Chapter 4--Cakes and Ale

Snakfriends of Maugham

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Chapter 4--Cakes and Ale

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Redigeret: dec 27, 2010, 7:43 pm

The narrative snaps back to the present when the Narrator receives a letter from Mrs. Driffield asking for copies of any of Driffield's letters he might have and inviting the Narrator for a visit to Ferne Court. She also requests an unnamed favor of the Narrator. Suspecting Kear behind Mrs. Driffield's request, the Narrator telephones him and agrees to see him in half an hour.

The narrative then goes to the recent past as the Narrator recalls the last meeting he had with Driffield and his second wife. At this point Maugham rachets up the wittiness in his description of this unfortunate visit with a group of literary snobs who want to visit Driffield "before he dies". They do not think of themselves as pests. "He's pestered by all sorts of people who want to see him just out of idle curiousity, and interviewers and authors who want him to read their books, and silly hysterical women. (Perfect description of the company now assembled!) "Naturally we're different", says the leader of the group.
"Of course I thought I was. (different) but as I looked at them I perceived that the dutchess and Lord Scallion (members of the party) throught they were too; so it seemed best to say no more". Glorious satire peppered with a layer of irony!

The party visits the Driffields, are impressed with the house ("---you felt (the dinner, the manner) exactly fitted a literary gent of great celebrity but moderate wealth.")and during the visit Driffield winks twice at the Narrator during stilted and socially pretentious conversation with the others. It is as if Driffield is party to an elaborate joke, which he shares only with the Narrator. Driffield's study is shown to the visitors and the books on the bookshelves noted. (The Narrator sees none of his work there but all of Alroy Kear's, N.B. probably placed there by Mrs. Driffield).

The Narrator is named as Mr. Ashenden when one of the visitors notes that Driffield knew Ashenden as a boy. "I taught him to ride a bicycle", Driffield says.

The aristocratic visitors depart and make comments about the Driffields on the way back. "He has nice manners and doesn't eat peas with his knife. She was a nurse and he married her after his long illness. She must be 45." The party reaches Tercanbury as the chapter ends.

At this point, I am struck at how masterful Maugham is in his structure of this novel. He is moving the narrative through time in an almost seemless manner. In fact, I sometimes confuse current time with memory time but this is not particularly problem since the satrical aspects (snobbery of the aristocracy, snobbery of the middle class of Blackstable, literary machinations of writers, etc. keep the narrative flow moving beautifully.

dec 27, 2010, 8:10 pm

Ah, but they wish he had eaten peas with his knife! They were visiting an oddity, rather than a man.

As for the books, I enjoyed the fact that it was very clear that the shelved books were seldom touched, if read at all. They were clearly for show, and perhaps the books Driffield did read were on the floor in his bedroom.

As for the structure of the novel, I agree. He does move back and forth through time in a very clear, natural manner. It's the literary harangues that are not seamless. Some of them are tedious. Some of them are situations that haven't changed. Some of them make me weep with laughter. My favorite is in a later chapter, so I won't spoil it here! They do though get a little long and often stop a sense of action. This isn't an action novel of course. Action in this case means the revelation of the relationship among the Driffields and Ashenden.

dec 27, 2010, 8:48 pm

Great point--that this is a novel of revelation of the realtionship of the main characters!! Also I wanted to write but did not that the books on the shelf is such a fascination to the Narrator but also to me at all times in situations in which I get to look at other people's books (or whether they even have any.) Of course, here we all are at Librarything, looking at each others books all the time---or rather looking at the books each of us have seen fit to display (this sounds terrible)---perhaps as Mrs. Driffield felt compelled to "display" a collection of books suitable to impress visitors. I believe Ashended does say he suspects Driffield only reads gardening and ship magazines now!

dec 27, 2010, 10:28 pm

Yes :) & I'm sure Driffield did only read gardening and ship magazines!!! A life of professionally reviewing books could do that to an old man!

dec 29, 2010, 5:12 pm

#2, 3 Interesting that here again Maugham seems to be slipping in more similarities to Hardy. Hardy was heart-broken when his first wife died in 1912; supposedly he wrote poems to her for the rest of his life. This would fit in with a second wife, like Mrs. Driffield appears, who is merely window-dressing or, at best, the care-taker of a great man. She would see to it that all the "right" books would be on his shelves (not what her husband would read necessarily) and that flowers of her own choosing would decorate his writing room.

jan 6, 2011, 3:06 pm

>2 cammykitty: I've just jumped on board and am thoroughly enjoying all your comments and scholarship, not to mention Maugham's Cakes and Ale.

Your comment about the shelved books, untouched, hit home yesterday when I read this story about "Selling Books by the Cover in the Times!

jan 6, 2011, 5:29 pm

abealy> Welcome! I followed the link. Wow, that's a niche market! Mrs. Driffield would have hired him for sure.

jan 6, 2011, 6:07 pm

Welcome, abealy,
I'm a novice bookbinder, have worked a little in leather binding with a bidner who used 18th century techniques. It's hard to find appropriately tanned leather nowadays and there's a lot of not-so-good leather out there. The paper binding is a snap! Don't know why people are so interested in designed libraries. Wonder if they ever intend to read them.

jan 6, 2011, 10:15 pm

No, of course not! They get library book copies of the books they own so they don't mess up their own books.

jan 7, 2011, 9:53 pm

Though I've finished the novel, there shouldn't be any spoilers ahead. While I really enjoyed reading this book again and felt it was classic Maugham i.e. so comfortable to read it's like an audiobook, I felt there were one or two moments an editor needed to be called in. Generally, I thought Maugham handled the dangers of first person narration--inserting too much personal and/or irrelevant detail--with his usual skill and brevity, something always admirable in such an opinionated author. There was one point, though, where I grew concerned, where I thought that Maugham the editor had stepped out for a moment and left us alone with Willie, the salon lit-wit. I can't recall now exactly what chapter it was in, but all of a sudden he goes off on this several page rant on why the upper classes should take over all the literary duties for the whole of England. He then tediously assigns to Lords and Ladies, Dukes and Duchesses etc. the literary genre--prose, poetry, drama, etc.--that those of their station should be expected to assume. Was this supposed to be funny, satirical, of particular import, what? At any rate, for a few pages, Maugham completely lost me. It was as if, for a few moments, the late stage, dotty Maugham had stepped out of the closet; fortunately, he stepped back in, and this continued to be a great book. Anyone else have this experience?

jan 8, 2011, 2:12 pm

Maugham? Opinionated? LOL I actually enjoyed the literary genres doled out like political positions to the upper crust. I had nothing to do with the plot as we've defined it, Ashenden's relationship with the Driffields, but I've seen enough of the modern literary world and the modern publishing world to have found that amusing. Hysterical actually. As for adding to the novel, no, it didn't. It didn't belong in a novel at all. For the sake of the novel, much of the literary digressions needed to be trimmed.

His literary digressions made him look like a curmudgeon that didn't enjoy the success he had. It seems he wouldn't have been pleased with anything short of worship.

jan 8, 2011, 2:49 pm

#11 I don't know, Katie, I didn't see the reasoning behind the digression or the humor in it. No doubt my ignorance of British society at the time is a lot to blame for this. You've enlightened me before in this area, so if you feel commentary would help...

jan 8, 2011, 4:38 pm

I don't think he had a reasoning behind the digression. He just wanted to rant. It was a double slam on the pretentiousness of giving people political power just because some great-great-grandsire owned some land, combined with a slam on people who write because it is a gentile and respectable thing to do. He was mocking the people who believe literature needs to stay in the hands of the prestigiously educated and the well-to-do.

Then he went on with a bit of outrageous stereotyping by genre that hearkened back to the Renaissance where a painter's status was determined by his field. Portrait painters and landscape painters were inferior to history painters, etc. The same thing happens today, but it isn't official. Many a ya/children's book writer has been asked when they will graduate to writing real books for adults, and academics have certainly let the "genre" writers know where their place is. Never mind that "literary fiction" is just as much a genre complete with genre expectations as "romance" and there are proportionally as many failed literary works as their are genre works. That's why it made me laugh. It was an attack on many assumptions and forms of snobbery. The result, if his suggestion would have been put into play, would have made him truly unhappy. It would've put him out of a job and limited his pleasure in "modern" British literature. Poor Willie.

jan 8, 2011, 4:58 pm

#13 Yep, definitely would make all of us who love literature unhappy. One thing the British royals seem incapable of producing is a genius--in any field. Comes of too much in-breeding, I suppose. Thanks for your thoughts. They do make things clearer.

jan 8, 2011, 8:40 pm

Ah, but they have successfully created humans with fabulously large ears!

jan 8, 2011, 9:11 pm

LOL. No giant rabbits were harmed in the conducting of this discussion...

jan 8, 2011, 9:53 pm

Just royal egos.