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© 2015, The Columbia University Press.

W. Somerset Maugham: Selected full-text books and articles

FREE! Of Human Bondage By W. Somerset Maugham Modern Library, 1915
CliffsNotes on Maugham’s Of Human Bondage By Frank B. Huggins Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1999
The Moon and Sixpence By W. Somerset Maugham Heritage Press, 1941
W. Somerset Maugham: The Critical Heritage By Anthony Curtis; John Whitehead Routledge, 1987
Images of Truth: Remembrances and Criticism By Glenway Wescott Harper & Row, 1962
Librarian’s tip: Chap. Three "Somerset Maugham and Posterity"
The Kingdom beyond Caste By Liston Pope Friendship Press, 1957
Librarian’s tip: "W. Somerset Maugham and Evelyn Waugh" begins on p. 147
British Playwrights, 1880-1956: A Research and Production Sourcebook By 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 By Geoffrey Swain Longman, 1996
Librarian’s tip: "The Maugham Mission" begins on p. 103
Then and Now: A Novel By W. Somerset Maugham Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1946
Christmas Holiday By W. Somerset Maugham P. R. Collier & Son, 1939
Multicultural Writers from Antiquity to 1945: A Bio-Bibliographical Sourcebook By 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 By W. Somerset Maugham Doubleday, Doran & Company, 1931
Theatre: A Novel By W. Somerset Maugham P.F. Collier & Son, 1937
The Letter: A Play in Three Acts By W. Somerset Maugham George H. Doran Company, 1925
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