Home > 1930, British Literature, Maugham Somerset William, Personal Posts > The writer “is the only free man”

The writer “is the only free man”

I’m currently writing my billet about Cakes and Ale by William Somerset Maugham. I have tons of quotes but this one is particularly interesting and won’t fit into my billet.

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.

Happy meditation.

  1. June 4, 2012 at 1:59 am

    Can’t say that the quote makes me feel that writers have hard lives–although I believe that they do, and I don’t envy them the stress they must live with.

    I’ve always thought that if I were a writer I’d ‘deal’ with people through my plots–so that some would get their just desserts, etc.

    The quote made me think of the character I am currently reading about–the narrator of Life of an Unknown Man. He’s a writer who seems to have somehow lost his time.


    • June 5, 2012 at 12:28 am

      Truly, the quote is from the side of a successful writer, which Maugham was. As so is which Ashenden, the character who says that in Cakes & Ale.

      Honestly, I don’t envy the stress writers must live with either. But the other way round might be true too: they wouldn’t envy the stress you and I are living with, don’t you think?

      I wouldn’t want to be married to a novelist. I’d hate to discover my friends, my family or myself used as raw material in a book. In a way, I have the impression I’d be always wondering “Is what we’re living now going to end up printed in a novel?”


  2. June 4, 2012 at 12:19 pm

    This is a writer I haven’t read anything by (although there is something at the back of my mind about a book from my school days…) .. It’s amazing how many good writers there are out there…


    • June 4, 2012 at 12:39 pm

      The ones I read were brilliant. Try him.


  3. June 4, 2012 at 7:06 pm

    I like Maugham a lot but, to be honest, this quote doesn’t really speak to me so much.


    • June 5, 2012 at 12:52 am

      Well, I’m not a writer, I’ll never be and I never dreamt to be one.
      I like this quote because under the fame and the glamour of being a successful writer, he doesn’t forget to go back to the roots of his being a writer: more than telling stories, it’s a way to cope with life.


      • June 5, 2012 at 7:46 am

        Thanks. For one reason or the other, I didn’t get what he really meant.


        • June 5, 2012 at 8:49 pm

          I’m not sure that’s what he meant, but that’s how I understood it.


  4. June 4, 2012 at 8:32 pm

    I can relate to this a lot, although I’m not famous enough to be harried to quite that extent. No women wanting to marry me just yet! But I do agree about the power of putting something down in black and white to be free of it. I certainly use my writing to work through ideas. And when I’ve written the story, I don’t really want to go back to the idea again. The thing is, I don’t think that’s confined to writers, especially these days. Anyone can get something off their chest on a blog or Facebook or Twitter or a hundred other forums. And those people really can “forget about it”, whereas a writer gets asked about his books and stories for years to come!


    • June 5, 2012 at 12:39 am

      Before blogs, Facebook or whatever, there were always the good old diaries. So you’re right, there’s always a way to express yourself. But it’s not the same as using your emotions, working on your experience and turn it into a novel, which should be, if it is literary, a work of art.
      Only artists have the power to turn ugly or painful moments of their lives into Beauty through their art. We, simple mortals, only get to whine in a diary (paper or electronic)


      • June 5, 2012 at 6:41 pm

        True – a novel should certainly be a deeper experience than a blog post, and so will have a more cathartic effect. I do think there’s a difference between diaries and the newer, electronic forms, in that you’re expressing yourself to the world, not just to yourself, and that has a different effect, particularly when people start to respond. But yes, creating beauty out of ugliness is a wonderful thing.


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