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In writing about Somerset Maugham, whose short stories cover a range of experience, I noted that he did not aim simply at thrilling or entertaining us. That idea, somewhat dismissive of work that concentrated on just one element, has stuck with me I think from the time I read David Cecil on the early Victorian novelists, whom he compared with modern writers who had only a single aim in their fictions.
Thus, as I have noted earlier, he talked of Aldous Huxley as being concerned with ideas, while Virginia Woolf wove a tapestry of words. The third major writer he mentioned was John Galsworthy, whom I believe he saw as documenting social change. But then he mentioned two other writers who were widely popular in the thirties, one who made us fear and the other who made us laugh.
The latter was P G Wodehouse, the former Agatha Christie, who was widely touted in my youth as the writer who had sold more volumes than any others, save only the collective authorship of the Bible. This was doubtless publisher’s hype and was the counterpart of the pervasive suggestion – never directly stated, as I recall, but implied continuously in celebrations of other crime writers – that Agatha Christie was simple and superficial, her plots basic and her characters stereotypes.