For those who don’t understand #BREXIT, a simple solution would be to immerse themselves in W. Somerset Maugham. In his flowing prose rests the fine nostalgia of an England of yesteryear, an England as things were – for years and years, centuries even. Nostalgia is often given a bad reputation; it is seen especially nowadays as a safe-haven for those to flee who would rest unhindered in their prejudices. Just as the past is told of as a wicked place; longing for it, remembering it fondly, yearning for the way things were is the act of a bent man in denial of the perfect progressiveness unto now.
But, of course, that is not true. Those are the opinions of the young and the foolish. For nostalgia is nothing except that special polish which wipes away the rough edges of the past until it is smooth to the touch, gentle and lovely. Like a diamond, old and formed under tremendous pressure, taken and sanded down and cut until it sparkles timeless and perfect in the imaginations of men – so to W. Somerset Maugham’s stories of England. An England that people are still willing to defend, to fight for – an England who saw its way to two World War victories by men, sons of England all who would not give up on her so easily; and, in that, who do not see going out to vote as too great a sacrifice to again defend what they find good in themselves. Even despite – or perhaps especially – when they are told with such vehemence that it was never so; and worse, by those who themselves did not fight.
“Cakes and Ale”, my latest Maugham, is about that England. It is full of the scandals of the old lands. Illicit affairs; imperfect marriages; bankruptcy and divorce and even violence. And it is full of writers – it is a reminder that old England was created as much by its novelists as by its Lords; that we speak just as often of Tennyson and Shakespeare as we do of Henry VIII and Queen Victoria. Villages, towns with houses made of peat and reverberating with the memories of things that have not changed forever; of people who see just as much suspicion as opportunity in the salesmanship of those preaching progress – who know that behind the golden words of the propagandists lies just as likely chaos as does utopia; and in knowing so strive to preserve an order old and time worn and comfortable to the touch, even if it does at times constrain.
Yes, those who are confused about what has happened to their best laid plans for change might ought to read “Cakes and Ale”, “Human Bondage” and “Painted Veil” before they go and try and burn down something they do not yet understand.