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William Somerset Maugham

William Somerset Maugham

The British novelist William Somerset Maugham (1874-1965), one of the most popular writers in English in the 20th century, is noted for his clarity of style and skill in storytelling.

Born in Paris, on Jan. 25, 1874, where his father was solicitor to the British embassy, Somerset Maugham was orphaned by the time he was 8 years old. He was reared by a paternal uncle, a clergyman, and at 13 was sent to king's School, Cambridge, intended for Oxford and preparation for the Church. Wanting to write, he obtained his uncle's permission to go to Heidelberg for a time. He chose the profession of medicine and spent 6 years in training at a London hospital. A year as an intern in the Lambeth slums followed, but he never practiced. For 10 years he wrote and lived in poverty in Paris.

In 1907 Maugham's first play, Lady Frederick, was successfully produced, and he became known as an author. In the early 1930s he settled in the Villa Mauresque in the south of France, though he continued to travel widely. He was forced to flee the Nazis in 1940 but returned after the war. In 1954, on his eightieth birthday, he was made a Companion of Honour. In 1961 he was named honorary senator of Heidelberg University. Maugham died in Nice on Dec. 16, 1965. Maugham archives were established in the Yale University Library.

The titles of some of Maugham's early novels were familiar to a whole generation of readers: Of Human Bondage (1915), The Moon and Sixpence (1919), Ashenden: or, The British Agent (1938), and Cakes and Ale: or, The Skeleton in the Cupboard (1930). A later novel that had something of the same success was The Razor's Edge (1944). Among his plays, perhaps best known and much produced was Rain (1922). An early autobiography is The Summing Up (1938). Praised by some critics for his craftsmanship and professionalism, he wrote much on the subject of fiction: Essays—Great Novelists and Their Novels (1948); A Writer's Notebook (1949); and The Art of Fiction (1955). His Travel Books appeared in 1955; The Magician, A Novel, Together with a Fragment of Autobiography in 1956; and essays titled Points of View in 1958. In his last years he worked on an autobiography to be published posthumously.

Productive throughout a long life, Maugham is still regarded as having done his great work in the early, largely autobiographical novel Of Human Bondage. Though his work was popular, he had a great many enemies because of his apparently malicious portraits of living people (for example, the characters based on Thomas Hardy and Hugh Walpole in Cakes and Ale) and because his view of humanity seemed to be one of contempt or of patronizing tolerance. He replied to the latter charge that humanity was like that; he also said that his sympathies were limited and that he had never felt some of the fundamental emotions.

Further Reading

A good introduction to Maugham's works is The Maugham Reader (1952). Biographical and critical studies include Cyril Connolly, The Condemned Playground (1946); John Brophy, Somerset Maugham (1952); Karl G. Pfeiffer, W. Somerset Maugham: A Candid Portrait (1959); and Richard A. Cordell, Somerset Maugham: A Biographical and Critical Study (1961). □

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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).

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Maugham, (William) Somerset

Maugham, (William) Somerset (1874–1965) British novelist, short-story writer, and dramatist, b. France. He achieved fame initially as a dramatist with plays such as Lady Frederick (1912) and The Circle (1921). Maugham's first successful novel was the semi-autobiographical Of Human Bondage (1915). Other novels include The Moon and Sixpence (1919) and Cakes and Ale (1930). His experiences in British intelligence in World War I informs the short-story collection Ashenden (1928).

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"Maugham, (William) Somerset." World Encyclopedia. . Retrieved August 19, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/maugham-william-somerset