Cakes and Ale by W. Somerset Maugham

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Cakes and Ale by W. Somerset Maugham

Post by dsimpson on Thu Jun 30, 2011 8:10 pm

Hi all. I'm not quite finished with the book but I hope I will be by tomorrow. I thought I'd get the thread started in the meantime. I've heard comments here and there so am curious what everyone thinks? It was a slow start and took me two tries, but I am enjoying it now that I am in the middle of the story.

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Re: Cakes and Ale by W. Somerset Maugham

Post by Rohan on Fri Jul 01, 2011 12:17 am

I'm about to start writing up my post on it. What an odd book! Here's what may be a trivial question, but why do you think it is called 'Cakes and Ale'? I understand that this is an expression meaning 'the good things in life'--but that doesn't seem to apply very well to the novel. What am I missing?

I did enjoy it, though I didn't much like Rosie, and I wondered if I was supposed to like her more than I did. She seemed to me a kind of male fantasy, a bit like Julia in 'Brideshead Revisited' or even Sue in 'Jude the Obscure' (except that in some ways she is more like Arabella than Sue, of course).


Last edited by Rohan on Fri Jul 01, 2011 1:38 am; edited 1 time in total

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Re: Cakes and Ale by W. Somerset Maugham

Post by Rebecca H. on Fri Jul 01, 2011 12:56 am

Perhaps "Cakes and Ale" is supposed to stand for Rosie, who wants and reaches out for the "good things in life?" Oh, and Stefanie pointed out the Shakespeare line: "Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?" Oh, dear, but what does THAT mean?

I suspect that we were supposed to like Rosie -- to be fascinated by her like the narrator was -- but I had trouble putting her together as a person. I agree, Rohan, that she was a bit of a male fantasy, except for someone who wanted to possess her entirely. But of course, she's a further source of fascination because she's unobtainable.

I wondered what people think about the narrator and whether we are supposed to be critical of him or to identify him with Maugham. I've just started thinking of him as a character to be criticized, so I'm not sure, but he's not exactly a disinterested narrator.

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Re: Cakes and Ale by W. Somerset Maugham

Post by Rohan on Fri Jul 01, 2011 1:35 am

I finished my own post before reading the others that had gone up, and it was really interesting looking at them after. It seems like we are all unconvinced by Rosie.

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Re: Cakes and Ale by W. Somerset Maugham

Post by Rebecca H. on Fri Jul 01, 2011 1:44 am

Your points about metafiction and whether it connects to or adds up to anything were interesting, Rohan. I keep comparing Kear's biography, which is going to gloss over Rosie entirely, and Ashenden's narrative -- his own version of a biography. He is competing with Kear, in a way, and making an argument for the value of truth. Perhaps the whole novel is an argument against Kear's dishonesty in writing.

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Re: Cakes and Ale by W. Somerset Maugham

Post by Litlove on Fri Jul 01, 2011 11:00 am

I posted my review before reading any one else's or the discussion and now of course, having read them all, I can think of lots of things I wish I'd put in the post!

Rohan's review in particular made me think about the tragedy of Rosie's child and wonder why that is so forgettable when considering her character. I forgot about it TOTALLY when writing my post, and yet it's surely offered as the 'solution' to her character. Sexuality becomes a kind of manic distraction from her grief, and from the relationship with Driffield which is damaged beyond repair by the experience they have gone through.

I also wondered whether this tied into the 'cakes and ale' thing. On the one hand this has to be a comment on class restrictions, and the fact that Edwardian Britain was utterly obsessed with respectability. Virtue was synonymous with doing nothing - or at least none of the human things like having a bit of vulgar, common fun singing music hall songs, or enjoying sensuality or spending time with people who made you laugh uproariously. Respectability and virtue were about quietness and self-restraint and cultured pursuits. Were the two never to be allowed a little overlap? People must really have strained against those types of bonds back in the early days of the century. And of course, Rosie, who is all cakes and ale, who likes the treats and the pleasures of life, would have been roundly condemned for her behaviour. The narrator, in his clumsy way, is I think, asking us to consider her sexuality as generous pleasure giving, and to shame any possible judgement by showing the loss of the child as the tragedy that lies in part behind it.

Well, that's what I'm thinking at the moment, but I could easily be wrong! And of course whilst there may be an intent behind the narrative, I'm no more sure than any of you that this comes off.

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Re: Cakes and Ale by W. Somerset Maugham

Post by Stefanie on Fri Jul 01, 2011 11:22 pm

Was anyone bothered by the way all of the women were portrayed in this book? There was Rosie who seems to offer herself to everyone with no strings attached (though rich gifts are accepted). Then there was Mrs. Trafford who pretty much gets poked fun at by Maugham in her searching about for an up and coming author to hang her hat on. And then there is the second Mrs. Driffield who seems to care more for Edward's reputation than she cared for Edward. She had to sneakily change out all the furniture over time because Edward's furniture was so vulgar and she asks one of the biggest brown nosers to write Edward's biography ensuring that nothing untoward would be mentioned. I tried to be sympathetic to Mrs. Driffield and Mrs. Trafford because they have to rely on men to propel them into the spotlight that they obviously crave. But they appear to be more manipulative than sympathetic. And of course prudes. There was no woman in between which was one of the things that irked me about this book - Madonna v Whore, or I suppose in this case, matron v whore, but you all know what I mean. I hope! Smile

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Re: Cakes and Ale by W. Somerset Maugham

Post by Rebecca H. on Fri Jul 01, 2011 11:49 pm

Yes, I do know what you mean, Stefanie, and you're absolutely right. I was bothered by the portrayal of Rosie, but I hadn't realized that the other women are stereotypes or negative figures as well. And there's also the servant who functions only as a source of gossip for Ashenden. I think the narrative wants us to see Rosie as complex, but I'm not entirely sure she is.

Litlove -- I totally forgot about the story of Rosie's childbirth experience as well. I'll admit that I didn't do a good job of reviewing the book before I wrote about it, but shouldn't that story have stood out in our minds?? I agree that the narrative asks us to sympathize with Rosie as being simple and pleasure-loving and admirable. But I never quite bought that interpretation.

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Re: Cakes and Ale by W. Somerset Maugham

Post by Litlove on Sat Jul 02, 2011 1:04 pm

I don't think the women come out particularly well - apart from the very small role played by Ashenden's aunt - because the woman we are supposed to admire is Rosie, (as opposed to her oh so respectable opponents) and we good 21st century women can't do that for good 21st century reasons. Would male readers appreciate her more, I wonder?

But then, the men don't come off too well, either. I think that this is far more of a satire than I've really given it credit for, when I think about the characters. The literary world and its pretensions are really sent up (which is where Mrs Barton Trafford and the second wife come in, along with Alroy Kear), and the rigors of class consciousness are shown in a poor light, too, for which Ashenden's uncle, and to some extent the young Ashenden, are made to suffer in a less than sympathetic portrayal. I'm wondering if this is partly the source of our discontent with the book - that it does seem to express quite a harsh view of people, without presenting any alternatives. Although I quite liked the maid - she seemed down to earth to me (and I don't mind gossip Wink ).

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Re: Cakes and Ale by W. Somerset Maugham

Post by Stefanie on Sat Jul 02, 2011 2:09 pm

I think there is a certain flatness to all the characters in the book. There is enough there to hint that they are more than they seem but don't look behind the curtain! And you are right Litlove, none of the men come off looking too well either. Except Driffield, he was always just himself. But then we never actually get to spend much time with him for him turn out otherwise. I wonder if the flatness is because of the satire? In order for satire to work you have to deal more in types than in complex people.

I completely forgot about the baby too. I think I forgot about it because it didn't seem to have much of an effect on Rosie. Driffield comes off as being more affected by it than she does since he writes about it and Rosie just seems to go on her merry and profligate way.

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Re: Cakes and Ale by W. Somerset Maugham

Post by Rohan on Sat Jul 02, 2011 7:58 pm

I agree about the flatness, particularly of the women. I felt like the narrator was supposed to be the one who gave it depth, but maybe it's true that everything and everyone is being sent up satirically. It is the narrator who tells Driffield's story accurately, so that suggests a bit of difference between him and the Alroys of the world--but then he's all misty-eyed over Rosie. I did find the whole idea of the Society Beauty happily settled in Yonkers (Yonkers?!) quite funny.

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Re: Cakes and Ale by W. Somerset Maugham

Post by Litlove on Sun Jul 03, 2011 6:08 pm

Oh yes - Yonkers. Where exactly IS that? I have no idea!

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Re: Cakes and Ale by W. Somerset Maugham

Post by Stefanie on Sun Jul 03, 2011 9:11 pm

It's on the Hudson River in New York. Not sure where it is in relation to New York City. It is a funny sounding name, isn't it? It has sort of a vulgar, working-class association to it too that makes it a perfect place for Rosie to wind up.

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Re: Cakes and Ale by W. Somerset Maugham

Post by Litlove on Mon Jul 04, 2011 7:36 am

Lol! That's exactly it, Stefanie, and thank you for sorting out my geography. It does sound a bit cheap and cheerful - although it is probably a very nice place indeed!

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Cakes and Ale

Post by Lilian Nattel on Wed Jul 06, 2011 3:29 pm

I'm late posting my review because of finishing my draft and my kids finishing school, but I've enjoyed reading the other reviews and the discussion. I'm about to post mine. I do think it was literary satire and I found it hilarious.

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