William Somerset Maugham

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Maugham, William Somerset


Born Jan. 25, 1874, in Paris; died Dec. 16, 1965, in St.-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, France. British writer.

The son of a lawyer for the British Embassy in France, Maugham received a medical education. His practice in a poor district in London provided the material for his first novel, Liza of Lambeth (1897). Maugham served in World War I (1914–18) as an agent for the British intelligence service, spending part of the war in Russia. In the collection of short stories Ashenden, or the British Agent (1928) he described these experiences.

Maugham’s first literary successes were the plays Lady Frederick (staged 1907), The Circle (1921), and Sheppey (1933). In the novels The Moon and Sixpence (1919; Russian translations, 1927, 1960) and Cakes and Ale (1930) he condemned religious hypocrisy and ugly philistine mores. The novel The Razor’s Edge (1944) reveals the protagonist’s attempts to free himself from the baseness of bourgeois norms. Maugham’s most famous work, Of Human Bondage (1915; Russian translation, 1959), is a largely autobiographical Bildungsroman that combines subtle psychological insight in the portrayal of the hero’s moral quests with a broad depiction of the world.

Maugham’s work was in the tradition of critical realism. At times it contained elements of naturalism. His works are always distinguished by a concern for the pressing problems of the day. The notebooks and introductions to his own and other writers’ books, especially The Summing Up (1938; Russian translation, 1957), have many interesting observations about the creative process, as well as many penetrating appraisals and self-appraisals.


The Collected Edition of the Works, 21 vols. London, 1934–59.
A Writer’s Notebook. London, 1949.
Points of View. Garden City, N. Y., 1959.
In Russian translation:
Dozhd’. Moscow, 1961.
“Zametki o tvorchestve.” Voprosy literatury, 1966, no. 4.
“Teatr.” In the collection Sovremennaia angliiskaia novella. Moscow, 1969.


Kanin, G. Remembering Mr. Maugham. New York, 1966.
Brown, I. W. S. Maugham. London, 1970.
Calder, R. L. W. S. Maugham and the Quest for Freedom. London, 1972.


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