Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


*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.)

Literary Techniques

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

The novel falls into a number of time frames. As Willie Ashenden is urged by Kear and Mrs. Driffield to recall incidents relating to Edward...

(The entire section is 290 words.)

Ideas for Group Discussions

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Inasmuch as so much emphasis is placed on Rosie Gann/Driffield/Kemp, some thought might be given to the true moral worth of this leading...

(The entire section is 626 words.)

Social Concerns

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

While the main title of this book relates directly to the principal theme, the subtitle indicates a social phenomenon that interested W....

(The entire section is 788 words.)

Literary Precedents

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Maugham never claimed to have a lively imagination, and he readily admitted that he took characters from people he knew or at least had...

(The entire section is 206 words.)

Related Titles

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Since most of Maugham's fiction, certainly the major novels, is autobiographical, almost any of the principal works could be said to be...

(The entire section is 154 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Cordell, Richard. Somerset Maugham: A Biographical and Critical Study. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1961. Thorough analysis of Maugham as a writer proficient in all genres of literature.

Curtis, Anthony. The Pattern of Maugham: A Critical Portrait. New York: Taplinger, 1974. Analysis of Maugham’s more prominent works, with insights into the role of his insecurities and his frequent digressions in Cakes and Ale and other novels, when he offers personal commentary on the state of society and the world of arts and letters.

Curtis, Anthony, and John Whitehead, eds. W. Somerset Maugham: The Critical Heritage. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1987. Particularly valuable for tracing the critical reception of Cakes and Ale since its initial publication. Contemporary reviews by noted literary figures such as Ivor Brown, Evelyn Waugh, and Leslie Marchand.

Loss, Archie K. W. Somerset Maugham. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1987. An in-depth analysis of the roman à clef aspects of the novel, emphasizing Maugham’s disparaging treatment of Hugh Walpole and Thomas Hardy.

Morgan, Ted. Maugham. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1980. A comprehensive overview of Maugham’s life and career, with an extended discussion of the character of Rosie in Cakes and Ale. Morgan emphasizes her pragmatic morality and adaptability in a socially repressive atmosphere.