Somerset Maugham
Of Human Bondage

"A novelist must preserve a child-like belief in the importance of things that common sense considers of no consequence" (A Writer's Notebook (1949))

William Somerset Maugham a poet, dramatist, and short-story writer was born in Paris to a lawyer and a mother who died when he was only eight years old after the birth of a child who survived for only a day. He would bring the subject matter of fatal preganancies and child mortality into his work on a number of occasions and was much inspired by the events of the life he inhabited. He lost his father too at the age of ten, and was taken to Whitstable to live with his aunt and uncle, the latter being a man of the cloth. Maugham's education happened at the King's School in Canterbury and Heidelberg University before he went on to study medicine at St Thomas's Hospital in London. The experiences of his life in London inspired his first novel, in the 'new realist' style and influenced by Zola, called Liza of Lambeth (1897) that circled around the slums of the metropolis and the Cockney lifestyle. It was not with this novel but with a play performed in 1907 called Lady Frederick that Maugham achieved fame. By the next year the author had four plays running concurrently in the capital.

Great success as a novelist came with Of Human Bondage in 1915 which was autobiographical in all but the names he chose. By the time of its publication he had met Sylvie Wellcome, daughter of the famous Dr Barnardo. He married her in 1917 but they lived apart for much of their lives. Despite his marriage and many affairs, evidence suggests that he was largely homosexual in his interests although he was repressed initially for fear of being imprisoned like Oscar Wilde. From 1914 onwards, Maugham spent a great deal of his time travelling with his close companion Gerald Haxton from the South Seas to China and South America. On these travels Maugham and the extroverted Haxton picked up innumerable stories which the former used to fuel his writing. For instance his most famous story, "Rain" (in The Trembling of a Leaf (1921)) was inspired by a missionary and a prostitute travelling with him to Pago Pago.

Plays of note by the writer include Our Betters (1917), The Circle (1921), and For Services Rendered (1932) which was vehemently anti-war and looked with distaste at the aftermath of World War I. His plays, though successful at the time have not lasted terribly well. The other novels, particularly The Moon and Sixpence (1919) and Cakes and Ale (1930), still hold their appeal and are varied in their subject matter and settings which reach from Tahiti to India in The Razor's Edge (1944). Maugham bought a house on the French Riviera in 1926 that was attended by numerous writers and politicians such as Winston Churchill. That he moved abroad is no surprise given that much of his audience did not live in his own homeland. He lived into his nineties and wrote prolifically. His notebooks are of interest too and were published in selected extracts in A Writer's Notebook (1949), while his autobiography proper, The Summing Up (1938) shows that Maugham felt that he was never treated quite as seriously as he deserved. This seems a little steep coming from a writer who wittily admitted that, "There are three basic rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately nobody knows what they are".

Links Resource site containing a biography, a bibliography and a timeline
Spartacus Schoolnet A brief biography with lots of informative links
Calendar of Authors Resource site which contains a biography and further information on Somerset Maugham
The Caxton Club of Chicago Centres on the life and work of this british modernist novelist

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