Cakes and Ale, Chapter Twenty-two

Rhetorical questions, in prose, are sort of like metaphors in prose. They should be used sparingly or not at all. Not metaphors, I guess. Metaphors should be used all the time if they’re good, but rhetorical questions are something of a mess. In Cakes and Ale, which is first-person, Maugham can technically get away with the rhetorical questions—he does a rapid-fire paragraph of them here, presumably to excite the reader’s imagination with possibility before dashing it. But it’s weak, easy writing. It lets Maugham do summary for exposition instead of scene, but he tries to keep the personality of a dialogue in it. It doesn’t work. Still, it’s a short chapter and if he’s going to use a bad device, should be in a short chapter.

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