Good Series based on Maugham's novel about hypocrisy and literary fame
CAKES AND ALE is a title based on a line from Shakespeare's TWELFTH NIGHT. At one point, Sir Toby Belch is tired at the Puritan hypocrite Malvolio, who is quite the spoilsport regarding Sir Toby and his antics with the maid Maria and his friend Sir Andrew Aguecheek. "Just because thou art virtuous shall there be no cakes and ale!", he throws out at Malvolio. The quote is the basis for the thrust of this novel. We glorify people in the world as great figures, and there are those around them that build them into demigod like figures. But they were humans actually, and they had failures and foibles. To fully appreciate their success and greatness we should know what they were really like - but there are those hangers on who (like Malvolio) will deny the human element in order to shine up the fame in the hope of catching some of it themselves.
Somerset Maugham, with his delicious sense of irony, looks at the effects in the literary world of the death of that grand old man of letters Edward Driffield. Maugham's narrator is William Ashenden (his alter ego - he already appeared in ASHENDEN, Maugham's fictional account of his secret service work in World War I, which became Hitchcock's THE SECRET AGENT). Ashenden is a novelist, and as a boy knew the younger Driffield. He also knew Driffield's first wife, Rosie, who was a live wire. But few people know of Rosie Dawn Driffield. You see, she was ... well relatively common. A fun loving woman, and a barmaid, she lacks a certain surface quiet and elegance one associates with grand old men of literature. Such is the opinions of the second Mrs. Driffield (formerly Driffield's nurse - who felt it an honor to take care of Mr. Driffield in his dotage), and the noted novelist Alroy Kear. Kear has turned himself into the Malvolio of the story - protecting (with the second Mrs. Driffield) the glory and reputation of Driffield, while hoping that the public will see Kear as the successor as grand old man of English letters to the deceased.
Maugham's novel was redone in Britain in this series from 1974, with Michael Hordern as the older Ashenden, and Judy Cornwell (who later played Daisy on KEEPING UP APPEARANCES) as Rosie. The introductions by Alistair Cooke (when the show was shown on "Masterpiece Theatre" explained that the spoof on high literature and reputation was based on Maugham's views of two major British writers of the twentieth century. One was Thomas Hardy, the great, late Victorian novelist and poet who was recognized as the "grand old man of English letters" at the time of his death in 1928. Hardy had been married in his youth to a pretty local woman, who eventually left him. He remarried in later years, but the second Mrs. Hardy was not quite the harpy that the second Mrs. Driffield was. The second Mrs. Hardy died in the late 1930s. And Alroy Kear was the novelist Hugh Walpole, best remembered today for ROGUE HERRIES and MR. PERRIN AND MR. TRAIL (the latter made into a movie in the 1940s). Maugham felt Walpole a lightweight, pretentious man, and was merciless in his depiction of him as the ambitious, empty Kear. In fact, the spoof probably had an unfair effect on Walpole's literary reputation to this day.
The series shows how Kear is trying to get the rights to write the definitive biography of Driffield, and the second lady is giving him her full cooperation. But Ashenden is aware that they are making the man a bloodless monument, and he knew Driffield as a decent, hard drinking fellow. And he (as young Willie Ashenden - Paul Ashdon) knew Rosie, the fun loving barmaid who married Driffield, had a small affair with young Willie, and suffered a tragedy with her husband - the loss of their only child. Typical of Driffield, he used the death as material for a novel. Eventually she abandoned Driffield with another lover, and Ashenden eventually finds her living happily in America. But will he or won't he reveal the truth of Driffield's first marriage to the world, and destroy Kear's bogus biography? That is not resolved until the last episode.
It was a well acted and directed version of the novel, but the commentary by Cooke helped explain the background of the story. Hordern was obviously enjoying his role, as when he suggests to a queasy Kear, at one point, that the smell of sweat on a working man may actually be a sexual turn on for a woman. That is the sort of detail Kear would never use in his novels or the biography of Driffield.
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