Chapter 1--Cakes and Ale

Snakfriends of Maugham

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Chapter 1--Cakes and Ale

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Redigeret: dec 27, 2010, 2:24 pm

The time has come, at last, to start our discussion of Cakes and Ale. As I remember, Urania1 suggested we set up separate threads for each chapter which I think is a great idea because I am a slow reader and have a tendency to be behind (always!) Also I will be leaving town tomorrow for a week without internet access, so I thought I'd get the ball rolling and catch up when I return.

Cammykitty has posted her thoughts on Chapters 1--3 on a different thread and Waldstein has a bang-up review of his thoughts elsewhere as well. Hope everyone reads these thoughts and responds as the opportunity arises.

This is my third time through Cakes and Ale and due to my participation in the Maugham discussion group, I see this novel in a somewhat different way. Specifically, this novel is a satire and by definition, "a literary work in which vices, follies, stupidities, abuses, etc. are held up to ridicule and contempt" and "the use of ridicule, sarcasm, irony, etc., to expose, attack or deride vices, follies, etc." And from the get-go that is what Maugham does.

The narrator begins by describing a popular novelist of the time and place (London, 1920's/30's) with a brief and through chronicle of the said novelist's rise to fame. The novelist, Kear, is prolific (30 novels published), sociable (a popular lecturer) and attractive (six feet tall, athletic, confident, agreeable, honest, clean, healthy, etc.) Unfortunately his talent is rather lacking and is far from "genius". The narrator states, "I could think of no one among my contemporaries who had achieved so considerable a position on so litle talent. This, like the wise man's daily dose of Bemax (laxative?) might have gone into a heaped-up tablespoon. Ouch! (But, hey, this is satire!)
Kear's major talent happens to be indefatigable hard work. "No one who for years had observed his indefatigalve industry could deny that at all events he deserved to be a genius".

A description of Kear's work reveals
hum-drum subjects and characters but written in the best, possible good tasts. And this sells. Kear's most irritating trait is that he befriends reviewers of note in order to get his own novels before the buying public. He also has a tendency to forget his more modest and less successful friends when they are no longer of use to him. In fact, his self-promotion is so blatant that "when Roy lectured in some provincial town not a single copy of the books of the authors he had spoken of was ever asked for, but there was always a run on his own."
Bottom line (and end of Chapter 1): "He was an examle of what an author can do, and to what heights he can rise, by industry, common sense, honesty, and the efficient combingation of means and ends. He was a good fellow and none but a cross-grained carper could grudge him his success." (Indeed!!) I think this is a brilliant thought to end the Chapter 1.

Cammykitty: I sensed that you might have felt this novel set off on a tangent. Well, it all comes together soon as Maugham moves into the "follies, vices, and stupidities" in the literary scene who lionize a "grand old man of letters" who have risen by means maybe not as blatant as Kear, but who have risen all the same.

dec 27, 2010, 7:39 pm

thanks s4; I like the idea of a separate thread for each chapter, since it counteracts the fact that we may be reading at different schedules. I shall begin the book tomorrow.

dec 27, 2010, 7:51 pm

s4sando> not a tangent so much as a frame. I've found that everything I thought Maugham was setting out to do, he in fact was setting out to do, so yes he set up his "plot." However, I'm not sure Maugham was ever one to feel that the plot was the most important part of the novel. In this particular novel, the plot must leave plenty of room to take some shots at the system which picks and chooses what to value as literature.

dec 29, 2010, 8:15 pm

Logging on.

jan 5, 2011, 5:00 pm

I read Chaoter 1 last night -- a bit behind I know, but I shall catch up. I thoiught s4s had a good summary.