News & Events

W. Somerset Maugham

While wandering around the neighborhood the other day I found an old Bantam Books edition of Somerset Maughham's "Up at the Villa (Tempestuous Novel of One Night's Madness)". Great old 1950s cover, and it held together for one reading, anyway. It was a new book to me, and though a bit feverish for modern sensibilities, pretty Maughamish overall and a pleasant way to waste a summer afternoon.One sentence struck me with such force that I marked it in pencil, a thing I seldom do: "The Colonel looked at his fish with a frown, which was unreasonable since it consisted of scampi which had arrived from Viareggio that evening, and his wife smiled with constraint".It seemed such a pointed reference, even an hommage to P.G. Woodhouse, that I had to re-read it to assure myself there was no mistake. I refer specifically to the incident at Blandings Castle wherein the Efficient Baxter glares with suspicion at a perfectly blameless turbot, and more peripherally, in a different story, when it seems for a moment as if Mrs. Chavender will strike her husband with the Pekinese, but masters the emotion. One is aware, of course, that Woodhouse and Maugham are exact contemporaries in English literature, and both keely alive to both Continental tastes and the existence of class distinctions. Both write feelingly and with some knowledge of America. Still, it is as if Woodhouse had inserted one of his own delightful lunacies into Maughham's novel as a prank when it sat on a editor's desk, unbeknownst to either Maugham or the publishers.I'll bet that's what did happen.


I grew up on a catfish farm in Louisiana.Later we sold fried chicken.One day I got on my bicycle and left all that behind.At least that’s what I told myself. 

The Marshmallow Assertion

I was asked today whether it was really true, as I had told my students (it is one of life’s odder turns that I should find myself with students, but there is no use crying over it now), that alligators love marshmallows. It is true, of course, and I learned it from a man who was feeding marshmallows to alligators out of a boat.On matters of marshmallows, and of alligators as well, it is important to tell the absolute truth.