Maugham on writers’ self-loathing and Proust’s attempted review heist

From W. Somerset Maugham’s foreward to his quasi-autobiographical novel, Of Human Bondage:

This is a very long novel and I am ashamed to make it longer by writing a preface to it. An author is probably the last person who can write fitly of his own work. In this connexion an instructive story is told by Roger Martin du Gard, a distinguished French novelist, about Marcel Proust. Proust wanted a certain French periodical to publish an important article on his great novel and thinking that no one could write it better than he, sat down and wrote it himself. Then he asked a young friend of his, a man of letters, to put his name to it and take it to the editor. This the young man did, but after a few days the editor sent for him. ‘I must refuse your article,’ he told him. ‘Marcel Proust would never forgive me if I printed a criticism of his work that was so perfunctory and so unsympathetic.’ Though authors are touchy about their productions and inclined to resent unfavourable criticism they are seldom self-satisfied. They are conscious how far the work on which they have spent much time and trouble comes short of their conception, and when they consider it are much more vexed with their failure to express this in its completeness than pleased with the passages here and there that they can regard with complacency. Their aim is perfection and they are wretchedly aware that they have not attained it.


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