The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Friday, August 10, 2007

Somerset Griffin

By Anne Chudobiak

This week, on Tamara’s suggestion, I read Somerset Maugham for the first time. It had never occurred to me to do so before. I’m not even sure that I’d known he was a writer. I knew he was famous, but not what he was famous for. With a name like that, he could have just as easily been a statesman or a philosopher.

I started with the book Cakes and Ale. It deals with the lionizing of a Thomas Hardy-like figure (not that I know anything about Hardy). When I finished, I was gratified on two counts: I had “discovered” a new writer and advanced my general knowledge. No longer would references to Maugham slip me by. The whole world would make more sense. (I remembered how when I had finished Madame Bovary, I’d realized that references to the book—most of them comical—came up an almost daily basis, on paper, on screen, in conversation. How much had I missed out on before? Was there some kind of comedy directed only at the well read? Wasn’t that impractical? Who wants to tell a joke that only one percent of the audience is likely to ever get?)

With Cakes and Ale, I didn’t have to wait long for results. The same day that I finished the book, Maugham was referenced on a tv rerun, the primetime cartoon Family Guy. In the episode, blue-collar antihero Peter Griffin moves into a closet and sublets the rest of his house while his wife is out of town. When she phones to check up on him, their daughter answers.

“Dad,” she says. “Mom’s on the phone.

“Please be Somerset Maugham. Please be Somerset Maugham,” says Peter.

I don’t know what I would have made of this joke in my pre-Maugham days—it probably wouldn’t have registered—but now I think it’s pretty damn funny, all the more so because of what Holden Caulfield has to say in Catcher in the Rye:

You take that book Of Human Bondage, by Somerset Maugham, though. I read it last summer. It's a pretty good book and all, but I wouldn't want to call that Somerset Maugham up. I don't know. He just isn't the kind of guy I'd want to call up, that's all. I'd rather call old Thomas Hardy up. I like that Eustacia Vye.

Maugham’s writing is said to be heavily autobiographical, and in the case of Cakes and Ale, at least, he takes on the voice of an odious old man heavily concerned with rank. He would make short shrift of Peter Griffin, and Holden knows it.

All this to say that it looks as though I might have to read Hardy, too. As Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane puts it in one interview, “Even if only person thinks it’s funny,” the joke goes in. No mercy for the unread, not even in prime time. Three authors for every joke. Whew.


Blogger Tricia Dower said...

Good for you! I tried to get through Of Human Bondage but it was just too...I don't know, Somersetish. But itIS fun to be one of the two or three people nodding their heads at an obscure reference while the rest of the room says, huh?. But on Family Guy? Now that's something.

Fri Aug 10, 01:16:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger tamara said...

That's hilarious, the Family Guy ref. I love that. The joke may also refer to the closeted sexuality of both. But that would be my take on it; I could very well be reading *more* into it, as I tend to do.

Glad you liked my suggestion. Now Hardy... I have a hard time with him. No pun intended. Tricia, have you written off Maugham entirely?

Fri Aug 10, 02:32:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Anne C. said...

Oh, yes, Tamara, the closet!

Fri Aug 10, 03:08:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

Well at least Of Human Bondage, Tamara, until there are no other unread books on my shelf. Trouble is, there's so much good new stuff out there and not enough time.

Fri Aug 10, 04:14:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Steve Gajadhar said...

Never read any Somerset. But family guy has been a favourite of mine for many a year. Great post.

Fri Aug 10, 06:13:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Mel said...

Love Maughm (he's my birthday buddy - Jan. 31) + Loved "Of Human Bondage" + Love Holden Caulfield + Love Hardy + Love Family Guy = I totally loved this post, Anne. If you'd thrown in a Montreal bagel and a wedge of cheddar, I think I would have levitated.

Read "Tess of the d'Ubervilles"! Oooh, the drama!

Sat Aug 11, 01:32:00 am GMT-4  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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Anyway for those who can not download Family guy from torrents and are looking for all Seasons of Family guy, they can download it from here -

Hope this helps others.

Sat Dec 01, 05:46:00 am GMT-5  

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