Ashenden

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Ashenden

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1suaby
Jan 17, 2011, 10:04am

Esta mensagem foi removida pelo seu autor.

2cammykitty
Jan 17, 2011, 4:11pm

Yes, but not until later in the year. When were you thinking?

3suaby
Jan 18, 2011, 8:56am

Esta mensagem foi removida pelo seu autor.

4cammykitty
Jan 18, 2011, 11:33am

Late February then?

5suaby
Jan 18, 2011, 6:52pm

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6sholofsky
Jan 25, 2011, 9:26am

Count me in.

7suaby
Editado: Jan 25, 2011, 10:04am

Esta mensagem foi removida pelo seu autor.

8sholofsky
Jan 25, 2011, 10:05am

Good to hear it, s4. Look forward to your comments on Ashenden.

9danielx
Jan 26, 2011, 5:01pm

I will also be interested in the discussion of Ashenden (which I finished a couple months ago). Like s4s, I don't always have things to add to the ongoing discussions of the books, but I read and appreciate them nonetheless.

10cammykitty
Jan 27, 2011, 10:08pm

Hey guys. Sorry to say this, but I probably won't be joining you after all. I work in a school and it's African-American Heritage month, so I'm going to try to read books in keeping with that. Sorry.

11sholofsky
Jan 27, 2011, 10:32pm

#10 We'll miss you, Katie--but since Ashenden is all short stories, maybe you'll be able to squeeze a few in here and there (racking my brains for a Maugham Afro-Brit or Afro-etc. character!). At any rate, don't be a stranger.

12suaby
Jan 28, 2011, 6:29am

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13cammykitty
Jan 28, 2011, 12:35pm

Ah, perhaps if they're short stories! I'm not bowing out for good. Just for now.

14danielx
Fev 6, 2011, 5:23pm

cammykitty, some are very short indeed, perfect to pick up while relaxing before bed.

Don't read The Traitor too close to sleep time however.

15danielx
Fev 9, 2011, 10:50pm

perhaps this is a good place to discuss our Ashendens

16sholofsky
Fev 15, 2011, 12:59pm

Responding to your #70 from the other thread, S4, I think the Russian soldier story in the preface was presented as true, the preface coming from Maugham himself. There was a much abbreviated preface in my Penguin edition which didn't include this story, but, fortunately, I had a 60 year old Avon paperback which did (amusingly, it has a blurb on the cover from, of all people, Dr. Joseph Goebbels attesting that this is "...a brutal, cynical record of British espionage." Maugham must have been proud of that.). The placement of the story in the preface is awkward, and I, too, wondered what the point of it was. It comes in the midst of the typical Maugham philosophizing about fiction versus non-fiction, and a "new" class of literature with weak story arcs and lots of extraneous incidents versus strong story arcs and only pertinent incidents. He seems to indicate his preference for strong story arcs, then contradicts that by plopping in this soldier story which, however non-fictional, has nothing to do with the rest of his preface. Curious. It's like a literary burp that had to be expelled. Then he moves on to further undercut his philosophy with the first tale, "Miss King", which Waldstein, I believe, rated as one of Maugham's weakest stories. And rightly so. While it is full of interesting material, most of it is extraneous to any sort of plot. The plot, when it finally does appear, seems scrunched up in the piece's final quarter, a wispy thing with a let-down of an ending that can be seen a mile off. The second story, while also not without interest, is also regrettably predictable. I am now in the middle of the third story and hoping for some improvement. What conclusions are you all coming to?

17suaby
Editado: Fev 15, 2011, 4:04pm

Esta mensagem foi removida pelo seu autor.

18sholofsky
Fev 15, 2011, 10:56pm

#17 Thanks for your impressions, S4. I, too, am enjoying the book--if nothing else it proves again that Maugham is a consistently entertaining writer, even when producing weaker material such as I find these stories so far to be. It's perhaps too early for me to judge the book as a whole or Maugham's attitude toward espionage, but I get the feeling that he sees both the pluses and negatives in his work and doesn't view it as a total waste. For one thing, he's having too much of a lark: Maugham/Ashenden certainly seems to be enjoying the work.

19danielx
Fev 16, 2011, 10:45am

I have been reading WSM's Looking Back, his magazine - published memoir of his life. He reflects in Part 2 on his espionage work during WW1. One element that comes through in particular is his great humility about his modest abilities and his doubt about his effectiveness. In his reflections, he has clearly been caught up in events beyond the ability of any individual to control, and is somewhat fatalistic about the likely outcome.

I find his Ashenden character remarkable for how it sharply contrasts with the superman - spies of more recent fiction and the Mission Impossible style movies.

It's clear why Maugham is credited with having so strongly affected the espionage fiction of John Le Carre. I also sense an influence on Graham Greene (The Quiet American). Ian Fleming (from the one novel I've read) seems to belong to another genre entirely.

20sholofsky
Editado: Fev 16, 2011, 11:07am

#19 Thanks, Dan. The image of the Bond-like dashing spy can actually be traced back to Sidney Reilly, one of the most famous British agents to emerge from the WW I era. His efforts during the war famously centered around attempts to assassinate Lenin, stop the Russian Revolution, and keep Russia in the war. Ian Fleming actually credited Reilly with being the inspiration for Bond--though the truth about espionage in general is no doubt closer to the daily monotony Maugham alludes to, and the modesty to which he attaches his own efforts closer to what lone agents accomplished.

21sholofsky
Fev 25, 2011, 5:14pm

Finished ASHENDEN several days ago, and, while I was entertained by Maugham, as usual, I came away with the curious feeling that these stories would have worked better as non-fiction, in a memoir of some sort exclusively concerning this unique episode in his life. Maugham seems to be forcing many interesting details and anecdotes unwillingly into the format in which, in other arenas, he had achieved mastery: the short story. Some of the weakest plots and most predictable resolutions ever to come from Maugham's pen are to be found here--yet, also, fascinating portraits of characters and historical events such as the fall of Russia. This material, as Dan has pointed out, proved so vivid it influenced writers for generations, particularly Graham Greene: not only did I recognize in the American-out-of-his-depth Mr. Harrington the roots for his QUIET AMERICAN, but in the set up for THE TRAITOR, one can clearly see in the fraud Grabow the outline for the serio-comic OUR MAN IN HAVANA, in which a British salesman in Cuba hoodwinks the Secret Service by sending them vacuum cleaner diagrams purported to be maps of military installations. All in all, a mixed bag, but, still, entertaining.

22danielx
Fev 25, 2011, 8:05pm

thanks for this post, sholofsky. I had also noticed a similarity in tone to Greene's protagonist in The Quiet American, but hadn't thought of the connection from WSM to Our Man in Havana. You're quite right! Maugham's influence on Greene is very evident. I also have a sense of his influence on Le Carre, although I've read only one book by him (Spy Who Came in from the Cold).

23sholofsky
Fev 26, 2011, 2:01am

Thanks, Dan. While Greene seems to have borrowed plot points from WSM, Le Carre seems to have borrowed the tone, the lack of glamour, the hurry-up-and-wait kind of monotony. Also, you have a lot of instances, like in THE LOOKING-GLASS WAR and THE LITTLE DRUMMER GIRL, where non-professionals are pulled from other occupations like Ashenden was and given often dangerous assignments they're not trained to handle.

24suaby
Fev 26, 2011, 9:26pm

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