in the neck, too)
I do not know if others are like myself, but I am conscious that I cannot contemplate beauty long. … When the thing of beauty has given me the magic of sensation my mind quickly wanders; I listen with incredulity to the persons who tell me that they can look with rapture for hours at a view or a picture. Beauty is an ecstasy; it is as simple as hunger. There is really nothing to be said about it. It is like the perfume of a rose: you can smell it and that is all: that is why the criticism of art, except in so far as it is unconcerned with beauty and therefore with art, is tiresome. All the critic can tell with regard to Titian’s ‘Entombment of Christ’, perhaps of all the pictures in the world that which has most pure beauty, is to go and look at it. What else he has to say is history, or biography, or what not.
But people add other qualities to beauty – sublimity, human interest, tenderness, love – because beauty does not long content them. Beauty is perfect, and perfection (such is human nature) holds our attention but for a little while. … No one has ever been able to explain why the Doric temple in Paestum is more beautiful than a glass of cold beer except by bringing in considerations that have nothing to do with beauty. Beauty is a blind alley. It is a mountain peak which once reached leads nowhere. … Beauty is that which satisfies the aesthetic instinct. But who wants to be satisfied? It is only to the dullard that enough is as good as a feast. Let us face it: beauty is a bit of a bore.
(Maugham was always amused by Americans and the American way of life.)
The wise always use a number of ready-made phrases (at the moment I write ‘nobody’s business’ is the most common), popular adjectives (like ‘divine’ or ‘shy-making’), verbs that you only know the meaning of if you live in the right set (like ‘dunch’), which give a homely sparkle to small talk and avoid the necessity of thought. The Americans, who are the most efficient people on the earth, have carried this device to such perfection and have invented so wide a range of pithy and hackneyed phrases that they can carry on amusing and animated conversation without giving a moment’s reflection to what they are saying and so leave their minds free to consider the more important matters of big business and fornication.
(But he never missed an opportunity to expose the absurdity of his own compatriots.)
Reverence for old age is one of the most admirable traits of the human race, and I think it may safely be stated that in no other country than ours is this trait more marked. The awe and love with which other nations regard old age is often platonic; but ours is practical. Who but the English would fill Covent Garden to listen to an aged prima donna without a voice? Who but the English would pay to see dancers so decrepit that they can hardly put one foot before the other and say to one another admiringly in the intervals: ‘By George, sir, d’you know he’s a long way past sixty?’
(A writer's longevity - some of Maugham's most biting, yet worth reflecting upon, sarcasm.)
But why writers should be more esteemed the older they grow has long perplexed me. At one time I thought that the praise accorded to them when they had ceased for twenty years to write anything of interest was largely due to the fact that the younger men, having no longer to fear their competition, felt it safe to extol their merit; and it is well known that to praise someone whose rivalry you do not dread is often a very good way of putting a spoke in the wheel of someone whose rivalry you do. But this is to take a low view of human nature and I would not for the world lay myself open to a charge of cheap cynicism.
After mature consideration I have come to the conclusion that real reason for the universal applause that comforts the declining years of the author who exceeds the common span of men is that intelligent people after the age of thirty read nothing at all. As they grow older the books they read in their youth are lit with its glamour and with every year that passes they ascribe greater merit to the author that wrote them. Of course he must go on; he must keep in the public eye. It is no good his thinking that it is enough to write one or two masterpieces; he must provide a pedestal for them of forty or fifty works of no particular consequence. This needs time. His production must be such that if he cannot captivate a reader by his charm he can stun him by his weight.
(Finally, what is probably my favourite quote in all of Maugham.)
I have noticed that when I am most serious people are apt to laugh at me, and indeed when after a lapse of time I have read passages that I wrote from the fullness of my heart I have been tempted to laugh at myself. It must be that there is something naturally absurd in a sincere emotion, though why there should be I cannot imagine, unless it is that man, the ephemeral inhabitant on an insignificant planet, with all his pain and all his striving is but a jest in an eternal mind.
Cakes and Ale was first published by Heinemann on 29 September 1930. Few days later - 3 October - the First American Edition by Doubleday came out. Serialisation of the novel started as early as March 1930, so it must have been written during 1929.
Maugham at the time of writing was 55 years old and at the absolute peak of his productivity. Indeed, roughly between the two World wars, or more accurately between 1919 and 1940, he published no fewer than six novels, seven short story collections, two travel books and two books with essays (Don Fernando and The Summing Up). The plays are even hard to count exactly, but after 1918, until his retirement from the stage in the early 1930s, he wrote no fewer than 13 plays (one was never produced, another was never published, one was adaptation from the short story The Letter.)
It is perhaps significant that Cakes and Ale was one of the first books entirely written in Villa Mauresque - it must be safer to write a powerful satire of the English literary circles from the French Riviera. Few years later Maugham repeated the trick of describing very candidly a world he had just left, as he did with the stage and Theatre (1937).
Whether this is of any consequence or not, I don't know, but Maugham must have been writing simultaneously with the novel also a travel book, The Gentleman in the Parlour, one of his 'four last plays' which he declared he would write entirely for his own amusement, and most probably the play in question was the sparkling comedy The Bread-Winner. In addition, some short stories from Cosmopolitans (1936, stories written between 1923 and 1929) or First Person Singular (1931) might have been written together with the novel, though not the most pertinent one, The Creative Impulse which appeared as early as 1926. Such productivity and versatility really baffle me. Not to mention the consistently high quality.
When I try to put Cakes and Ale in the context of Maugham's other novels, it does stand out. As I have often repeated, every novel of Maugham, just like every music drama of his favourite composer, has a very specific character that can hardly be mistaken. If one counts Up at the Villa as a novel, Maugham wrote exactly twenty novels between 1897 and 1948. Cakes and Ale is the 12th of them, or the fourth mature one (that is post-OHB one, itself included). I understand why Maugham once naughtily recalled that it was an amusing book to write - it's an extremely amusing book to read. I can't think myself of any other novel by Maugham which is such fun to read. Only The Moon and Sixpence may perhaps stand a comparison, no doubt because of the first person narrative, but it is on the whole a gloomy affair. There are in Cakes and Ale probably more sarcasm and more flippancy than in all other novels by Maugham taken together, yet there is no bitterness or viciousness or anger. Moreover, as regards scope, depth and power, I think it has no equal in Maugham's oeuvre, except for Of Human Bondage. Quite an achievement, it seems to me, especially considering that the latter is the last book one would call amusing or flippant.
Have any of you read it?
#13 Interesting you mention, Hitchcock, Katie. I don't know if you remember STRANGERS ON A TRAIN with Farley Granger, the Hitchcock film about a psycho who meets a tennis star and offers to switch murders of annoying people in their lives? Well, anyway, the film ends in an amusement park and the big suspense scene is an out of control Merry-go-round, fully loaded, going faster and faster, and this old repair-man/ operator inching closer and closer to the cut-off switch underneath. As I recall, the merry-go-round finally flies off its foundations throwing Basil, Jenny, and Frank--oops, I mean men, women and children all over the midway. Check it out if you haven't seen it--I'm sure it's available on Netflix.
and while we're at it, Cakes and Ale itself
and finally, here, a sketch of an individual I'm sure we shall be discussing before long, Hugh Walpole
sholofsky: I saw Strangers on a Train as a child. Of course identified with all the kids on the carousel-out-of-control. When the darn thing crashed I was so shocked that it gave me bad dreams for quiet awhile.
#15 Much obliged, Dan, as usual, for the great sites. Interesting that in the review of GIN AND BITTERS there were references as early as 1931 to Maugham's bisexuality, refering to his "effeminate" male friends. I'd always thought those rumors surfaced much later.
A pseudonymous novel, considered by many prominent literary critics and reviewers of the time to be a deliberately negative and vengeful response to William Somerset Maugham's novel Cakes and Ale, which was determined to have been perhaps overly indulgent with its only slightly veiled references to the less than flattering aspects of the life of novelist Thomas Hardy. Great offense was taken by ardent Hardy loyalists when this news came to the forefront, and from that turmoil came the publication of Gin and Bitters, thus creating quite a stir in the literary world at the time of its appearance, with its less than flattering portrait of a thinly veiled Somerset Maugham. Maugham kept the book from being published in the United Kingdom by the promise of legal action if any UK publisher threatened to touch it. Hmmm . . .
>20 urania1: urania1, you're correct, that the touchstone for Gin and Bitters is wrong,i.e., for a different book. "A Riposte" cannot be the same person as Jane Lane, aka Elaine Dakers, who wrote a book of that title (the latter having been published in 1945).
The novelist Hugh Walpole portrayed Maugham as the arrogant pessimist in John Cornelius (1937)
I read the Time Magazine (1952) review of Rupert Hart-Davies biography of Hugh Walpole you posted, danielx. Thank you for finding it. Hugh Walpole is an interesting "character" and I wonder if anything has been published in the way of biography, biographical articles, letters, diary, etc. since 1952. If anyone knows of anything, please let me know.
Anxiously awaiting interlibrary loan bringing me Gin and Bitters which I hope is not Lane but A. Riposte.
Thanks for the link. I already own this book. It was written in the early '50's. Am looking for a bio on Walpole written recently if any exists at all.
danilex( (Re: #34) Great article and very interesting to see an actual photo of Walpole's diary. Evidently there is not much interest in publishing it. Hastings seems to indicate Maugham killed Walpole's career with the Alroy Kear characterization in Cakes and Ale. I wonder. Walpole got a knighthood later and Maugham didn't and as far as I know Walpole continued to write novels that sold, write screenplays and scenerios in Hollywood which were lucrative, and be largely popluar with the reading public in the UK and US. Bottom line however is that Maugham survived into the 21st century and Walpole did not. I personally enjoy reading Walpole's novels because of his distinctive voice and his talent for evoking life in Britain between the wars. Some are still in print but most aren't.
Warning: lots of spoilers. Much as I want to avoid these, it is just not possible to discuss anything seriously without them.
PS There may be few minor changes in the next few days, mostly tidying up the references.
PPS I should like also to recommend Maugham's two very important prefaces: 1934 for The Collected Edition and 1950 for Modern Library. Unfortunately, I think only the former is usually reprinted in more modern editions; have no idea whether the latter appeared anywhere else.
Great job on your review of Cakes and Ale. You have given our group a lot of "grist for the mill" when we, at last,begin our group read. Bottom line: Maugham has written a great satire! Also not sure you included any "spoilers" that would prevent readers of your review from enjoyment of the novel. Bravo for your fine work.
I gave up on making the musty copy smell okay. It kept making me sneeze! It went back to the used bookstore, and I've got a library copy now... without the short stories though. Sigh.
To business - Chapters 1-3 of Cakes & Ale. Waldstein says "I have read a lot about ''malicious portrait'', ''cruel satirizing'', etc., etc. - I have never been able to find such things in the novel. Maugham portayal is devastating all right, but it's full of charm and affection too;" I'll agree, but my first reaction as a reader on Christmas night was to feel that the person being critical is often not so nice either.
I was wondering when Maugham was going to get to some plot. He's using much speculation and flashback, which I'm sure will suit the novel, but as a modern reader I'm thinking no editor in the US would let a writer write that way now. What a comment to make on a book that is, on some level, about the fickleness of publishing trends! So much of it has always been fashion.
Alroy - I see some malice in the description, but it is also tempered with an admiration for his two great skills, brown-nosing (networking is the current corporate term) and adept trend following. Alas, these are skills better suited to the corporate world than the literary world. When one is talking about writing a piece that people will find valid years later, brown nosing and trend following are seedy attributes that lead to mediocrity rather than art.
Interesting that some were saying Driffield is Hardy. My impression of Driffield is that he was a prolific, yet not fabulous writer, who tended toward the sentimental. That doesn't fit my impression of Hardy, and Maugham would have to be pretty cocky to satirize Hardy specifically. (Not that Maugham wasn't cocky at times.) Some similar writer who worked hard and became a darling because of feel-good plots or some other such reason, sure. Hardy. No.
As for predictions, I found myself almost wishing for a little synopsis on the back of the book, (I usually don't read the synopsis), but I'll trust he is going somewhere. I'm trusting that Alroy does in fact have a use for our narrator, and it is to dig up the dirt on Driffield (especially the barmaid wife) in order to write a best selling Kitty Kellyesque tell-all. And our narrator, being a man of intelligence, has found it easier to not understand what favor Alroy is after.
Happy Boxing Day! (Nobody celebrates boxing day here. I'm going to use it to sleep, run to the library, and eat a very, very small portion of the huge amounts of food my brother & SIL sent me home with.) Oh, and buy more gloves. Dog likes eating gloves. Dog demands gloves, and snow must be shoveled, with gloves.
Waldstein> I'm looking forward to reading your review still, but it will have to wait until I'm done with the novel.
I've been to several conventions, and have even seen panelists baited to say so-&-so is a hack writer, and they will always find a graceful way out of it. I even saw Carol Bly grilled on Robert Bly. Common knowledge was that it was a nasty divorce, yet she still refused to publicly say anything against him. So if Maugham's destruction of Walpole's career was not done naively, either etiquette toward other authors was quite different then or he was knowingly committing an act of unprofessionalism. Perhaps he was so down on himself that he thought no one would read Cakes & Ale. It's a bit of the tell-all biographer on a book about a biographer unwilling to tell all.
Walpole's diary: "Read on with increasing horror," he recorded. "Unmistakeable portrait of myself. Never slept!"
Far from sure Maugham single-handedly killed Walpole's career. Walpole continued to write novels that sold finishing with a tour-de-force, The Herries Chronicles. I realize the discussion of "telll-all biographies" is a fascination but I think it muddies the waters and distracts from what a really good book (satire) Cakes and Ale is.
I have to disagree with you, however, that such discussion muddies the waters and distracts from the qualities of the book. I think such background adds spotlights to our study of a book, and only further highlights defects and virtues already present. I, for one, agree with you, s4: CAKES AND ALE is a good book. Art is art, irregardless of the the purpose to which it is put: a beautiful knife is a beautiful knife, whether one uses it to cut cake or stick in someone's back.
I am pouring over my biography of Hugh Walpole (1952, Rupert Hart-Davis) to find some indication that Cakes and Ale destroyed Hugh Walpole's career as a novelist. I'll continue to look but I did find this little tidbit which occurred right after C&A was published and the controversy raged:
"Judith Paris's (Hugh's novel) first printing of twenty thousand copies was exhausted within a fortnight, and Hugh, as able to return to The Fortress (his next novel) with a light heart".
Make of it what you will, it doesn't sound like C&A hurt his sales. But then controversy sells books, doesn't it. By my count he continued to publish about 16 novels, a play and two collection of short stories during the remainer of his career.
Not saying that C&A may have had an effect on his career. I am just saying I don't think W. Somerset Maugham killed it. What W.S.M. did was write a satire which usually involves "beautiful knives".
I'll keep looking.
Thanks for the your thoughts on this. I do think Walpole's literary legacy would have not survived Cakes or no Cakes. I continued to read some of Hart-Davis's biography on the aftermath of the controversy. Walpole seems to have had some concern as to his reputation as a writer after C&A but only on a personal level. In his diary he says,
"The hardest business of the year was Cakes and Ale. That for a while was unpleasant, but I am sure that Maugham did not do it deliberately, and it can only do me harm if my character is like that. And if it is like that, then the sooner I pass out the better".
What I find intriguiging is that Walpole is on the 21st century radar of readers of C&A BECAUSE he was thought to be Alroy Kear.
sholosfky, I will be out of internet access for the next week. So don't think I have abandoned the group. I've posted my thoughts on the first four chapters of C&A and won't be posting again for a week. Then there will be a lot of catching up to do!!
Like I've said in other threads, Maugham's secondary plot/theme (for lack of a better literary term) is the life of a writer. We see Ashenden's pissy relationship with the literary world, we see Driffield's stuffed-trophy-at-museum relationship, and we see Kear's very different relationship. Kear is actively trying to manage the literary world in a way that will benefit him. We need all three approaches, including Kear's. Kear's struggle has left them as battered as the others. Ashenden has been left jaded, Driffield managed and caged, and Kear is left looking like he has lost whatever morality he had.
Besides being in C&A to fill out the literary triad, he is there as an example of a trying personal matter that is dealt with and forgotten by an author because it has been put on the page.
Here's the passage that makes me think this way: ...I began to meditate upon the writer's life. It is full of tribulation. First, he must endure poverty and the world's indifference; then, having achieved a measure of success, he must submit with a good grace to its hazards. he depends upon a fickle public. He is at the mercy of journalists who want to interview him and photographers who want to take his picture, of editors who harry him for copy and tax gatherers who harry him for income tax, of personas of quality who ask him to lunch and secretaries of institutes who ask him to lecture, of women who want to marry him and women who want to divorce him, of youths who want his autograph, actors who want parts and strangers who want a loan, of gushing ladies who want advice on their matrimonial affairs and earnest young men who want advice on their compositions, of agents, publishers, managers, bores, admirers, critics, and his own conscience. But he has one compensation. Whenever he has anything on his mind, whether it be a harrassing reflection, grief at the death of a friend, unrequited love, wounded pride, anger at the treachery of someone to whom he has shown kindness, in short any emotion or any perplexing thought, he has only to put it down in black and white, using it as the theme of a story or the decoration of an essay, to forget all about it. He is the only free man.
I'd argue Maugham is naive if he thinks thats all there is to freedom, but that Kear is an example of someone who has caused "wounded pride", and "anger at the treachery of someone to whom he has shown kindness." In Ashenden's/Maugham's view it has been written about and is done. No offense meant, Walpole's strong enough to take it.
s4 is gone till January 4th, and I won't be able to start for a few days yet. Meanwhile, there are some others who had expressed interest as well -- urania1 among them. I shall start to write to some others here to let them know.
I just read Waldstein's review after writing my analysis. I wouldn't recommend reading the review until after you've read the book, but he does address this issue. It does sound as though Maugham felt he had used a bit of Walpole to right a character that described many authors.
I can't but help to see some irony in the expectations of a friendship with Kear and the expectations of a friendship with Rosie.