Somerset Maugham


John Gehl sends us this bio of the British fiction and drama writer W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965), whose writing was popular with readers but not always praised by critics. Maugham's early literary life was spent mostly as a playwright for the London stage, for which he wrote a steady stream of sophisticated comedies, beginning with "Lady Frederick" in 1907, and later including the popular comedies, "The Circle" and "The Constant Wife." Well received in their time, his plays are dated today, and Maugham's lasting reputation must rest on his novels and short stories. His first novel, the semi-autobiographical Of Human Bondage, was published in 1914 and established him as a serious writer. Still considered his finest work, the novel tells the story of a medical student's bondage to his lameness and his love for an unappreciative woman. Cakes and Ale, published in 1930, is a comic satire about an English author and is generally thought to be Maugham's second best novel. His other novels include The Moon and Sixpence (1919) based on the life of the painter Paul Gauguin, and The Razor's Edge (1944), about a young American's mystical quest for fulfillment.  Over the years Maugham published some 100 short stories for popular magazines, and these stories were collected and published posthumously in four volumes in 1977 and 1978. Two other noteworthy publications were his urbane memoir, The Summing Up (1938), and A Writer's Notebook (1949), in which he shared his direct, personal observations on the writing profession.

Maugham was born in Paris, where his father was a British embassy official. Orphaned at the age of 10; he was brought up by an uncle and educated at King's School, Canterbury. After a year at Heidelberg, he entered St. Thomas' medical school, London, and qualified as a surgeon in 1897. That same year, drawing upon his medical service in London's slums, he brought out a first novel that enjoyed sales that were modest, but sufficient to make him abandon medicine for writing. A medical career had been more his family's ambition than his own, and Maugham gladly traded his scalpel for a pen. He soon became a success in writing plays, so much so that in the 1908 London play season four of  his comedies ran concurrently. Playwriting brought him financial security and, in 1928, he was able to buy the villa on Cape Ferrat in the south of  France, which became his permanent home.
   
[Visit to RLG's RedLightGreen to find a library copy a biography of Maugham called A Life by Jeffrey Meyers:
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John Gehl sent us a bio of the British fiction and drama writer W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965), "whose writing was popular with readers but not always praised by critics. Playwriting brought him financial security and, in 1928, he was able to buy the villa on Cape Ferrat in the south of  France, which became his permanent home". John Heelan comments : The biography omits that the writer also gained a reputation as  a predatory homosexual- but presumably that would be too "yahoo'ish" to mention.

RH: Well, it certainly would be ad hominem.

Your comments are invited. Read the home page of the World Association of International Studies (WAIS) by simply double-clicking on:   http://wais.stanford.edu. Mail to Ronald Hilton, Hoover Institution, Stanford, CA 94305-6010. Please inform us of any change of e-mail address.

Ronald Hilton 2004

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last updated: December 5, 2004