William Somerset Maugham


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William Somerset Maugham (1874-1965), English playwright and author wrote Of Human Bondage (1915);

He did not know how wide a country, arid and precipitous, must be crossed before the traveller through life comes to an acceptance of reality. It is an illusion that youth is happy, an illusion of those who have lost it; but the young know they are wretched, for they are full of the truthless ideals which have been instilled into them, and each time they come in contact with the real they are bruised and wounded.--Ch. 29

Initially titled "The Artistic Temperament of Stephen Carey", Maugham revised an earlier autobiographical novel and it was published to subdued response until Sister Carrie (1900) author Theodore Dreiser (1871-1945) wrote a glowing review of it, calling Maugham a "great artist". Philip Carey sets out on an unconventional life, struggling in his search for spiritual and artistic freedom. When he becomes immersed in his obsession for Mildred, sacrificing any shred of self-respect he had, it takes much destruction and the ultimate insult to end their sordid affair. The novel ends with a bitter hint of irony notable in many of Maugham's short stories and novels.

Like his protagonist, Maugham himself would live for many years in search of his calling and a place where he belonged. He courted much controversy through his works including accusations of a thinly-veiled satirical attack on Thomas Hardy in Cakes and Ale (1930). Although he was homosexual, he married once and had numerous affairs with women, many of his female characters mirroring real life lovers. Maugham travelled far and wide during his life to Europe, North America, the Far East, the South Seas and beyond; he also explored many professions including doctor, spy, and playwright, but it is for his short stories and novels that he is best remembered today. There are many biographical details in his stories and characters; he avoids verbose sentimentality, favouring spare yet vivid, often cynical prose. Maugham saw numerous television and screen adaptations of his works and enjoyed great financial success. While his life was less-than idyllic at times and he raised the ire of many, he made notable and generous contributions to the people and institutions who supported him in his life, including building a new library for King's College, Canterbury, England.

William Somerset Maugham was born on 25 December 1874 at the British Embassy in Paris, France, the fourth son (of seven children total, but only four that survived infancy) born to socialite and writer Edith Mary née Snell (1840-1882) and Robert Ormond Maugham (1823-1884), a lawyer for the British Embassy. Living in the suburbs of Paris, Williams' older brothers Charles, Frederick, and Henry already at boarding school in England, he enjoyed the attentions of his affectionate mother and nurse. He spoke French and their home was often a vibrant salon with many literary and artistic people of the day including Guy de Maupassant and Gustave Doré. But by the age of ten he was orphaned with an income of £150 a year after the death of his mother from tuberculosis and his father of cancer. He was sent to live with his Aunt Sophia née von Scheidlin and Uncle Henry MacDonald Maugham (1828-1897), the Vicar of All Saints, Whitstable, in Kent, England. William suffered from a stutter and his lack of proficiency in English and loss of his parents could not have helped matters when he was taunted and bullied by classmates. But his aunt and uncle did the best they could in raising such a young boy, themselves never having had children.

Maugham attended King's School in Canterbury before travelling to Germany at the age of sixteen to study literature and philosophy at Heidelberg University. It was here that he had his first homosexual relationship with John Ellingham Brooks (1863-1929). Back in England, and after a short stint as accountant, he studied medicine at St Thomas's Hospital in London. Never having difficulty with his studies, he qualified as Member of the Royal College of Surgeons and licentiate of the Royal College of Physicians, London in 1897 although he never practiced. He was on to his next profession; that same year his first novel Liza of Lambeth was published. As a medical student Maugham had seen first-hand the poor and suffering of the shabby working classes in London's Lambeth slum area while apprenticing as midwife. The experience would serve him well in writing vivid physical descriptions of his fictional characters, and in realistic portrayals of the seedier aspects of life and its consequences on the human psyche. Liza Kemp, like Emile Zola's Nana, Stephen Crane's Maggie: A Girl of the Streets and George Gissings' New Grub Street, belongs to that genre of fiction examining the less-than pristine Victorian slum-life of adultery, sickness, and desperate searches for meaningful love. Although Liza achieved mild success at the time, especially because of the controversy its subject matter stirred, Maugham decided to turn full-time to writing. He was off for a year to Spain, spending most of his time in Seville, but by his own words "I amused myself hugely and wrote a bad novel."--from "A Fragment of Autobiography", The Magician (1908). The Land of The Blessed Virgin; Sketches and Impressions in Andalusia was published in 1905. Other works published around this time include The Hero (1901), Mrs. Craddock (1902), The Merry-Go-Round (1904), The Explorer (1907), Moon and Sixpence (1919), The Trembling of a Leaf (1921), and The Painted Veil (1925).

Back in London, Maugham continued to write, immersing himself in the theatre and literary world, working on novels and plays, some inspired by the style of Oscar Wilde whose sensational trial and ensuing criminal charges surrounding his homosexuality surely left an impact on Maugham, who never publicly wrote of his own orientation. His first drama, A Man of Honour (1903) earned him notice with London's intelligentsia; he was soon attending parties and salons, but still the bohemian, not being able to afford even cab fare with his earnings, his restlessness and awareness of his current limitations grew and he was again looking beyond the present to future prospects for himself. To escape the rut he moved to Paris for a time and from his Left Bank rooms became acquainted with the art world. But still it was not enough, and returning to London Maugham found renewed interest in his plays. Suddenly he was earning hundreds of pounds a week. Among his almost two-dozens plays are Lady Frederick (1907), Jack Straw (1912), The Unknown (1920), The Circle (1921), Our Betters (1923), The Constant Wife (1927) and Sheppey (1933).

When World War I broke out Maugham volunteered with the American Volunteer Motor Ambulance Corps. He met American Gerald Haxton (1892-1944) while in France, and the two fell in love; Haxton was devoted companion and secretary to Maugham until his death. While in America Maugham met the wife of Sir Henry Wellcome, Gwendolyn Maude Syrie Barnardo (1879-1955) with whom he had a daughter Elizabeth Mary Maugham "Liza" (1915-1981). They married in 1917 despite his relationship with Haxton, and often spent time apart in various pursuits, Syrie being a noted interior decorator and Maugham travelling and writing. They were divorced in 1929. During World War II Maugham worked for a time in Switzerland and Russia as an agent of the British Intelligence Service which inspired Ashenden: Or, the British Agent (1928).

After having spent so much time there, Maugham decided to move permanently to the French Riviera in 1928. He bought the Villa Mauresque at Cap Ferrat and continued to entertain guests and write. In his later years he wrote numerous essays and short stories, further publications including Cakes and Ale (1930), The Narrow Corner (1932), Don Fernando (1935), The Summing Up (1938), Up At The Villa (1941), The Razor's Edge (1944), Then And Now (1946), Creatures of Circumstance (1947), Catalina (1948), and The Art of Fiction: An Introduction to Ten Novels and Their Authors (1955). After the death of Haxton, Alan Searle (1905-1985) became Maugham's lover and secretary; he assisted him in writing Looking Back (1962) the authorship of which came into dispute by many. In 1947 Maugham instituted the Somerset Maugham Award for the encouragement and support of British writers under the age of thirty-five. He himself received many honours during his lifetime including the Queen's Companion of Honour (1954); Fellow of the Library of Congress, Washington, DC, U.S.A.; an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Toulouse, France; and Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

William Somerset Maugham died in Nice, France on 16 December 1965. His ashes were interred in Galpin's garden of King's College, Canterbury, England.

"Life isn't long enough for love and art."--The Moon and Sixpence, Ch. 21

Biography written by C. D. Merriman for Jalic Inc. Copyright Jalic Inc. 2008. All Rights Reserved.


The above biography is copyrighted. Do not republish it without permission.

Recent Forum Posts on William Somerset Maugham

The Moon and Sixpence - Finished

Finished “The Moon and Sixpence” (TMS) by William Somerset Maugham This was my first foray into the writing of Maugham, a choice driven primarily by Emil Miller’s endorsement of Maugham and TMS in particular through his various postings. The story mixes biography, autobiography and fiction, following the life of Charles Strickland, a London stockbroker who callously abandons his family acting on impulse to pursue a latent passion to paint that eventually leads him to the south Pacific islands of Tahiti. The story parallels the life of painter Paul Gauguin and in some respects, the travels of Maugham himself during his travels through the South Pacific (1916 – 1917). Maugham employs the use of frame narrative to tell the story of Strickland. I found Maugham’s character and situational descriptions to be superb. I couldn’t help draw comparisons to Joseph Conrad’s writing and use of narration such as that found in Heart of Darkness. For example this excerpt from TMS: “Tahiti is a lofty green island, with deep folds of a darker green, in which you divine silent valleys; there is mystery in their somber depths, down which murmur and plash cool streams, and you feel that in those umbrageous places life from immemorial times has been according to immemorial ways” To this Conrad excerpt from Heart of Darkness: “ The edge of a colossal jungle, so dark-green as to be almost black, fringed with white surf, ran straight, like a ruled line, far, far away along a blue sea whose glitter was blurred by a creeping mist. The sun was fierce, the land seemed to glisten and drip with steam. “ Being the incurable class clown, I tend to seek out wit if any is to be found: “ Her arms were like legs of mutton, her breasts like giant cabbages; her face, broad and fleshy, gave you an impression of almost indecent nakedness, and vast chin succeeded to vast chin. I do not know how many of them there were. They fell away voluminously into the capaciousness of her bosom. “ All in all, fine read. I enjoyed it very much and look forward to reading other books by Maugham, the next being either “Razor’s Edge” or “Of Human Bondage” a tough decision, like one who must decide between the moon or the sixpence lying at their feet. “ I know very little about painting, and I wander along trails that others have blazed for me. At a time I had the greatest admiration for the impressionists. I longed to possess a Sisley and a Degas, and I worshipped Manet. His “Olympia” seemed to me the greatest picture of modern times, and “Le Dejeuner sur I’Herbe” moved me profoundly. These works seemed to me the last word in painting. ” .


Somerset Maugham - Opinions?

I am thinking about reading him next. What do you think of him? I read on Wikipedia that he was quoted for saying "I am in the front row of second-raters" or something like that. While it proves him a modest man, it makes me a bit skeptical nonetheless. Would you consider him a second-rater? Or is that just an unfortunate allegation owing to his popularity at the time? He also said of himself that his writing "lacks a lyrical quality" (again from Wikipedia) Is he not such a great hand at prose? Thanks in advance, and I'd welcome any recommendations for what to read by him (looking for novels, not short stories).


The Painted Veil

I am currently reading this and as a great admirer of the film adaptation, I was more than a little curious as to how the courtship (or lack thereof) of Kitty and Walter would be described. I have not been disappointed by the detailed descriptions of their acquaintance and so far, I am quite impressed by the strong characterisation of Kitty and in particular Walter Fane. By the time he addressed her affair with Mr. Townsend I felt quite sorry for the poor man - the way he expressed his having to dumb himself down so she would not be bored with him. I'll quote the speech so you know what I mean: "I had no illusions about you," he said. "I knew you were silly and frivolous and empty-headed. But I loved you. I knew that your aims and ideals were vulgar. But I loved you. I knew that you were second-rate. But I loved you. It's comic when I think how hard I tried to be amused by the things that amused you and how anxious I was to hide from you that I wasn't ignorant and vulgar and scandal-mongering and stupid. I knew how frightened you were of intelligence and I did everything I could to make you think me as big a fool as the rest of the men you knew. I knew that you'd only married me for convenience. I loved you so much, I didn't care. Most people, as far as I can see, when they're in love with some one and the love isn't returned feel that they have a grievance. They grow angry and bitter. I wasn't like that. I never expected you to love me, I didn't see any reason that you should, I never thought myself very lovable. I was thankful to be allowed to love you and I was enraptured when every now and then I thought you were pleased with me or when I noticed in your eyes a gleam of good-natured affection. I tried not to bore you with my love, I knew I couldn't afford to do that and I was always on the lookout for the first sign that you were impatient with my affection. What most husbands expect as a right I was prepared to receive as a favour." He struck me as a most sensitive and intelligent character and it angered me that Kitty should treat him with such contempt! She surely did not deserve him and I wish that Walter had divorced her and found himself a woman more worthy of his attentions. Nevertheless, I will continue reading to see how the story unfolds. I have already read that the film deviates from the novel so I won't expect a sudden burst of affection from her side.


synopsis and opinion on Of Human Bondage

Philip is physicially bound by the deformity of his club foot. He is mentally bound by intermittant changing of professions he tries and then does not follow through with. He is also financially and emotionally bound by Mildred and her baby. He is emotionally bound by all the relationships he goes through. In the time Philip is doing his accounting apprenticeship he finds the work troublesome and boring. He feels the need for social interaction, although he does not know that is what he is looking for. In Paris, you see many people who are the exact opposite of Philip. They have a bohemian air. During this time, he gets the social interaction that he craves. They do what they like, when they like, and whome they like it with. Philip gets a taste of what it is like to be free in Paris. He gets to see how people that are at peace with themselves live and act. But the Parisian freedom is not the kind of freedom Philip craves. While trying to do his best as an art student, it becomes plain to Philip that he does not have the required talent to make a living as an artist. He also discoveres he does not have the heart for it, nor does he want to be potentially futher financially bound due to money that is never a sure thing. This is time in which he meets Cronshaw, who later becomes his friend and mentor. It is Cronshaw who teaches Philip that vice and virtue have no meaning and that one should be the center or one’s universe; and that Philip should not care so much of what others think and feel about him. Cronshaw teaches Philip how to be his own man, how and why to be selfish (because humanity is selfish). It is Cronshaw that, in a sense, mentally frees Philip. When Philip decides to go to medical school, he does it with the ambition of going to far off places to see and explore the world. This is a physical and mental sense of freedom for Philip. When Philip’s financial security is no longer enough to keep him a float he must submit to a factory job. Mildred is the source of financial troubles. He supports her because he feels bound to the her and the baby, unfortunatly, Mildred does not feel bound to him in the same way. In this factory job, Philip is made to only give directions to customers who wish to purchase clothing and in this way Philip is physically, mentally, emotionally, and financially bound to a high degree. Physically, due to the fact that he is only allowed to stand in a specified spot and needs only to say either one or two phrases over and over to different customers. Mentally, because his brain is not being challenged as it was before; not to mention the monotony of the day(s). Financially, because the factory takes money out of his pay per week for taxes or room and board. He cannot ever seem to make enough to get him out of this hole. Emotionally, because he feels to low to emerse in coversations with his friends and also because of the fact that Mildred inadvertantly put him there. The death of his uncle allows him to finish his medical education through money that was left to him. Philip find that through dealing with people he is at ease. He finds that he can converse with them and the patients find that he does not consider himself to be above them, this allows Philip a certain freedom of the soul. Philip finishes his first appointment and is offered a partnership. This he declines because he wants to visit far away places. He then falls in love with Sally soon after. Sally discovers that she might be pregnant soon after returing to the city. Philil upon hearing the news does not know what to think or do as this spoils his plans for his solitary future. He then develops feelings of attatchment toward Sally and his unborn baby. It is at this time that he makes the decision not to travel and practice medicine abroud. He chooses instead to settle and make a family with Sally. During this time Philip does not loose his sense of freedom, despite the fact that this situation is drastically the same as the one with Mildred. Philip retains his sense of freedom because he does not feel pressure from Sally to support her and a child. Philip then discovers that he can not imagine life without Sally and soon after proposes. It is here that he is allowed to be free with the person(s) he wants to be free with for the rest of his life. Mildred: Mildred is bound by society. The only way she knows she can get what she wants is through the exploitation of herself and men. Mildred is also bound by the upbringing of her child. The Vicar: The vicar is bound by his religion. We see this in the fact that he can not be at peace and ready to die without the last rights read to him. This is a common affliction for many religious peoplej, but it also shows how many people are bound by their faith. Also in the fact that his religion determines the way in which manner everything is done around the house. He does not allow his wife or his nephew to enjoy the simple pleasures of life. FINAL OPINION: Of Human Bondage brings up a lot of questions about live, love, and death. There are individual situations which can be expanded upon. In each of the phases Philip engages in throughout his life are a number of situations in which each of us can relate to, either as Philip or another person in the social drama and interaction. A great many times, it seems as if there are all these other strings pulling Philip in different directions. I got frustrated at times with his character because he can’t seem to make up his mind on what to do with his life, and also not to have the added constant burden for lack of money. Yes, it is quite irksome to see somone written as just coming into some money because their mother just died and then to see them pitter it away on trivial things and slutty women. Not to mention, he has the nerve to groan and complain when his girl goes off with some other guy and he has no money to support himself. I don’t think he used the money that was left to him properly. I know that kind of action and negligence would have to held in today’s standards, unless you are one those people who have never had to work for anything anyway. However, I did enjoy the book. It was beautifully written. I am glad because I have finally gotten to write something about it, which portray my personal views on the literature.


Regarding his orientation

According to the biographical information on the site: "Although he was homosexual, he married once and had numerous affairs with women, many of his female characters mirroring real life lovers." Wouldn't that by definition make him bisexual?


The luncheon

" The luncheon", a short story of Somerset Maughan, which seems very simple at first sight. But maybe because it is too simple, it is so difficult to analyze. What is the implication of this story? Is there any special meaning? i am stuck with this work. Can anyone help me to analyze this? what do i have to emphasize on this? Do you have any document relating to this?


A man marries to have a home, (...)

A man marries to have a home, but also because he doesn't want to be bothered with sex and all that sort of thing.(S. Maugham) I don't understand what the last clause means. Can you help me? come on just any idea... was it because he was gay? or because he didn't want to be bothered as regards his sexuality? help me plz!!!!!


A man marries to have a home,but also because he doesn't want to be bothered with sex

A man marries to have a home, but also because he doesn't want to be bothered with sex and all that sort of thing. I don't understand what the last clause means. Can you help me? :blush: come on just any idea... was it because he was gay? or because he didn't want to be bothered as regards his sexuality? help me plz!!!!!


“What mean and cruel things men can do for the love of God” (W. Somerset Maugham)

“What mean and cruel things men can do for the love of God” (W. Somerset Maugham) Ironically, throughout history, many things that were done in the name of God would be abhorrent to Him; for example, in the bible it is said 'thou shalt not kill' but more people have been killed in the name of God than for any other reason. Absurdly, a great number of people and societies have committed heinous crimes like torturing and killing by using in justification the Holy name of God, who actually must be related to love, caring, mercy, comprehension, tolerance and forgiveness. Enigmatically, fanatics and fundamentalists have repeatedly been sowing panic, terror, pain and death in the world in the name of God. "The Lord tests the righteous and the wicked, and the one who loves violence his soul hates." (Psalms 11:5) Admittedly, some people claim that punishing sinful people and societies is the way of cleaning the world from the impiousness. Besides, in the Holy Scriptures it is written in several passages of the Old Testament different kind of God’s punishment for the heathen people, so it’s not very much mistaken to follow Scriptures blindly to the letter in order to please God. However, if we were to kill every sinful person, the world would be empty of human beings at all. No one is pure enough to judge a soul; what is more, how much pure can somebody be while his/her hands are blood-stained? The Old Testament was written by men of other times, when the beliefs were different and quite more primitive as well as their sense of justice. Additionally, there was a change in the New Testament from the avenging God to a loving and caring Father who does justice taking into account our hearts’ intentions. "Every man's way is right in his own eyes, But the LORD weighs the hearts." (Proverbs 21:2)"Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men's hearts..." (1Corinthians 4:5) To begin with, it is unbelievable the atrocious cruelty men are able to achieve while naming God as their Lord and Master. Since very old times, Heaven was the common goal of everybody but the means to such goal were extremely odd and monstrous. A very well known phrase from Crusades’ time was “To kill an infidel is not murder. It's the path to Heaven” is enough evidence of how crooked the view of religion and of God’s true will was. The Holy war had as a result many corpses floating in the river where Jesus was baptized, so where is the logic in this view of holiness? Bloody-mindedness, barbarity, outrage and inhumanity were what stood out in this war from both sides. Like the Crusades, the Inquisition was another black stain in the Catholic’s history, when people were accused of any kind of sin and tortured till they confessed to then be sentenced to death. Moreover, the incredible imagination and developed technology applied to create torture instruments, which were able to cause a lot of pain without taking the prisoner’s life, was appalling, repellent and evil. In addition, the torturers were monks and priests, whose aim was to clean the world from infidels and paganism, but they should have been preaching by words and actions exactly the opposite of what they were doing. In the present days, the Lord’s name is still being used for atrocious crimes against life and peace. The unforgettable the Twin Tower event is a remaining of how sickly a Love image can be distorted to a terrorist demonstration of power. The bloodshed and sorrowful victims’ families is far away from God’s commandments which most important are “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind” and “love others as much as you love yourself.” Furthermore, wars and violence still exist in the Middle East, Jews against Muslims is a constant problem, which involve killing of men, women and children indifferently. Where is the love, the mercy and the brotherhood? In conclusion, who are we to name God as the reason for our crimes? He is love, peace, fraternity; we cannot use His name even to swear, but it has been used as an excuse to take somebody’s life, to cause affliction, horror and despair. It’s not difficult to assume that hate and evilness are behind all this but not God. His name has being badly used for cold- hearted people who do not understand the true image of God. Thus, fanatics and fundamentalists also have to understand they are not pure enough to judge somebody else’s soul. “You hypocrite! First remove the beam from your own eye, and then you will see clearly enough to remove the speck from your brother's eye." Matthew 7:5


“Like all weak men he laid an exaggerated stress on not changing one’s mind.”

“Like all weak men he laid an exaggerated stress on not changing one’s mind.” (Of human bondage; S. Maugham) The world was definitely square and nobody would say the opposite till an adventurous man dare to prove the world was actually round. Therefore, there is no absolute truth. Truth belongs to the one who can prove it or at least defend it in a reasonable and logical way with no necessity of violence; thus, the truth can belong to more than one person and even it can happen that there is more than just one truth. As regards human as a race with the ability to reason, there are two kinds of people, the wise men and the others: wise men listen while the others talk, and the wise men ask while the others judge. In this way, time shouldn’t be wasted in weak minded people, for they are unable to refute nor to defend a point of view but just to stupidly fix to the only thing they think they know. “Do not give your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces.” Admittedly, it’s believed that there are certain things as values that can’t be changed, for they are the very root of humanity. The norms that rule society must be defended as well as our faith, whichever we have, from ideologies that incite to rebellion, chaos and/or disorder, which several times is quite profitable for only a few. Moreover, if we let others change our mind, we may look weak especially if we are some kind of leaders. Nevertheless, a number of times it was demonstrated that not till somebody questioned a fact that we realized we were wrong or if not, we know our culture or faith better by being able to explain it. what do you think??????:idea:


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