W. Somerset Maugham

Maugham, Somerset

Somerset Maugham (William Somerset Maugham) (môm), 1874–1965, English writer, b. Paris. He was noted as an expert storyteller and a master of the technique of fiction. An introverted child afflicted with a stammer, Maugham was orphaned at 10 and sent to live with his uncle, a vicar. Although he later studied medicine and completed his internship, he never practiced, having decided at an early age to devote himself to literature. He lived in grand style, spending much of his life on the French Riviera and traveling widely, particularly to East Asia and the South Pacific. Maugham wrote with wit, irony, and scrupulous observation, frequently expressing an aloofly cynical attitude toward life. Famous as a dramatist before he became known for his novels and short stories, he achieved his first success with the sardonically humorous play Lady Frederick (1907). This was followed by a series of commercial successes, the best of which are The Circle (1921), Our Betters (1923), and The Constant Wife (1927).

Maugham had written eight novels before his breakthrough masterpiece, the partly autobiographical Of Human Bondage (1915), appeared. It is the story of the painful growth to self-realization of a lonely, sensitive young physician with a clubfoot. Maugham's experiences as a World War I spy in Russia are reflected in Ashenden: Or, the British Agent (1928), a work that strongly influenced such later writers as Graham Greene, Ian F leming, and John le Carré. Maugham's other famous novels include The Moon and Sixpence (1919), based on the life of the French painter Paul Gauguin; Cakes and Ale (1930), satirizing Thomas Hardy and Hugh Walpole; and The Razor's Edge (1944), dealing with a young American's search for spiritual fulfillment. Frequently his writings, notably the short stories "Rain" and "The Letter," use as background the exotic places he had visited. In his later work Maugham limited himself primarily to essays; The Art of Fiction: An Introduction to Ten Novels and Their Authors (1955) is representative. He was one of the most successful writers in the world during much of his lifetime, but by the early years of the 21st cent. his works had largely faded into obscurity.

See The Skeptical Romancer: Selected Travel Writing (2009, ed. by P. Iyer); his autobiography, The Summing Up (1938); biographies by T. Morgan (1980), A. Loss (1988), R. Calder (1989), J. Meyers (2004), and S. Hastings (2010).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2014, The Columbia University Press.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

FREE! Of Human Bondage
W. Somerset Maugham.
Modern Library, 1915
The Moon and Sixpence
W. Somerset Maugham.
Heritage Press, 1941
W. Somerset Maugham: The Critical Heritage
Anthony Curtis; John Whitehead.
Routledge, 1987
Images of Truth: Remembrances and Criticism
Glenway Wescott.
Harper & Row, 1962
Librarian’s tip: Chap. Three "Somerset Maugham and Posterity"
The Writer Observed
Harvey Breit.
World Publishing, 1956
Librarian’s tip: "W. Somerset Maugham and Evelyn Waugh" begins on p. 147
British Playwrights, 1880-1956: A Research and Production Sourcebook
William W. Demastes; Katherine E. Kelly.
Greenwood Press, 1996
Librarian’s tip: "W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965)" begins on p. 278
The Origins of the Russian Civil War
Geoffrey Swain.
Longman, 1996
Librarian’s tip: "The Maugham Mission" begins on p. 103
Then and Now: A Novel
W. Somerset Maugham.
Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1946
Christmas Holiday
W. Somerset Maugham.
P. R. Collier & Son, 1939
W. Somerset Maugham's Introduction to Modern English and American Literature
W. Somerset Maugham.
New Home Library, 1943
Orienting Masculinity, Orienting Nation: W. Somerset Maugham's Exotic Fiction
Philip Holden.
Greenwood Press, 1996
Multicultural Writers from Antiquity to 1945: A Bio-Bibliographical Sourcebook
Alba Amoia; Bettina L.Knapp.
Greenwood Press, 2002
Librarian’s tip: "W[illiam] Somerset Maugham" begins on p. 283
Six Stories Written in the First Person Singular
W. Somerset Maugham.
Doubleday, Doran & Company, 1931
Theatre: A Novel
W. Somerset Maugham.
P.F. Collier & Son, 1937
The Letter: A Play in Three Acts
W. Somerset Maugham.
George H. Doran Company, 1925
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