Things Best Left Unspoken

Debunking the Myth of the Author in Somerset Maugham’s Cakes and Ale


  • Julie Depriester University of Artois, France



author figure, biofiction, biography, Cakes and Ale, Thomas Hardy, Somerset Maugham, reputation, unreliability, Victorian literature, Hugh Walpole


Somerset Maugham’s Cakes and Ale: Or, the Skeleton in the Cupboard (1930) is based on flashbacks concerning Edward Driffield, a recently deceased Victorian author, who is partly based on Thomas Hardy (1840-1928). Alroy Kear, a fictional representation of Hugh Walpole (1884-1941) and author of a planned account of Driffield’s life, insists that everything should not be told in the biography, suggesting that some things may be better left unsaid. In a prefiguration of the self-reflexivity of postmodernism, the narrator, Ashenden – Maugham’s own persona – expands on the value of the first-person narrative, raising questions of reliability. Thus, the representation of the three author-characters becomes 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 idealisation of the Victorian author figure, from the relatively brief temporal distance of some forty years.