Archive for the ‘Letters’ Category

Hurrah! The prize for 1970 has finally been awarded, and to a wonderful writer. If Farrell had actually got the prize in 1970 for Troubles, he’d have been the first person to win it twice, because The Siege of Krishnapur got it in 1973. A spur to reread his novels, and the brilliant biography by Lavinia Greacen, who has also recently edited his letters


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Secret Lives

I’m currently fascinated by The Secret Lives of Somerset Maugham by Selina Hastings, as I was a Maugham fan in my teens, starting with the short stories, which I still enjoy, though it’s a long time since I read one of his novels or plays. Sometimes when I read a book and it drips through my mind like water, I wonder whether it’s my own lack of attention, these days, that’s the problem – I read with such greed and fascination as a teenager that the characters and plots spring right back into my memory as they’re dealt with in this biography. Maugham was such a prolific writer – perhaps too prolific at times, as he did rehash plots and characters endlessly – and so steely in his ambition to succeed, to be known, to make money, that he makes someone like me – who can barely prepare a shopping list – feel like a complete slattern. Such discipline and industry is needed to carry an idea through into a completed book or play, and to be able to complete again and again and again simply because one has decided to do it, is a trick worth learning. For all his well-earned wealth and celebrity, though, Maugham was unhappy and largely disliked, but he was ill set up for life by the loss of his much loved mother when he was only eight, followed by a swift rehousing to a dreary Kent vicarage, where he passed the rest of a pretty miserable childhood. 

I haven’t even finished the biography yet but I know another rereadathon awaits, of the novels at least. He’s not in vogue at the moment but The Gate had an enjoyable and beautiful production of The Constant Wife a couple of years ago – maybe there will be a little Maugham revival in the wake of this biography.

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Catching up online with so many newspapers I didn’t read in the flesh at the time, I saw a very interesting piece written by the great-granddaughter of Alice Liddell about the relationship between Lewis Carroll  and Alice as a girl, a necessary sale of souvenirs, etc. 
Alice wrote to her son Caryl (ooh, er, there you go): “But, oh, my dear, I am tired of being Alice in Wonderland. Does it sound ungrateful? It is, only I do get tired.” It made me think about poor Christopher Robin Milne and the millstone of Pooh. Apparently the worst bit for CRM was not actually Pooh, but the poem Vespers (Hush! Hush! Whisper who dares. Christopher Robin is saying his prayers”) the Vera Lynn recording of which some of his contemporaries at Stowe played over and over again for pure torture, till Christopher eventually smashed the record into smithereens and scattered it over some playing field. 

Honestly, when you think about how people agonise over whether it’s acceptable to send a child to school in the wrong coat for fear of standing out, God love the poor blighter. He’d be a guaranteed no-pics-on-Facebooker.

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