Hide this

Results from Google Books

Click on a thumbnail to go to Google Books.

Cakes and Ale by W. Somerset Maugham

Cakes and Ale (1930)

by W. Somerset Maugham

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,537324,778 (3.8)152



Sign up for LibraryThing to find out whether you'll like this book.

No current Talk conversations about this book.

» See also 152 mentions

English (31)  Dutch (1)  All (32)
Showing 1-5 of 31 (next | show all)
Brilliant! ( )
  ReneePaule | Jan 23, 2018 |
tl;dr Cakes and Ale is proof in the pudding dead white dudes could write whatever the fuck they want and have it hailed as literary masterpiece, even when it is utterly beyond crap.

I picked this book up a couple of months ago and it has been the bane of my existence as the more I read, the more I hated it. It is poorly written and badly edited, with random thoughts dropped into the middle of scenes that do not make any sense to the story or plot. For example, near the end of the book while discussing the character, Rosie Driffield, in question, the narrator suddenly decides this would be a good time to go on a two page bender on the withal of telling a story in first person narrative. Then as suddenly as he leapt into that thought, he leaps back into his discourse of Rosie's admirable/questionable qualities.

The book is littered with jumps like this. There was 30 pages leveled on the discourse of beauty, what it meant, how it was applicable to life, who got it, and who didn't. Another 10 pages on the virtues of a secondary minor character who doesn't show up until near the end of the book. Roughly 20 pages was spent discussing the attributes of a another character who never actually shows up later in the story.

Maugham name checks of the day famous literary talent, real and imaginary. He draws comparison between his protagonist, William Ashenden, and these literary giants and whom you realise is really a stand in for him. He fangirls over so many famous people, it gets kind of embarrassing.

The crux of the story is William Ashenden, the narrator, is asked by Alroy Kear, another London literary snob, to help him with his research on writing a biography of recently deceased late-Victorian author, Edward Driffield. Driffield's wife, the second Mrs. Driffield, wants any mention of the first Mrs. Driffield, our supposed heroine Rosie, to be erased from Edward's history for she was an amoral character to the ninth degree and whose influence over poor dear Edward nearly killed him.

With this set up, one would think the whole of the story would be the bringing to life, discussion, and telling of Rosie Driffield's relationship with Edward. Rosie is mentioned in the beginning of the book briefly and then it's not until another 200 pages later she's brought into focus again and then carried out. It was as if someone had said to Maugham, "Yo. You are far off plot here buddy, rein it in!" And he did.

The whole of the book is to examine the snobbery and the often absurd social mores of the late Victorians and later, the Edwardians, and how these attitudes were affected and perceived. I get that, I do. But in that vein, the book is so poorly executed I spent a lot of time wondering what the fuck I was reading. I checked the synopsis on the back of the book so often to verify that what it said was actually what I was reading and not something else entirely.

It is well documented Maugham had issues with women, as he often saw them as his sexual and affection competitors, so his women are often described and treated as if they scum on shoes because of their sex. It is also well established Maugham, despite impressive number of novels under his belt, is at his best as a short story writer. With that in mind, I would recommend you stay the hell away from Cakes and Ale. I cannot in good conscious even conceive how this book gets so much love because of how flawed it is from start to finish. It is not even coherent, and yet! Yet, the mere existence proves that a dead white dude could write anything and have it called a literary masterpiece. ( )
  byshieldmaiden | Jan 17, 2017 |
Wonderful book by Somerset Maugham. I must read more Maugham as everything I read by him surprises me and pleases me. In this book Maugham retells the story of his early life when he lost his virginity while in medical school. Maugham originally told the story in 'Of Human Bondage' where his love interest was Mildred, a coarse and selfish waitress who would use him but never love him.

In this story, the love interest is Rosie, and she is the wife of a novelist. Maugham tells the story of how he became acquainted with Rosie and her husband and fell in love with her loving free spirit. It seems Maugham want to restore the reputation of his lost love when for many years we have hated Mildred for her heartlessness. Now Maugham seems to be saying, no, she was not heartless. On the contrary, she was the most loving creature he has ever encountered despite the fact that she abandoned him and mannered society has condemned her.

The story starts with the news of the death of a famous writer who in his early career was married to Rosie. Maugham is approached by another popular writer who says he plans to write the definitive biography of the recently deceased author. Most of the deceased writer’s works where written before he became famous and while he was married to Rosie, and Maugham was a teenager when he met this couple. The popular writer asks Maugham to fill out the little known time of the author’s early career.

Maugham believes that Rosie was the famous writer’s muse. Later, when Rosie leaves her husband and runs off with another man, the deceased author was never able to write as well.

When Maugham went to Medical School, he encountered the author and Rosie a second time, and lost his virginity with Rosie. In this story, Maugham relates to us how he can not tell the biographer the details of the deceased author early live without compromising himself and going against the common idea that Rosie was a simple slut of no intellectual consequence.

No car chases, no broken glass, but a wonderful character study. I highly recommend it. ( )
1 vote ramon4 | Nov 23, 2016 |
Narrator frenzy. Submit. You can see he's come a long way. ( )
  dbsovereign | Jan 26, 2016 |
Cakes And Ale by W Somerset Maugham

The novel opens with the narrator, Willie Ashenden, considering the character and career of Alroy Kear, a man he has known for twenty years. Ashenden and Kear are both novelists, but men of quite different stripe. "Than Roy no one could show a more genuine cordiality to a fellow novelist whose name was on everybody's lips, but no one could more genially turn a cold shoulder on him when idleness, failure, or someone else's success had cast a shadow on his notoriety". Ashenden, not currently being in the public eye, has been out of Kear's notice for some time, and is bemused by finding himself suddenly the recipient of multiple phone messages requesting urgent contact. Ashenden describes Kear as an old friend, but this seems merely to be a reference to a long acquaintance, and perhaps a former closeness. "It sounds a little brutal to say that when he had got all he could get from people he dropped them; but it would take so long to put the matter more delicately, and would need so subtle an adjustments of hints, half-tones, and allusions, playful or tender, that such being at bottom the fact, I think it as well to leave it at that." The description of Kear is a savagely funny skewering of a self serving sycophantic writer grafting his way to prominence despite having only a tablespoon of talent. The savagery goes on for pages, and I began to get the uncomfortable feeling that this was personal, and reading it was rather like being trapped at dinner between rowing hosts who have forgotten one's presence. Turning to the introduction, I found that it was indeed personal, and seems to have come as a bolt from the blue to it object.

Kear is a barely disguised Hugh Walpole, a novelist who had been Maugham's friend for twenty years. Walpole was sent a proof copy of Cakes And Ale to see if it would be suitable for the Book Club. Walpole began reading the book whilst undressing after a night at the theatre. His diary records "Read on with increasing horror. Unmistakable portrait of myself. Never slept." Virginia Woolf, a friend, added "There he sat with only one sock on until 11 the next morning reading it .... in tears".

Walpole was only the first victim. Kear is anxious to meet up with Ashenden because Mrs Driffield has engaged Kear to write a biography of her late husband, Edward Driffield, and Ashenden knew Driffield in the days before he became famous, in the days when he was married to the first Mrs Driffield. Driffield is a stand in for Thomas Hardy, and many of the other characters fall into place from Hardy's or Maugham's circles. Hardy died only two years before Cakes And Ale was published, and the novel was received with headlines such as 'Hitting Below The Shroud' and 'Trampling Upon Hardy's Grave'. For many years Maugham tried to maintain that resemblances to persons living or dead were purely coincidental and not at all intended, despite the manifest evidence to the contrary.

Away from the delicious background information in Nicholas Shakespeare's introduction to this Vintage edition of Cakes And Ale, and the savaging of Walpole/Kear, there is a delightful novel drawing heavily on Maugham's own youth in Whitstable (appearing here as Blackstable), a small town in Kent. Ashenden is a lonely boy living with his aunt and uncle, the later being the local vicar. The boy is isolated by the strict class boundaries of the time, too 'respectable' to socialize with most of the locals, but not high enough in status to have other friends. There is a splendid moment when a local builder, a man of comparative wealth and social prominence, horrifies the vicar's household by calling at their front door. Edward Driffield and his pretty young wife take up temporary residence in Blackstable, causing a degree of consternation among those to whom social boundaries matter. How does one deal with a man once a sailor now a writer married to a former barmaid? As Driffield and his wife are Blackstable born and bred there can be no ignoring their past. None of this seems to affect Driffield and the delightful Rosie, and they befriend the young Ashenden, taking him on picnics with them and teaching him to ride a bike. His friendship with the couple makes for more crossing of class boundaries, as the Vicarage servants knew them well of old, and the Driffields have not the snobbery to cut them. The Driffields come to have a profound effect on Ashenden.

Years later Ashenden is unwillingly obliged to impose on Driffield's hospitality in the company of rich and titled tourists, who visit the grand old man of letters as they would a rare and curious animal at the zoo, to be seen before it dies.
3 vote Oandthegang | Apr 2, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 31 (next | show all)
no reviews | add a review
You must log in to edit Common Knowledge data.
For more help see the Common Knowledge help page.
Series (with order)
Canonical title
Original title
Alternative titles
Original publication date
Important places
Important events
Related movies
Awards and honors
First words
I have noticed that whenever someone asks for you on the telephone and, finding you out, leaves a message begging you to call him up the moment you come in, as it's important, the matter is more often important to him than to you.
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 of an insignificant planet, with all his pain and all his striving is but a jest in an eternal mind.
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
Publisher's editors
Publisher series
Original language

References to this work on external resources.

Wikipedia in English


Book description
Haiku summary

Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0375725024, Paperback)

Cakes and Ale is a delicious satire of London literary society between the Wars. Social climber Alroy Kear is flattered when he is selected by Edward Driffield's wife to pen the official biography of her lionized novelist husband, and determined to write a bestseller. But then Kear discovers the great novelist's voluptuous muse (and unlikely first wife), Rosie. The lively, loving heroine once gave Driffield enough material to last a lifetime, but now her memory casts an embarrissing shadow over his career and respectable image.  Wise, witty, deeply satisfying, Cakes and Ale is Maugham at his best.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:15:01 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

For Alroy Kear the task is sample: write the authorized biography of the eminently respectable Victorian novelist Edward Driffield and make it a bestseller. What he doesn't reckon on is the truth.

» see all 2 descriptions

Quick Links

Popular covers


Average: (3.8)
1 3
1.5 1
2 10
2.5 7
3 65
3.5 25
4 125
4.5 12
5 52

Is this you?

Become a LibraryThing Author.


About | Contact | Privacy/Terms | Help/FAQs | Blog | Store | APIs | TinyCat | Legacy Libraries | Early Reviewers | Common Knowledge | 125,309,290 books! | Top bar: Always visible