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Cakes and Ale Themes

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

This novel was Maugham's favorite, partly because of the person upon whom he fashioned Rosie, but also because of the opportunity to set forth his belief that honest emotions and good will are more important than good manners and "playing by the rules" of society. As Maugham once wrote, "I prefer a loose woman to a selfish one and a wanton to a fool." Rosie is certainly loose and wanton, but she is unselfish and no fool. Indeed, her sexual generosity causes much of the criticism that is leveled at her by "society" people. As the second Mrs. Driffield says of her, "I don't wish to seem spiteful, but I'm afraid I don't think that she can have been a very nice person." This statement elicits from the narrator a clear thematic comment:

That's where you make a mistake . . . She was a very nice woman. I never saw her in a bad temper. You only had to say you wanted something for her to give it to you. I never heard her say a disagreeable thing about anyone. She had a heart of gold.

One must admit that some of Ashenden's warm feeling for Rosie stems from his own love affair with her. The scene in which they commence the romance suggests the tenderness of Rosie's nature. As the inexperienced and sensitive young narrator begins to weep while Rosie is stroking his face, Rosie responds typically: '"Oh, honey, what is it? What's the matter? Don't. Don't!' She put her arms round my neck and began to cry too, and she kissed my lips and eyes and my wet cheeks. She undid her bodice and lowered my head till it rested on her bosom." The affair plays a large role in Willie's growing up and his learning to appreciate warmth of feeling and honest emotion.

The disappointment that he experiences when he finds that Rosie has also, during their romance, slept with another man moves him deeply. However, Rosie's reaction to his complaints about her actions, including accepting a fur cape from the man and other affairs that the narrator has learned of, typifies her vision of the way she wants to live her life. She smiles and gently says, "Oh, my dear, why d'you bother your head about any others? What harm does it do you? Don't I give you a good time! Aren't you happy when you're with me?" The key words here are "give" and "happy." Rosie likes to make people happy, and sexual favors are an effective way for her to do so. So, her hedonism emerges when she declares a moment later, "Let's have a good time while we can." As Willie's ire abates, Rosie closes the scene by whispering, "You must take me as I am, you know."

Doing this is primarily what Ashenden recognizes as the sensible way to proceed. And, the "taking" of Rosie extends to her later behavior, when she leaves Edward Driffield and goes to America with the man from Blackstable with whom she had an early affair: "Lord" George Kemp. The morality of this action reminds one of her earlier departure with Edward from Blackstable, leaving unpaid debts— only, this time Kemp not only owes money but also is the subject of an arrest warrant. Driffield seems crushed by her defection, but he marries his nurse a while later and seems to survive the "betrayal" well.

Near the close of the story, the narrator attempts to explain why Driffield had put up with Rosie's affairs with other men. In doing so, he partly restates other thematic remarks and also refines his view of Rosie's most important qualities:

You see, she wasn't a woman who ever inspired love. Only affection. It was absurd to be jealous over her. She was like a clear, deep pool 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 gypsy and a gamekeeper have plunged into it before you.

While Alroy Kear accuses Ashenden of being "lyrical," Willie has, in this extended simile , presented his final...

(The entire section is 1,024 words.)