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THE CREATIVE IMPULSE

by W. Somerset Maugham

 

Mrs Albert Forrester was fifty-seven years old when she wrote her best-selling book, The Achilles Statue. This book was a great success. The critics1 praised The Achilles Statue because they thought it was a great work of literature. More important for Mrs Albert Forrester, the public1 bought the book in large quantities. As soon as the book arrived in bookshops in England and America, people hurried to buy it.

Mrs Albert Forrester became a very rich woman. In fact, she made enough money from this one book to live comfortably for the rest of her life.

Before she wrote The Achilles Statue, Mrs Albert Forrester had written many other books. Her first book was a book of poems and she wrote that when she was only eighteen years old. And every three or four years after that, another book appeared with her name on it.

By the time she was fifty-seven, Mrs Albert Forrester had written half a dozen5 books of poetry, half a dozen books of essays and half a dozen other books, all of them very serious and learned1. All of these books had been highly praised by the critics. All the critics agreed that Mrs Albert Forrester's books were excellent. She was considered by the critics to be a writer of the highest merit1.

But critics do not buy books. It is the public who buy books. And the public thought that Mrs Albert Forrester's books were dull and uninteresting. They did not buy them.

All that changed suddenly when she wrote The Achilles Statue. The critics praised it and the public bought it. Mrs Albert Forrester's life changed completely. But how, at the age of fifty-seven, did Mrs Albert Forrester come to write this remarkable best seller? What experience in a writer's life makes him or her write a particular book? What experience in her life - what creative impulse - made Mrs Albert Forrester write this best-selling detective story?

Mrs Albert Forrester lived with her husband in a flat not far from Marble Arch. Marble Arch was very near to the most fashionable2 part of London.

At the front of the flat, facing the street, there was a handsome drawing-room2 and a large bedroom for Mrs Albert Forrester. At the back of the flat there was a dark dining-room and a dark kitchen. Next to the kitchen, there was a tiny bedroom for the man who paid the rent of the flat, Mr Albert Forrester - her husband.

Every Tuesday afternoon, many visitors came to have tea with Mrs Albert Forrester in her handsome drawing-room. It was a handsome room, but it was not very comfortable. In the brightest corner of the room stood the desk at which Mrs Albert Forrester sat and wrote the books which the critics praised but the public did not buy.

Mrs Albert Forrester was a very large lady. Luckily, she was also very tall so that she did not appear to be fat. Her face was large and this made her look very intelligent. Her eyes were large and black and bright. Her nose was large and her chin was square. She looked very important.



Because she looked so important, Mrs Albert Forrester did not serve2 the tea herself. Tea was served by Miss Warren. It was not easy to guess Miss Warren's age, but she certainly did not look at all important. She never said a word and she was never introduced to anyone.

The visitors who came to tea all believed that Miss Warren enjoyed serving tea at Mrs Albert Forrester's tea-parties.

Mrs Albert Forrester believed that conversation was very important. She herself was an excellent talker on all kinds of subjects. But her conversation was always serious. No one had ever heard Mrs Albert Forrester tell a joke.

Mrs Albert Forrester was a well-read lady. She had read all the books that everyone else had read. And she had a good memory. She was able to quote1 passages from the books she had read. People who are able to quote from books are often thought to be lively, bright and intelligent.

All kinds of people came to her Tuesday afternoon tea-parties - politicians, owners of newspapers, foreign ambassadors. But her favourite visitors were writers - especially if they were not known. She was always ready to offer advice and give encouragement to unknown writers who, one day, might become famous.

Mrs Albert Forrester had helped many writers who had later become famous. Some of these writers had made a lot of money from their writing. Mrs Albert Forrester was never able to do this, but the good lady did not show any signs of envy3. She did not worry about making money from her writing. She seemed quite satisfied to be a writer of the highest literary merit.

Her Tuesday afternoon tea-parties were famous. Everyone who was invited to one of Mrs Albert Forrester's tea-parties felt that they had been honoured2. They had to sit on the rather uncomfortable chairs, but they felt that they were taking part in something very important.

Mr Albert Forrester was never present at these afternoon tea-parties. He was too busy at work in his office in the City5. But he was always present at Mrs Albert Forrester's weekly lunch-parties, which were held every Saturday. The conversation at these lunch-parties was always interesting and the food and the wine were always excellent. It was an honour to be invited to one of her Tuesday tea-parties. It was an even greater honour to be invited to one of her Saturday lunches.

The guests at her Saturday lunches always praised the food.

But Mrs Albert Forrester never allowed them to praise her.

'Please do not praise me,' shewouldsay. 'Praise Mrs Bulfinch.'

'Who is Mrs Bulfinch?' the guests would ask.

'Mrs Bulfinch is my cook,' Mrs Albert Forrester would reply.

But if anyone praised the cigars, Mrs Albert Forrester would smile happily.

'If you are pleased with the cigars, you must praise Albert. It is Albert who chooses the cigars. No one knows more about a cigar than Albert.'

She would look at her husband proudly. He would make a pleasant reply to the visitor who had praised the cigars.

'You are very kind,' he would say.

Then Albert would give a little talk about cigars and how to choose them. Mrs Forrester always listened carefully to what he had to say. And all the other guests listened carefully too. Albert's little talk was always a great success. But you cannot go on talking about cigars for ever. So, after a time, Mrs Albert Forrester would change the subject of the conversation and the guests would start talking about other things. Albert would sit back in silence once again. But he had had his moment of success.

Apart from his little talk about cigars, he never said anything. It was almost as if he was not there at all.

But Mr Albert Forrester was always there when Mrs Albert Forrester wanted him. And he was not there when he was not wanted. Mrs Albert Forrester did not allow her guests to make fun of him. She was always the first to praise him and say what a good husband he was.

'I really don't know what I would do without him,' she often said.

Her visitors thought that it was very kind of her to praise such a dull and uninteresting husband. If he had been a wealthy man, it would be easy to understand why she was so fond of him. But Mr Albert Forrester was not wealthy. He was only a currant merchant5 and did not make much money at all. He made just enough money to enable Mrs Albert Forrester to hold her weekly tea-parties and her weekly Saturday lunch-parties.

It was near the end of one of Mrs Albert Forrester's tea-parties, however, that Mr Albert Forrester showed that he was not always dull.

It had been one of her most successful tea-parties. The Leader of the Labour Party had been there. The American Ambassador had been there and also a Russian prince.

It was late in the afternoon when the important event happened. By that time, most of her visitors had left. A few still remained: Clifford Boylestone, Harry Oakland, Rose Waterford, Oscar Charles and Simmons. The first three were writers, but not very important writers, and Simmons was her publisher.

Oscar Charles was a critic. He wrote articles in the newspapers in which he criticised other people's writings. He was often cruel in his criticism. But he was never cruel to Mrs Albert Forrester. He always praised her writings. She respected3 him and liked his praise; but she was, at the same time, rather afraid of him and of what he might write.

Simmons looked after the business of publishing Mrs Albert Forrester's writings. He was round-faced and wore thick glasses. He came regularly to the Tuesday afternoon tea-parties.

These remaining guests were sitting in a circle round Mrs Albert Forrester, discussing the visitors who had been present that afternoon. And they were not discussing them kindly.

Miss Warren, the silent lady who poured out the tea, was there too. She was busy clearing away the dirty teacups and dirty plates. Miss Warren had a job but she was always able to come to Mrs Albert Forrester's tea-parties.

Suddenly there was a loud crashing noise. It came from just outside the door of the drawing-room. The loud crashing noise was followed by angry voices. Mrs Albert Forrester frowned3 angrily.

'What is going on?' she asked. 'Miss Warren would you please ring the bell for the maid and ask her what is the meaning of this noise.'

Miss Warren rang the bell and a few moments later the maid appeared. Miss Warren spoke to her quietly, asking her what was going on. But Mrs Albert Forrester interrupted her and spoke to the maid in a loud voice.

'What is going on? What is the reason for that dreadful noise? Is the house falling down?'

'I'm sorry, ma'am,1 replied the maid. 'It's the new cook's box. The porter2 dropped it as he was carrying it through the door and the cook got angry.'

'New cook? What do you mean?'

'Mrs Bulfinch went away this afternoon,' replied the maid.

Mrs Albert Forrester stared at the maid in amazement.

This is the first I have heard about this. When did Mrs Bulfinch leave? Tell Mr Forrester the moment he comes in that I wish to speak to him.'

The maid left the room and Miss Warren returned to the tea-table. She poured out some cups of tea, though nobody wanted to drink them.

'What a disaster!' cried Miss Waterford.

'You must get her back,' said Clifford Boylestone.

'She is the best cook in London.'

At that moment, the maid came back into the room. She was carrying a letter on a small silver tray.

'What is this?' asked Mrs Albert Forrester.

'A letter,' replied the maid. 'Mr Albert Forrester said I was to give it to you when you asked for him.'

'Where is Mr Forrester?'

'Mr Forrester's gone,' replied the maid. 'He left this morning. Didn't you know?'

Mrs Albert Forrester looked surprised.

Thank you. You can go,' she said to the maid. There was a puzzled look on her face as she opened the letter and began to

read it. The puzzled look on her face turned to a look of complete amazement.

'Monstrous!' she cried. 'Monstrous! Monstrous!'

'What is it, Mrs Forrester?' the guests asked.

'Albert has eloped4 with the cook!'

There were gasps of dismay3 from the guests. Then something terrible happened. Miss Warren, who was standing behind the tea-table, suddenly laughed. Miss Warren, who never spoke and who no one ever spoke to, suddenly burst out into loud laughter. The guests turned and gazed at Miss Warren. She tried to stop her laughter by stuffing a handkerchief into her mouth. But she could not stop laughing. With one last howl of laughter, she turned and ran from the room.

'Shock. She is laughing because she is shocked,' said Clifford Boylestone.

But Mrs Albert Forrester said nothing. The letter fell from her hand and dropped at her feet. Simmons picked it up and handed it to her. But she would not take it.

'Read it,' she said to Simmons. 'Read it aloud.'

My Dear,

Mrs Bulfinch needs a rest and a change in her life and has decided to leave. I do not feel like staying on here without her so I am leaving too. I have had enough talk about literature to last me for the rest of my life.

Mrs Bulfinch does not mind if we do not get married. But if you are ready to divorce4 me, she is ready to marry me. I hope you find the new cook satisfactory. She has excellent references2. Mrs Bulfinch and I are going to live at 411, Kennington Road, South East London.

Albert

There was silence in the room. Everyone felt embarrassed3. Then Rose Waterford spoke.

'What does Mrs Bulfinch look like?' she asked. 'How should I know?' replied Mrs Albert Forrester, 'I hardly ever saw her. Albert looked after the servants. I left it all to him. He did it all so that I could get on with my writing.'

'What about the Saturday lunches?' asked Clifford Boyle-stone. 'Did Albert take care of those too?' 'Of course. That was his responsibility.' Clifford Boylestone remembered all the good food he had eaten. What a fool he had been never to guess that it had all been Albert's work.

'I always told you how much he did for me,' went on Mrs Forrester. 'But you would not believe me.'

There was no answer to this and once again the room became silent. Suddenly Mr Simmons shocked them all with his next words.

'You must get him back.'

'What do you mean?' cried Mrs Albert Forrester. 'I refuse to see him again as long as I live. Take him back? Never!' 'I did not say take him back4. I said get him back.' 'Never! I'll never take him back,' repeated Mrs Albert Forrester angrily, ignoring Mr Simmons' interruption. But her anger had no effect on Mr Simmons. 'How are you going to live? Where is the money going to come from?' he asked quietly.

'God will provide,' she answered coldly. 'How much money do you think Mr Forrester makes in the currant business?' asked Mr Simmons.

'Very little,' replied Mrs Albert Forrester with a sigh. 'About twelve hundred pounds a year.'

'He must spend the money very wisely,' went on Mr Simmons. 'Your tea-parties and lunch-parties must cost a lot of money. And now that he has left you and is living in Kennington Road, he will not be able to give you as much as before. Believe me, there is only one thing for you to do - you must get him back.'

'I prefer to live in poverty5. How can I fight with a cook for the love of my husband? It's ridiculous.'

'That is exactly what it is - ridiculous. And that's my point. People will laugh at you. And that is the last thing you want. It will destroy your reputation2. You will become a joke.'

Mrs Albert Forrester looked at Simmons carefully. She was beginning to understand what he was saying.

'Explain what you mean,' she said.

'If your husband had run away with a beautiful young woman, it would not have been so terrible. People would have thought it a beautiful romance. But your husband has run away with your cook and everyone will laugh at you. In one week, all of London society2 will be laughing at you. You will be a joke and that will be the end of your literary reputation. That's why you must get your husband back. And you must do it quickly.'

An angry look appeared on Mrs Albert Forrester's face, but she did not reply immediately. She was thinking about Miss Warren's loud laughter - laughter that had made Miss Warren run from the room.

'We are all friends here,' went on Mr Simmons. 'I am sure none of us will spread this story. But you must do something quickly before people find out what has happened.'

Mrs Albert Forrester looked round the room. She looked at Oscar Charles and remembered the cruel things he had written about other writers. She realised that, apart from Simmons, she could not trust any of them. She was sorry now that she had asked Simmons to read the letter aloud.

But Mr Simmons was a clever man. He knew what writers' and critics were like.

'And we are all in trouble too,' he went on, looking slowly round the room at everyone present. 'Whatever happens to Mrs Albert Forrester affects us all here. We come here every Tuesday - and we often come here for lunch on Saturday. When people laugh at Mrs Albert Forrester, they will be laughing at us too. The fact is that Mr Albert Forrester has made us all look fools.'

'I agree,' said Clifford Boylestone. 'We will all be affected by this scandal2. It will destroy our reputations. You must do something, Mrs Forrester.'

'But what am I to do?'

Mr Simmons was a practical man.

'Mrs Forrester,' he said, 'you must go and see him tomorrow. We have his address in this letter. You must go and see him and beg him to come back.'

They all sat in silence and looked at Mrs Albert Forrrester.

'Will you do it?' asked Rose Waterford quietly.

Mrs Albert Forrester turned away from them and looked at the fireplace. There was a long silence. At last she spoke.

'I will do it,' she said. 'I must do it not for myself, but for my friends. I do not want you all to look fools. Yes, I will go and see him tomorrow.'

'Excellent,' said Mr Simmons. 'I will call here tomorrow afternoon on my way home from work. I hope to find you and Mr Forrester happily together again.'

He got up and the others stood up quickly. None of them wanted to be left alone with Mrs Albert Forrester.

On the following afternoon, Mrs Albert Forrester took a bus from Marble Arch to Victoria Station. Mr Simmons, being a practical man, told her the cheapest way to get to Kennington Road. At Victoria Station, she got on a tram5.

When the tram crossed the River Thames, Mrs Albert Forrester found herself in a part of London she did not know. It was much more crowded and much noisier than where she lived. When she got off the tram in Kennington Road, she felt quite lost. She felt like a stranger in a foreign city.

 

She found house number four hundred and eleven. It was a shabby5 house. The door was opened by a badly-dressed young girl.

'Does Mrs Bulfinch live here?' asked Mrs Albert Forrester in a quiet voice.

'Upstairs,' replied the girl, pointing to the stairway and at the same time shouting loudly: 'Someone to see you, Mrs Bulfinch.'

Mrs Forrester walked up the shabby stairs which were covered with a torn carpet. A door opened as she reached the second floor and she recognised her cook.

'Good afternoon, Bulfinch2,' said Mrs Albert Forrester with dignity2. 'I wish to see my husband.'

'Come in, ma'am,' said Mrs Bulfinch. She turned her head. 'Albert, here's Mrs Forrester come to see you.'

Mrs Forrester stepped into the room and found Albert sitting in a shabby armchair by the fire. He did not have his jacket on and he was wearing his slippers. He was sitting in the armchair reading a newspaper and smoking a cigar. Mrs Bulfinch followed her visitor into the room and closed the door.

'How are you, my dear?' said Albert cheerfully. 'I hope you are well.'

'Won't you sit down, Mrs Forrester,' said Mrs Bulfinch, dusting a chair and pushing it forward.

Mrs Albert Forrester nodded at Mrs Bulfinch and sat down.

'I would have preferred to see you alone, Albert,' she said. There was laughter in his eyes.

'Anything you have to say is Mrs Bulfinch's business as well as mine. I think it is better that she is here with us.'

'As you wish,' Mrs Albert Forrester replied quietly.

Mrs Bulfinch pulled up a chair and sat down. Mrs Albert Forrester saw her clearly for the first time. She was a woman of about forty-five, with reddish hair and a reddish face. She was not pretty, but she looked a kind person.

'Well, my dear, what do you want to say to me?' asked Albert.

Mrs Albert Forrester smiled at him. She tried to look as friendly as she could.

'You must know that this is ridiculous, Albert,' she said. 'I have 'come to take you home.'

'Nothing you say will persuade5 me to live with you again,' replied Albert. The words sounded hard, but his voice was friendly.

'You're not serious.'

'Yes, lam.'

'Do you love this woman?'

'We get on well together, don't we old girl2?' said Albert, looking at Mrs Bulfinch with a loving smile.

Mrs Albert Forrester noticed the loving words: 'old girl'. He had never used affectionate words like those to her.

'Have you not been happy with me, Albert.7' she asked.

'We've been married for thirty-five years, my dear,' he replied. 'That's too long - much too long. You're a good woman, but you are a literary person and I am not.'

'But I have always talked to you about my interests. You have come to my lunch-parties and talked to my friends. You cannot say that I left you out of things.'

'Yes, you did not leave me out of things,' said Albert. 'Don't remind me of those dreadful lunch-parties and the dreadful people who came to them! I disliked every one of them!'

Mrs Albert Forrester began to grow desperate3. 'But we have been together for thirty-five years. Don't all those years mean anything to you? I'm used to you. I won't know what to do without you.'

'The new cook has very good references,' said Mrs Bulfinch.' All you have to do is tell her how many are coming for lunch. Shewill do the rest.'

Mrs Albert Forrester did not know how to reply to this remark.

'You are wasting your time here,' went on Albert. 'I have made my decision and I am going to keep to it. I shall, of course, give you as much money as I can.'

'Albert has worked long enough,' Mrs Bulfinch said. 'It's time he retired and started enjoying life. I've got a small house in a seaside town and we are going to live there.'

'I've discussed this matter at work,' said Albert. 'I have sold my share of the business. When everything is arranged, I shall have an income of nine hundred pounds a year - that's three hundred pounds for each of us.'

'But how can I live on three hundred pounds a year?' asked Mrs Forrester in dismay.

'You have a literary reputation,' replied Albert. 'You must write more books and make money from your writing.'

'You know very well that I don't get any money from my books. My books bring me a reputation, but they don't bring me any money.'

It was then that Mrs Bulfinch had an idea. She had an idea which was going to change Mrs Albert Forrester's life.

'Why don't you write a good, thrilling detective story?' she asked.

'Me?' exclaimed Mrs Albert Forrester. 'With my reputation? I have a reputation for writing works of literature - not detective stories.'

'It's not a bad idea,' said Albert. 'It's not a bad idea at all. And I'm sure it would not harm your reputation. The critics must find your books as difficult to read as I do. Give them a book they enjoy reading and they will thank you.'

'The idea is mad,' insisted Mrs Albert Forrester. 'I could never please the public.'

'Why not?' asked Albert. The public want to read good writing, but they don't want to be bored. Everyone knows your name, but who wants to read your books? No one wants to read them because they're boring.'

'My books are of the highest literary merit,' insisted Mrs Albert Forrester.

'If you write a thrilling detective story in good English,' replied Albert, 'ordinary people - the general public - will enjoy it, the critics will enjoy it too and praise it highly. You will make a fortune from such a book.'

'Of course, it will have to be a good detective story,' said Mrs Bulfinch. 'You don't want love and romance in a good detective story. What you want is murder. Give me a story which begins with a lady in evening dress, wearing lots of diamonds, lying dead on the carpet with a dagger in her heart.'

'No, no,' interrupted Albert. That's not the way to start. I like stories which begin with a very respectable-looking2, middle-aged, well-dressed gentleman, wearing a gold watch on a chain, lying dead in Hyde Park.

'People like to read about the murder of a respectable-looking, middle-aged, gentleman,' he went on. 'People like to think that everyone has something to hide - even respectable-looking, middle-aged gentlemen.'

'Yes, I see what you mean, Albert,' said Mrs Bulfinch. The murdered gentleman was a solicitor5 who knew some terrible family secret.'

'Exactly,' said Albert to Mrs Forrester. 'We can give you lots of ideas. 'I've read hundreds of detective stories. That's what brought me and Mrs Bulfinch together. I gave her every story to read after I had read it:.'

Mrs Albert Forrester stood up with great dignity.

'I see it is hopeless,' she said. 'I came here to persuade you to come back with me. But now I see how different we are. You have lived in a house surrounded by the best of English literature and you have spent your time reading detective stories.'

'Hundreds and hundreds!' said Albert proudly.

'I will go now,' said Mrs Albert Forrester. There is nothing more to say.'

'Very well, my dear,' said Albert. 'But think about our idea of writing a really good detective story.'

Mrs Bulfinch showed Mrs Forrester down the stairs.

'Don't you worry about Albert,' said Mrs Bulfinch. 'I'll take care of him. Now that he's retired, he must have a new interest to keep him busy. He's going to take up stamp-collecting.'

Mrs Albert Forrester heard these words with great surprise. Albert collecting postage stamps! What a strange idea! But just then a tram came along and Mrs Albert Forrester hurried to catch it.

She sat down in the tram and felt dismayed. What was she going to say to Mr Simmons? He would be waiting at the flat when she got back. And so would the others. What would she say to them?

She wondered what the time was and looked up at the man sitting opposite her. She was amazed. The man was a respectable' looking, middle-aged, well-dressed gentleman, wearing a gold watch on a chain.

He looked exactly like the man that Albert had described. He wore a silk hat, a black coat, black trousers and was carrying a briefcase. Mrs Albert Forrester was sure that he was a solicitor.

The gentleman stood up and got off the tram at the next stop. Mrs Albert Forrester watched him go down a narrow, dirty street. She wondered where he was going and why. What business would a well-dressed gentleman have in such a poor street?

She got off the tram at Victoria Station and took a bus to Marble Arch. But she was afraid to go back home and meet Simmons and the others. She got off the bus at Hyde Park and walked slowly along the path in the park.

As she walked, she thought about what Albert and Mrs Bulfinch had said.

Why not? she asked herself. Other famous writers have written detective stories. Why can't I?

When she came to the well-known statue called the Achilles Statue, she stopped for a moment. She had an idea.

After a few minutes, she left the Achilles Statue and walked to her flat. When she opened the door, she found them all waiting for her.

'Here she is,' said Rose Waterford.

Mr Simmons, Clifford Boylestone, Harry Oakland and Oscar Charles were all there. Mrs Albert Forrester shook hands with them all.

'I'm so sorry,' she said. 'I'm terribly late. And you have been kept waiting for your tea. I haven't any idea what the time is.'

'Well?' they said. 'What happened?'

They all wanted to hear what had happened at four hundred and eleven Kennirigton Road. But Mrs Albert Forrester had a surprise for them.

'My dears,' she began, 'I've got the most wonderful news. I've had a marvellous idea.'

She paused for a few moments. 'I'M GOING TO WRITE A DETECTIVE STORY.' They stared at her with open mouths. She held up her hand to prevent them speaking, although none of them wanted to say anything. They did not know what to say.

'I'm going to write a detective story which will be a great work of literature. It will be a thrilling story and it will be well written. The idea came to me as I was walking in Hyde Park. It's a murder story. It shall begin with the murder of a very respectable-looking, middle-aged, well-dressed gentleman in Hyde Park and I shall call it The Achilles Statue.'

'What a wonderful title!' exclaimed Mr Simmons. 'Everyone will want to buy a book with that title and your name on it.' 'But what about Albert?' asked Clifford Boylestone. 'Albert?' repeated Mrs Forrester. 'Albert?' She looked at Boylestone as if she did not know what he was talking about.

'Oh, Albert! I knew there was something I had to do. But when I was walking in Hyde Park I had this idea and I forgot all about him. What a fool you will think I am.'

'Then you haven't seen Albert?'

'My dear, I forgot all about him. Let Albert keep his cook. I can't worry about Albert now. I am going to write a detective story.'


Date: 2016-01-03; view: 1634


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