Tuesday, January 27, 2009
Cakes And Ale by W. Somerset Maugham
Cakes And Ale by W. Somerset Maugham follows the lives of a great novelist, Edward Driffield, and his first wife, Rosie as seen through the eyes of a young man who knows them over a span of years. Set in the early 1900's, the book is a telescope into the culture and attitudes of England during this time. Life is changing there, and while the nobility is still honored, more and more "trade" people are moving into society. Edward Driffield is such a man, and he compounds the disdain polite society has for him by marrying Rosie, who was a barmaid.
Yet, Edward's talent and the couple's social skills mean that soon they are at the center of a social group that includes up and coming artists, authors, bankers, and an occasional earl or duke. The narrator, a well-brought boy who becomes a doctor and later an author himself, is at first diffident about the couple. Yet, they are charming to him and he soon finds himself caught up in their circle.
Rosie is a great beauty, and it soon is revealed, a woman who spreads her charms widely. The narrator becomes one of her lovers. None of the men in her life seem to scorn her for her lifestyle as all are captivated with her. As an analogy, one likens her to a cool, refreshing forest pool. Does the enjoyment of diving in and cooling off diminish because others have also done so?
I adored this book. It is totally charming, while outlining a story that could have been sordid. Maugham writes about various aspects of society comically. The tone of the entire book is wry, while outlining a young man's growth and the morals and culture of an age gone by. I enjoyed this one immensely and recommend it wholeheartedly.