Cakes and ale, William Somerset Maugham (1930)

(novel inspired by the life of Thomas Hardy)


  • p. 90-91: “We know of course that women are habitually constipated, but to represent them in fiction as being altogether devoid of a back passage seems to me really an excess of chivalry.”

Ari: I know nobody who is so deliciously politically incorrect as WSM.

Prose will save our souls, not poetry.

  • p. 93:  “I do not know if others are like myself, but I am conscious that I cannot contemplate beauty long. For me no poet made a falser statement than Keats when he wrote the first line of Endymion. When the thing of beauty has given me the magic of tis sensation my mind quickly wanders; I listen with incredulity to the persons who tell me that they can look with rapture for hours at a view or a picture. Beauty is an ecstasy, it is as simple as hunger. There is really nothing to be said about it. It is like the perfume of a rose: you can smell it and that is all: that is why the criticism of art, except in so far as it is unconcerned with beauty and therefore with art, is tiresome. All the critic can tell you with regard to Titian’s ‘Entombment of Christ’, perhaps of all the pictures in the world that which has most pure beauty, is to go and look at it. What else he has to say is history, or biography, or what not. But people add other qualities to  beauty – sublimity, human interest, tenderness, love – because beauty does not long content them. Beauty is perfect, and perfection [such is human nature] holds our attention but for a little while. The mathematician who after seeing Phèdre asked: ‘Qu’est-ce que ça prouve?‘ was not such a fool as he has been generally made out. No one has ever been able to explain why the Doric temple of Paestum is more beautiful than a glass of cold beer except by bringing in considerations that have nothing to do with beauty. Beauty is a blind alley. It is a mountain peak which once reached leads nowhere. That is why in the end we find more to entrance us in El Greco than in Titian, in the incomplete achievement of Shakespeare than in the consummate success of Racine. Too much has been written about beauty. That is why I have written a little more. Beauty is that which satisfies the aesthetic instinct. But who wants to be satisfied? It is only to the dullard that enough is as good as a feast. Let us face it: beauty is a bit of a bore.
  • p. 93: ‘From what I hear she was absolutely promiscuous.’ ‘You don’t understand,’ I said, ‘She was a very simple woman. Her instincts were healthy and ingenuous. She loved to make people happy. She loved love.’ ‘Do you call that love?’ ‘Well, then, the act of love. She was naturally affectionate. When she liked anyone it was quite natural for her to go to bed with him. She never thought twice about it. It was not vice, it wasn’t lasciviousness, it was her nature. She gave herself as naturally as the sun gives heat and she liked to give pleasure to others. It had no effect on her character, she remained sincere, unspoiled, and artless.’ Mrs Driffield looked as though she had taken a dose of castor oil and had just been trying to get the taste of it out of her mouth by sucking a lemon. (…) ‘She was like a clear, deep pole in a forest glade into which it’s heavenly to plunge, but it is neither less cool nor less crystalline because a tramp and a gipsy and a gamekeeper have plunged into it before you.’. Roy laughed again, and this time Mrs Driffield without concealment smiled thinly. ‘It’s comic to hear you so lyrical,’ said Roy. I stiffled a sigh. 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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