W. Somerset Maugham
British playwright, novelist, short story writer
W. Somerset Maugham
'William Penis-Monger Maugham, CH was an English playwright, novelist and short story writer. He was among the most popular writers of his era and reputedly the highest paid author during the 1930s.
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    LATE_ADULTHOOD
  • 1965
    Age 91
    But, in 1965 Searle inherited £50,000, the contents of the Villa La Mauresque, Maugham's manuscripts and his revenue from copyrights for 30 years.
    More Details Hide Details Thereafter the copyrights passed to the Royal Literary Fund. There is no grave for Maugham. His ashes were scattered near the Maugham Library, The King's School, Canterbury. Liza Maugham, Lady Glendevon, died aged 83 in 1998, survived by her four children (a son and a daughter by her first marriage to Vincent Paravicini, and two more sons to Lord Glendevon). One of her grandchildren is Derek Paravicini, who is a musical prodigy and autistic savant. Commercial success with high book sales, successful theatre productions and a string of film adaptations, backed by astute stock market investments, allowed Maugham to live a very comfortable life. Small and weak as a boy, Maugham had been proud even then of his stamina, and as an adult he kept churning out the books, proud that he could. Yet, despite his triumphs, he never attracted the highest respect from the critics or his peers. Maugham attributed this to his lack of "lyrical quality", his small vocabulary, and failure to make expert use of metaphor in his work. In 1934 the American journalist and radio personality Alexander Woollcott offered Maugham some language advice: "The female implies, and from that the male infers." Maugham responded: "I am not yet too old to learn."
  • 1962
    Age 88
    In his 1962 volume of memoirs, Looking Back, he attacked the late Syrie Maugham and wrote that Liza had been born before they married.
    More Details Hide Details The memoir cost him several friends and exposed him to much public ridicule. Liza and her husband Lord Glendevon contested the change in Maugham's will in the French courts, and it was overturned.
    In 1962 Maugham sold a collection of paintings, some of which had already been assigned to his daughter Liza by deed.
    More Details Hide Details She sued her father and won a judgment of £230,000. Maugham publicly disowned her and claimed she was not his biological daughter. He adopted Searle as his son and heir but the adoption was annulled.
  • 1954
    Age 80
    In 1954, he was made a Companion of Honour.
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  • 1951
    Age 77
    From 1951, some 14 years before his death, his paintings began their exhibition life.
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    In 1951, Cornell was a great success playing the lead in his comedy, The Constant Wife.
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  • 1950
    Age 76
    He is made up of a dozen people and the greater part of him is myself"—yet in an introduction written for the 1950 Modern Library edition of the work, he plainly states that Walpole was the inspiration for Kear (while denying that Thomas Hardy was the inspiration for the novelist Driffield).
    More Details Hide Details Maugham's last major novel, The Razor's Edge (1944), was a departure for him in many ways. While much of the novel takes place in Europe, its main characters are American, not British. The protagonist is a disillusioned veteran of the First World War who abandons his wealthy friends and lifestyle, traveling to India seeking enlightenment. The story's themes of Eastern mysticism and war-weariness struck a chord with readers during the Second World War. It was adapted into a major motion picture released in 1946, then again in 1984 starring Bill Murray. Among his short stories, some of the most memorable are those dealing with the lives of Western, mostly British, colonists in the Far East. They typically express the emotional toll the colonists bear by their isolation. "Rain", "Footprints in the Jungle", and "The Outstation" are considered especially notable. "Rain", in particular, which charts the moral disintegration of a missionary attempting to convert the Pacific island prostitute Sadie Thompson, has kept its reputation. It has been adapted as a play and as several films. His The Magician (1908) is based on British occultist Aleister Crowley.
  • 1948
    Age 74
    Maugham had begun collecting theatrical paintings before the First World War; he continued to the point where his collection was second only to that of the Garrick Club. In 1948 he announced that he would bequeath this collection to the Trustees of the National Theatre.
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    Maugham's public view of his abilities remained modest. Toward the end of his career he described himself as "in the very first row of the second-raters". In 1948 he wrote "Great Novelists and Their Novels" in which he listed the ten best novels of world literature in his view.
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  • 1946
    Age 72
    In 1946 he returned to his villa in France, where he lived, interrupted by frequent and long travels, until his death.
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  • 1944
    Age 70
    After his companion Gerald Haxton died in 1944, Maugham moved back to England.
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  • 1940
    Age 66
    By 1940, when the collapse of France and its occupation by the German Third Reich forced Maugham to leave the French Riviera, he was a refugee—but one of the wealthiest and most famous writers in the English-speaking world.
    More Details Hide Details Maugham's short fable "An Appointment in Samarra" (1933) is based on an ancient Babylonian myth: Death is both the narrator and a central character. The American writer John O'Hara credited Maugham's tale as a creative inspiration for his novel Appointment in Samarra. Maugham, by then in his sixties, spent most of the Second World War in the United States, first in Hollywood (he worked on many scripts, and was one of the first authors to make significant money from film adaptations) and later in the South. While in the US, he was asked by the British government to make patriotic speeches to induce the US to aid Britain, if not necessarily become an allied combatant.
  • FIFTIES
  • 1928
    Age 54
    Maugham began a relationship with Alan Searle, whom he had first met in 1928.
    More Details Hide Details A young man from the London slum area of Bermondsey, Searle had already been kept by older men. He proved a devoted if not a stimulating companion. One of Maugham's friends, describing the difference between Haxton and Searle, said simply: "Gerald was vintage, Alan was vin ordinaire." Maugham's love life was almost never smooth. He once confessed: "I have most loved people who cared little or nothing for me and when people have loved me I have been embarrassed... In order not to hurt their feelings, I have often acted a passion I did not feel."
  • 1927
    Age 53
    Later, he asked that Katharine Cornell play the lead in the 1927 Broadway version. The play was adapted as a film by the same name in 1929, and again in 1940, for which Bette Davis received an Oscar nomination.
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    Dramatised from a story first published in his collection The Casuarina Tree (1924), Maugham's play The Letter, starring Gladys Cooper, had its premiere in London in 1927.
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  • FORTIES
  • 1920
    Age 46
    This was a collection of 58 ultra-short story sketches, which he had written during his 1920 travels through China and Hong Kong, intending to expand the sketches later as a book.
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  • 1917
    Age 43
    In June 1917, Maugham was asked by Sir William Wiseman, an officer of the British Secret Intelligence Service (later named MI6), to undertake a special mission in Russia.
    More Details Hide Details It was part of an attempt to keep the Provisional Government in power and Russia in the war by countering German pacifist propaganda. Two and a half months later, the Bolsheviks took control. Maugham subsequently said that if he had been able to get there six months earlier, he might have succeeded. Quiet and observant, Maugham had a good temperament for intelligence work; he believed he had inherited from his lawyer father a gift for cool judgement and the ability to be undeceived by facile appearances. Maugham used his spying experiences as the basis for Ashenden: Or the British Agent, a collection of short stories about a gentlemanly, sophisticated, aloof spy. This character is considered to have influenced Ian Fleming's later series of James Bond novels. In 1922, Maugham dedicated his book On A Chinese Screen to Syrie.
    In May 1917, following the decree absolute, Syrie Wellcome and Maugham were married.
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  • 1916
    Age 42
    In 1916, Maugham travelled to the Pacific to research his novel The Moon and Sixpence, based on the life of Paul Gauguin.
    More Details Hide Details This was the first of his journeys through the late-Imperial world of the 1920s and 1930s which inspired his novels. He became known as a writer who portrayed the last days of colonialism in India, Southeast Asia, China and the Pacific, although the books on which this reputation rests represent only a fraction of his output. On this and all subsequent journeys, he was accompanied by Haxton, whom he regarded as indispensable to his success as a writer. Maugham was painfully shy, and Haxton the extrovert gathered human material which the author converted to fiction.
  • 1915
    Age 41
    In September 1915, Maugham began work in Switzerland, as one of the network of British agents who operated against the Berlin Committee, whose members included Virendranath Chattopadhyay, an Indian revolutionary trying to resist colonial Britain's rule of India.
    More Details Hide Details Maugham lived in Switzerland as a writer.
  • THIRTIES
  • 1914
    Age 40
    By 1914, Maugham was famous, with 10 plays produced and 10 novels published.
    More Details Hide Details Too old to enlist when the First World War broke out, he served in France as a member of the British Red Cross's so-called "Literary Ambulance Drivers", a group of some 24 well-known writers, including the Americans John Dos Passos, E. E. Cummings, and Ernest Hemingway. During this time, he met Frederick Gerald Haxton, a young San Franciscan, who became his companion and lover until Haxton's death in 1944. Throughout this period, Maugham continued to write. He proofread Of Human Bondage at a location near Dunkirk during a lull in his ambulance duties. Of Human Bondage (1915) initially was criticized in both England and the United States; the New York World described the romantic obsession of the protagonist Philip Carey as "the sentimental servitude of a poor fool". The influential American novelist and critic Theodore Dreiser rescued the novel, referring to it as a work of genius and comparing it to a Beethoven symphony. His review gave the book a lift, and it has never been out of print since.
  • 1907
    Age 33
    This changed in 1907 with the success of his play Lady Frederick.
    More Details Hide Details By the next year, he had four plays running simultaneously in London, and Punch published a cartoon of Shakespeare biting his fingernails nervously as he looked at the billboards. Maugham's supernatural thriller, The Magician (1908), based its principal character on the well-known and somewhat disreputable Aleister Crowley. Crowley took some offence at the treatment of the protagonist, Oliver Haddo. He wrote a critique of the novel, charging Maugham with plagiarism, in a review published in Vanity Fair. Maugham survived the criticism without much damage to his reputation.
  • TWENTIES
  • 1897
    Age 23
    Maugham kept his own lodgings, took pleasure in furnishing them, filled many notebooks with literary ideas, and continued writing nightly while at the same time studying for his medical degree. In 1897, he published his first novel, Liza of Lambeth, a tale of working-class adultery and its consequences.
    More Details Hide Details It drew its details from Maugham's experiences as a medical student doing midwifery work in Lambeth, a South London slum. Maugham wrote near the opening of the novel: " it is impossible always to give the exact unexpurgated words of Liza and the other personages of the story; the reader is therefore entreated with his thoughts to piece out the necessary imperfections of the dialogue." Liza of Lambeths first print run sold out in a matter of weeks. Maugham, who had qualified as a medic, dropped medicine and embarked on his 65-year career as a man of letters. He later said, "I took to it as a duck takes to water." The writer's life allowed Maugham to travel and to live in places such as Spain and Capri for the next decade, but his next ten works never came close to rivalling the success of Liza.
  • CHILDHOOD
  • 1882
    Age 8
    Edith's sixth and final son died on 25 January 1882, one day after his birth, on Maugham's eighth birthday.
    More Details Hide Details Edith died of tuberculosis six days later on 31 January at the age of 41. The early death of his mother left Maugham traumatized; he kept his mother's photograph by his bedside for the rest of his life. Two years after Edith's death Maugham's father died in France of cancer. Maugham was sent to the UK to be cared for by his uncle, Henry MacDonald Maugham, the Vicar of Whitstable, in Kent. The move was damaging, as Henry Maugham proved cold and emotionally cruel. The boy attended The King's School, Canterbury, which was also difficult for him. He was teased for his bad English (French had been his first language) and his short stature, which he inherited from his father. Maugham developed a stammer that stayed with him all his life, although it was sporadic, being subject to his moods and circumstances. Miserable both at his uncle's vicarage and at school, the young Maugham developed a talent for making wounding remarks to those who displeased him. This ability is sometimes reflected in Maugham's literary characters.
  • 1874
    Age 0
    Born on January 25, 1874.
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Original Authors of this text are noted here.
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