By far my favorite joke from Family Guy, aside from “Oh no….did I hit crazy stairs?”
Anyway, this novel is very good in a lot of ways. Our narrator is a connected man of letters who grew up in the shadow of a middling but famous writer from the mid-to-late Victorian era. He’s been approached by a kind of craven writer who’s been hired by the widow of this late writer to pen the authorized biography. Because of the narrator’s connection, he’s approached. What we learn from the subsequent novel is that the novelist had a young, vibrant, sensuous first wife who acted as muse and bane throughout his career. She’s presented as a truly interesting and engaging and full of life character.
The bulk of the book though is given over to discussions about the state of literature, the role over and influence of the Victorians on modern writers, and how to process and understand literary legacies. I like literary detective stories, and while this one is not about a mystery that needs to be solved, it is about understanding who is and who isn’t part of the amalgamation. There’s a lot of Thomas Hardy in Driffield, the writer, but not only.
My most favorite and interesting part of the novel is the discussions of the state of literature, but specifically in a funny moment where the narrator discusses a recent article written by Evelyn Waugh. This book was published in 1930 and Waugh had written one novel and two short stories by this point, and was still quite young (26-28). So Maugham nailed his influence and future career.