1 September 2019 Susannah

W. Somerset Maugham & ‘Cakes and Ale’

There are not many novels that can be described as having charm, but this is one of them. I love Cakes and Ale! I so enjoy its devastating critique of the literary world, I warm to its heroine, I laugh over its comic passages and I enjoy picturing the Kentish countryside and the world of literary London as I read. Maugham is not as popular now as he once was, but his pen could be acidic, his wit penetrating, and he could capture a character in a few well-chosen words. Can’t you just feel provincial snobbery being skewered in this example: “Lady Hodmarsh and the duchess immediately assumed the cringing affability that persons of rank assume with their inferiors in order to show them that they are not in the least conscious of any difference in station between them.”?

It was Maugham’s own favourite amongst his works, the one by which he most wished to be remembered. Cakes and Ale is a delightful satire of London literary society between the wars and the story of a writer who gets all his inspiration from his first wife, to the horror of his second. It is also a portrait of novelist Hugh Walpole (as the character Alroy Kear), in what one critic called “one of the most memorable literary dissections since Dickens’ treatment of Leigh Hunt as Mr Skimpole in Bleak House”. Walpole’s reputation never quite recovered, but the critics all loved Cakes and Ale.

What did you think of this book? How do you respond to Rosie – is she just a lying and unfaithful wife, or is she a generous and charming character? I always love to hear what you think.

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Comment (1)

  1. Susannah Fullerton

    What good timing! Isn’t it a gorgeous book. I love Rosie and the way Maugham skewers the snobbery around books and biography. So glad you enjoyed it too.

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