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Cakes and Ale (1930)

by W. Somerset Maugham

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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1,770407,548 (3.78)173
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.… (more)
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Showing 1-5 of 37 (next | show all)
An entertaining tale of priggishness and hypocrisy in the world of letters, memorable for its waspish portrait of mountebank scribbler/social climber Alroy Flear. But the story has a warm heart in the character of Rosie Driffield, writers’ muse and genuine good time girl. Maugham has such a talent for balancing bitchiness and benevolence. ( )
  yarb | Oct 21, 2021 |
This novel was quite a quick read. It wasn't very difficult, although I still haven't figured out the title.
The book started interestingly, with a remark that it's always more important to the caller that you call him back, than you actually think it important to call him.
That sentence set the tone for me, but apart from a few other sentences/remarks the book kind of flowed on, like a quiet river. Liked the roundabout ways of telling, but that manner made it less clear and more difficult to store the storyline and/or really remember anything specific apart from a general feeling of comfort. ( )
  BoekenTrol71 | May 1, 2021 |
W. Somerset Maugham's novel "Cakes and Ale" is a fun little read.

It's the story of man who is asked to write a biography of a recently deceased author he was acquainted with in his youth. The author was married twice -- to the pretty, vivacious but unfaithful Rosalie, and later, to a much more business-like woman, Amy, who was careful to preserve her late husband's legacy.

It's a fairly simple story, but flows along smoothly and made for a quick, fun read. ( )
  amerynth | Apr 10, 2021 |
Given my poor track record, no one is more surprised than me that I have finished my book on time for the 1930s Club, hosted by Karen at Kaggsy's Bookish Rambings and Simon at Stuck in a Book. I didn't have anything published in 1930 that I hadn't already read on the shelves at home, and I was not expecting my library to come up trumps so quickly. But here I am, delighted by my luck at discovering Cakes and Ale, said to be the favourite book of W. Somerset Maugham...

Maugham (1894-1965) was safely settled in the south of France when the storm broke over this book. Cakes and Ale is a piercing satire of British literary circles, and features (apparently) very recognisable portraits of authors Thomas Hardy, and Maugham's erstwhile friend Horace Walpole. The Introduction by Nicholas Shakespeare gossips about these and other correspondences, but really, the pleasure in reading this novel for contemporary readers comes from Maugham's self-awareness of his own adolescent snobberies; from the satirical depiction of literary circles and their modus operandi; and from the wonderful portrait of Rosie Driffield which foreshadows the rise of independent women free from the stuffy constraints of prevailing social and sexual mores.

Narrated by the author William Ashenden, Cakes and Ale tells the story of fellow-author Alroy Kear's efforts to write a biography of the recently deceased Edward Driffield. Urged on by Driffield's legacy-building widow, the second Mrs Driffield, Alroy wants to plunder Ashenden's memories of the Driffields from his days in Blackstable. The first Mrs Driffield was a barmaid, so Alroy is interested in some salacious revelations, but not intending to include them. What he is hoping to find for his 'dignified' bio is the reason why Driffield wrote his best work while with her, and not so much with the second wife who managed his career (and him). The book is structured so that Ashenden can trawl his schoolboy memories of Rosie and his eventual undergraduate affair with her—without revealing how much of any of this is to be disclosed to Alroy.

There are many lough-out-loud moments in Cakes and Ale. Alroy is soon revealed to have had a literary career that could have served as a model for other aspiring writers: Ashenden can think of no other among his contemporaries who had achieved so considerable a position on so little talent. Which like the wise man's daily dose of Bemax [a wheatgerm dietary supplement, presumably for constipation] might have gone into a heaped-up tablespoon. Alroy has taken the advice of Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881) who said that genius was an infinite capacity for taking pains. Ashenden's scorn for Alroy is obvious:
If that was all, he must have told himself, he could be a genius like the rest; and when the excited reviewer of a lady's paper, writing a notice of one of his works, used the word (and of late the critics have been doing it with agreeable frequency) he must have sighed with the satisfaction of one who after long hours of toil has completed a cross-word puzzle. (p.9)

To read the rest of my review please visit https://anzlitlovers.com/2019/10/04/cakes-and-ale-by-w-somerset-maugham/ ( )
  anzlitlovers | Oct 3, 2019 |
'Cakes and Ale' has our narrator, as usual, a thinly veiled Maugham, reflecting on his memories and experiences with a recently deceased elder-statesmen novelist and his first wife, Rosie. When a writer of popular historical romances assigns himself the role of biographer, with Driffield's second and more respectable wife's blessing, he asks our narrator for the details of the marriage, but he isn't interested in the full story. Rosie was an out-sized character and inspired many of her husband's early writing, but she doesn't leave an appropriate impression on her former husband's legacy.

The novel was as casually elegant as I should expect a work by Maugham to be. It was also more optimistic. The positive messages in the In the 'The Razor's Edge' and 'The Moon and Sixpence' were undercut by the unhappiness of those left behind by their protagonists. Here, our narrator seems more upset at the inconvenience Rosie and Driffield's relationship caused himself then anything else.

Not that this should be overlooked, Maugham uses the novel to meditate on the meaning of fame in literature, how it comes about and how legacy's are maintained. The hypocrisy of the guardians of respectability is given ample room to display itself. To be honest, I most enjoyed the lingering descriptions of interiors and the Edwardian perspective of Rosie's modern attitudes towards sex and love. ( )
  ManWithAnAgenda | Feb 18, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 37 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (42 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Maugham, W. SomersetAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Eggink, ClaraTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Peccinotti, HarriCover photographersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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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.
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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.
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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.

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