Maugham, Somerset

Maugham, Somerset

(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 GreeneGreene, Graham
(Henry Graham Greene), 1904–91, English novelist and playwright. Although most of his works combine elements of the detective story, the spy thriller, and the psychological drama, his novels are essentially parables of the damned.
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, Ian F lemingFleming, Ian Lancaster,
1908–64, English spy novelist, b. London. Son of a Conservative member of Parliament, Fleming was educated at Eton, Sandhurst, and Munich and Geneva universities and worked as Reuters' Moscow correspondent (1929–33), a stockbroker
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, and John le Carréle Carré, John
, pseud. of David John Moore Cornwell,
1931–, English novelist, b. Poole, Dorset, grad. Oxford, 1956. He was a tutor at Eton College (1956–58), and subsequently worked for the British foreign service in Germany (1961–64).
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. Maugham's other famous novels include The Moon and Sixpence (1919), based on the life of the French painter Paul GauguinGauguin, Paul
, 1848–1903, French painter and woodcut artist, b. Paris; son of a journalist and a French-Peruvian mother. Early Life

Gauguin was first a sailor, then a successful stockbroker in Paris. In 1874 he began to paint on weekends.
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; Cakes and Ale (1930), satirizing Thomas HardyHardy, Thomas,
1840–1928, English novelist and poet, b. near Dorchester, one of the great English writers of the 19th cent.

The son of a stonemason, he derived a love of music from his father and a devotion to literature from his mother.
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 and Hugh WalpoleWalpole, Sir Hugh Seymour,
1884–1941, English novelist, b. New Zealand, educated at Cambridge. His first two novels were failures, but with Fortitude (1913) he achieved financial and literary success.
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; 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).