Cakes and Ale

I have always liked Somerset Maugham for being a good, reliable read. I recently found Cakes and Ale in the house and it turned out to be a happy find for my current mood. It's a lovely little satire about  the literary world that included Thomas Hardy and Hugh Walpole. Something I found particularly funny. For the last week I have been reading EM Forster's Aspects of the Novel. And then I find this passage in Cakes and Ale. "On his advice I read The Craft of Fiction by Mr Percy Lubbock, from which I learned that the only way to write novels was like Henry James; after that I read Aspects of the Novel by Mr E M Forster, from which I learned that the only way to write novels was like Mr E M Forster; then I read The Structure of the Novel by Mr Edwin Muir, from which I learned nothing at all."

Maugham had an interesting life. He was pushed into medicine by his guardians but became a best-selling writer before he turned 25. He was an extremely successful writer. He was well-regarded, his books and plays sold well but he thought of himself as a "B list author." He travelled around the world. He served in World War I as part of a group called the Literary Ambulance Drivers, which included Cummings and Hemingway. He was a Secret Service spy in Russia and wrote about this period in Ashenden which inspired the James Bond series. Unlike many people who are unaffected by exposure to the world at large, he acquired a calm tolerance of human foibles.

His sexual adventures are quite fascinating too. He seems to have been actively bisexual all his life. He tried to leave his property to his young male secretary/companion by trying to adopt him and disinherit his daughter. He had married his wife Syrie when he was nearly 40. They drove each other crazy and he was thrilled when she finally died. Syrie Maugham is now strangely back in fashion as it has been recognised that she was one of the first people to turn interior decoration into an art form. In her own times she was very popular designing homes for millionaires and princes. As many sources will tell you she designed the first all white room. Syrie was the one of the first women of her generation to pursue their violent desire to fulfil themselves.


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