I’m deep into The Dud Avocado now. We run into the following amusing incidental character on page 170. (All you really need to know if that Somerset Maugham was an English novelist and national celebrity. His most famous work, Of Human Bondage, is strongly autobiographical).
Boy, we met a real nut on the beach today. A skinny young American with a fierce black mustache called Hugo McCarthy. He’d just left the South of France a couple of days ago, where he’d been kicked out of Somerset Maugham’s villa in Cap Ferrat for the third time. Every time he thought about it he became absolutely doubled up with rage, his whole body trembling under the impact of his emotions.
“Where does he come off giving me the bum’s rush?” he steamed. “Who the hell does he think he is anyway? He needs me, boy, I don’t need him! I’m the colourful eccentric all these characters write about. Hey, do you know I’m in three books already? Met an Englishman called Tynan in Spain a while ago and he put me in his bullfight book, and a couple of Americans I ran into last year skiing at Klosters — wouldn’t be fair to tell you their names until I hear how it comes out, but they’re very well known — anyway they’re still fighting about which one’s going to have me in his.”The Dud Avocado, Elaine Dundy
It is no great observation that many famous literary creations are holograms of real people. I think of Ignatius Jacques Reilly and Malachi “Buck” Mulligan, just off the top of my head. I’m reading The Dud Avocado itself as being pretty autobiographical, so our rascal Hugo McCarthy might likely himself be an amusing echo of an actual young man. I certainly don’t want to suggest Dundy wouldn’t be capable of such invention, but people of McCarthy’s cut can certainly be found today among the crowd who tailor their personae to winning a coveted spot on some reality TV show. The producers of such shows, I understand, are entirely willing to engage with such a market, while Somerset Maugham, it seems, was much less so.