I thought my collection of Somerset Maugham books comprised of works of fiction, and was surprised to discover that 'Don Fernando' is actually a travel book and cultural commentary on Spain. I enjoyed the first and second chapter, which reads like a condensed Don Quixote. And the fifth chapter on Spanish food is interesting enough, as is the sixth chapter on Spanish literature (the author says there is a poverty of quality Spanish literature and that it effectively starts and ends with the magnificent Don Quixote) . After this however, Maugham moved on to subjects which were of little interest to me and I gave up reading, despite the author's engaging style.
"On the whole the defects you find in the Spanish writers are those you expect amateurs to have. They provide literature not of sustained force but of brilliant beginnings."
“And if I am not mistaken here is the secret of the greatness that was Spain. In Spain it is men that are the poems, the pictures and the buildings. Men are its philosophies. They lived, these Spaniards of the Golden Age; they felt and did; they did not think. Life was what they sought and found, life in its turmoil, its fervour and its variety. Passion was the seed that brought them forth and passion was the flower they bore. But passion alone cannot give rise to a great art. In the arts the Spaniards invented nothing. They did little in any of those they practised, but give a local colour to a virtuosity they borrowed from abroad. Their literature, as I have ventured to remark, was not of the highest rank; they were taught to paint by foreign masters, but, inapt pupils, gave birth to one painter only of the very first class; they owed their architecture to the Moors, the French and the Italians, and the works themselves produced were best when they departed least from their patterns. Their preeminence was great, but it lay in another direction: it was a preeminence of character. In this I think they have been surpassed by none and equalled only by the ancient Romans. It looks as though all the energy, all the originality, of this vigorous race had been disposed to one end and one end only, the creation of man. It is not in art that they excelled, they excelled in what is greater than art--in man. But it is thought that has the last word.”
Liza of Lambeth is another Maugham classic which I gave up on after thirty odd pages. This is the novel that made Maugham's name, and I'm sure it has much merit, however I couldn't get past the 19th century cockney type dialect. With so many books to read in one's lifetime, it pays to know when to call it quits and move on.
Next up is 'Ashenden', a collection of tales of espionage in the first world war, based on the author's own experiences.