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Cakes and Ale

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Cakes and ale

The excerpt under analysis belongs to the pen of a prolific and brilliant novelist, playwright, short-story writer, and essayist whose work is characterized by a clear unadorned style, cosmopolitan settings, and a shrewd understanding of human nature – Somerset Maugham. Maugham's favorite among his novels is "Cakes and Ale" (1930) in which he shows that there can be much dramatic and completely undetermined, unexpected, unpredicted in the commonest doings of ordinary people. Often his attitude to his characters is not that of an admiring and eager interpreter but that of an objective spectator. When describing his characters he seldom becomes sympathetic or hostile, benevolent or sarcastic. Maugham tries to be impartial to his characters as he considered himself to have no right to criticize and judge anybody. Cakes and Ale is the story of a famous novelist which represents the backstage life of the literary profession and unmasks the scheming and humbug behind the veneration and popularity to which Driffield is exposed, and which he has to live up to. And after Driffield's death another writer Alroy Kear, is chosen to write his biography and glorify his achievement. The dry and rather acid irony of the book lies in the contrast between what Driffield really was and the lofty pathetic life that Kear, a practiced humbug, is planning to write. This character in fact is a composite portrait in which Maugham puts a great deal of himself. This projecting himself into his books is rather typical of Maugham, who, he confesses, has a grim capacity for seeing his own absurdity. The fragment under analysis presents the narrator’s descriptions of the parties to which he goes in order to enter the literary world. He describes the common and insignificant people who consider themselves to be very talented and prominent figures in the literary circles. And then the narrator distributes the branches of literature among the ranks of the representatives of the British government in case it is abolished. The general slant of the text under analysis is rather ironic as the narrator creates ironic tonalities by playing upon contrasts and contradictions. He states the opposite of what is being disclosed. This novel as well as the others prove that Maugham's fiction has little romance or idealism. He found life chaotic, paradoxical, and unpredictable. He took a definitely pessimistic view of men and women. He made no attempt to explain human nature, but only to expound its weaknesses. He avoided all judgments and mocked the narrowness of easy moral solutions. He was a sardonic observer of human behavior. He said: “The writer is not a judge but an observer". Giving him his due for brilliance of style and a pointed ridicule of many social vices, such as snobbishness, money-worship, pretence, self-interest, etc., we realize, however, his cynical attitude to mankind. It is quite obvious that when describing the corruption of modern society, he is not indignant but rather amused. His ironical cynicism combined with a keen wit and power of observation affords him effective means of portraying English reality without shrinking before its seamy side (темные стороны). The characteristic of Maugham is the manner, which can be described as a detached, amused, and ironical attitude towards the world and life, in which the author expressed his sympathies and contemplated the spectacle of existence with an indifferent shrug. As to Maugham’s style, he aimed at lucidity, simplicity, and euphony. He found that it is possible to express with lucidity the most subtle reflections. He recognized himself to be too logical and too rational for metaphoric richness. Unadorned and unjewelled, his style is elegant and graceful. He seldom by a vivid phrase or a picturesque epithet distracts attention from the matter. But at the same time his style is characterized by an elaborate choice of words. He resorts to simple words in the plainest and most direct sense. He warned against being captivated by the music of words but still it is astonishing that so great an effect is obtained by the use of words, which are dispassionate, quite homely and in common use. To create an authentic picture Maugham resorts to a great deal of words pertaining to the semantic field of literature, e.g. “the world of art and letters, musicians, actors, a concert, fiction, belles letters, drama, poetry, poems of a didactic and moral character, to write love lyrics and elegies etc”An essential feature of the Maugham-manner was the method of narration. He reflected much upon existing narrative techniques before arriving at his peculiar “Ich-Narration” which is introduced in “Cakes and ale” as well. In the “Ich-narration” the author, playing a minor role, is an onlooker reporting on the major characters and their actions. As an illustration of Maugham's skill in using every nuance of the language to serve some special stylistic purpose, we might mention his use of pronouns. “I went. I enjoyed myself. I went again. I was busily writing; I was excited to meet people etc” The first person singular here is not only a marker of “Ich-narration” but also a proof of the narrator’s being selfish and self-centered. But still Maugham laughs at everybody and at himself either and he hints that the reader should not flatter himself by thinking he is any better than the people he is reading about. So the writer manages to involve us into the events of the book by using the second person in his narration, e.g. “You found young actors who were looking for parts and middle-aged singers who deplored the fact that the English were not a musical race, composers who played their compositions on the Driffields' cottage piano and complained in a whispered aside that they sounded nothing except on a concert grand, poets who on pressure consented to read a little thing that they had just written, and painters who were looking for commissions.” Thus, the author involves the reader into the thick of events. The same trend of mocking at everybody including himself is marked when it is the first person plural that is employed to unite the author with the other writers: “The writer of prose can only step aside when the poet passes; he makes the best of us look like a piece of cheese.”Maugham is very famous for his bitter and sardonic irony in which his peculiar vision of the world finds its reflection. His cold irony is more killing than the most glowing indignation. He states the opposite of what is being disclosed. And his irony applies to all as he used to laughing and mocking not only at his characters but also at the reader and at himself accentuating that nobody of us is better than anybody else. And every word, every stylistic device contributes to the creation of this ironic effect.The whole novel “Cakes and ale”

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