Friday, 6 February 2009

What a piece of work!

W. Somerset Maugham is one of my favourite writers* and by Jove he was witty and acute...I suspect he was quite spiteful too. I say that and then I feel like I am being rough, especially if I take into account his personal hardships. Taking on board this combo of traits and analysing the photo above, what do you think: pal, enemy or frenemy?

To help you decide, here's an extract from Cakes and Ale, a satire of literary poseurs: (I have italicised my favourite bit - which I am hoping to elegantly drop into the conversation at my friend's birthday dinner this evening.)

But why writers should be more esteemed the older they grow, has long perplexed me. At one time I thought that the praise accorded to them when they had ceased for twenty years to write anything of interest was largely due to the fact that the younger men, having no longer to fear their competition, felt it safe to extol their merit; and it is well known that to praise someone whose rivalry you do not dread is often a very good way of putting a spoke in the wheel of someone whose rivalry you do. But this is to take a low view of human nature and I would not for the world lay myself open to a charge of cheap cynicism. After mature consideration I have come to the conclusion that the real reason for the universal applause that comforts the declining years of the author who exceeds the common span of man is that intelligent people after the age of thirty read nothing at all. As they grow older the books they read in their youth are lit with its glamour and with every year that passes they ascribe greater merit to the author that wrote them. Of couse he must go on; he must keep in the public eye. It is no good thinking that it is enough to write one or two masterpieces; he must provide a pedestal for them of forty or fifty works of no particular consequence. This needs time. His product must be such that if he cannot captivate a reader by his charm he can stun him by his weight.

And The Razor's Edge is one of my most treasured books.

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