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‘Better left unsaid’: Debunking the myth of the author in Somerset Maugham’s Cakes and Ales

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‘Better left unsaid’: Debunking the myth of the author in Somerset Maugham’s Cakes and Ales

Cette communication a été filmée dans le cadre du colloque international  "Writers in Neo-Victorian Fiction" organisé par l'équipe anglophone ERIBIA le 11 octobre 2019 à la Maison de la Recherche en Sciences Humaines de l'Université Caen Normandie, sous la responsablilité d'Armelle Parey (ERIBIA, Caen) et Charlotte Wadoux (19-21, Paris 3).

Julie Depriester is a PhD candidate at the Université d’Artois. She researches the themes of escape, confrontation with the other, and self-discovery in the works of John Fowles.


Published in 1930, Cakes and Ale by Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) is arguably one of the earliest neo-Victorian novels. The story revolves around flashbacks of Edward Driffield, a recently deceased Victorian author, who is partly based on Thomas Hardy (1840-1928)—his love of cycling and famous knickerbockers, the outrage at Jude, Victorian provincialism are rewritten in the novel. But the novelist is given new fictional life here. Alroy Kear, a fictional representation of Hugh Walpole (1884-1941), and author of the projected life of Driffield, insists that everything should not be told in the biography: ‘I do think there’s a certain amount that’s better left unsaid’. Then, in a passage that prefigures the self-reflexivity of postmodernism, the narrator, Ashenden—more or less based on Maugham himself, therefore voicing the author’s own viewpoint—expands on the value of the first-person narrative, used in the novel itself, raising questions of reliability. Besides, the notoriety of the novelists is also called attention to, the critics’ opinion being contrasted to personal feelings.

 As a consequence, the representation of the three author-characters is above all a means to deconstruct the myth surrounding the figure of the writer. Indeed, the reader is led to question what makes the reputation and worth of an author, as Maugham proposes a critical assessment of the process of idealization of the Victorian author figure, from the brief temporal distance of some forty years.



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