*London. Britain’s great city, like New York and Paris, hosts the literary marketplace where Edward Driffield, perhaps the last of the great Victorian novelists, has risen from the modest ambience of Blackstable in rural Kent County to eminence largely because he outlived temporary fashions. An opportunist named Alroy Kear—a minor novelist but one seasoned in Bloomsburyan deceptions—finds, in orchestrating the dead Driffield’s life, that he must deal with Blackstable and what he deems the unmarketability of the “provincial.” Through the sensitive lens of novelist Willie Ashenden, now middle-aged and humanely cynical, W. Somerset Maugham ushers the reader into literary London, a breeding ground for self-importance and false appearances, a wasteland in which one writer’s longevity and another’s sycophancy can flourish under art’s protective canopy.
Blackstable. Class-conscious Victorian village in Kent, where a few ruling families rule the roost. When Alroy Kear, Driffield’s fatuous biographer, asks Willie Ashenden as a favor to recall his teenage encounters with the great author and his first wife, a former barmaid named Rosie Gann Driffield, Willie’s memories take over chapters 5 to 10. They go far beyond the superficial responses to Kear to become a social guide to Blackstable and its stratified townscape in late Victorian England. Snobbery is rampant and nowhere more...
(The entire section is 578 words.)