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Maugham: A Writer’s Life

No one can be more eloquent, exhaustive, and incisive than Somerset Maugham on the subject of a writer’s life. This passage is taken out of Cakes and Ale, in which the narrator, a literary gentleman named Willie Asheden, who might very well be Maugham himself, reflects upon being a writer.

“I did not pay attention, and since it seemed to prolong itself I began to meditate upon the writer’s life. It is full of tribulation. First he must endure poverty and the world’s indifference; then having achieved a measure of success, he must submit with a good grace to its hazards. He depends upon a fickle public. He is at the mercy of journalists who want to interview him and photographers who want to take his picture, of editors who harry him for copy and tax gatherers who harry him for income tax, of persons of quality who ask him to lunch and secretaries of institutes who ask him to lecture, of women who want to marry him and women who want to divorce him, of youths who want his autograph, actors who want parts and strangers who want a loan, of gushing ladies who want advice on their matrimonial affairs and earnest young men who want advice on their compositions, of agents, publishers, managers, bores,admirers, critics, and his own conscience. But he has one compensation. Whenever he has anything on his mind, whether it be a harassing reflection, grief at the death of a friend, unrequited love, wounded pride, anger at the treachery of someone to whom he has shown kindness, in short any emotion or any perplexing thought, he has only to put it down in black and white, using it as the theme of a story or the decoration of an essay, to forget all about it. He is the only free man.” [26:307]

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