W Somerset Maugham
William Somerset Maugham (January 25, 1874 – December 16, 1965) 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
W. Somerset Maugham
William Somerset Maugham25
January 1874(1874-01-25)UK Embassy, Paris, France
16 December 1965 (aged
Playwright, Novelist, Short
Of Human BondageThe LetterRainThe Razor’s Edge
Maugham’s masterpiece is generally agreed to be Of Human Bondage, a
semi-autobiographical novel that deals with the life of the main
character Philip Carey, who, like Maugham, was orphaned, and brought up
by his pious uncle. Philip’s clubfoot causes him endless
self-consciousness and embarrassment, echoing Maugham’s struggles with
Later successful novels were also based on real-life characters: The
Moon and Sixpence fictionalizes the life of Paul Gauguin; and Cakes and
Ale contains thinly veiled characterizations of authors Thomas Hardy and
Maugham’s last major novel, The Razor’s Edge, published in 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 World War I who
abandons his wealthy friends and lifestyle, travelling to India seeking
enlightenment. The story’s themes of Eastern mysticism and war-weariness
struck a chord with readers as World War II waned, and a movie
adaptation quickly followed.
Among his short stories, some of the most memorable are those dealing
with the lives of Western, mostly British, colonists in the Far East,
and are typically concerned with the emotional toll exacted on the
colonists by their isolation.
Some of his more outstanding works in this genre include “Rain”,
“Footprints in the Jungle”, and “The Outstation”. “Rain”, in particular,
which charts the moral disintegration of a missionary attempting to
convert the Pacific island prostitute Sadie Thompson, has kept its fame
and been made into a movie several times.
Maugham said that many of his short stories presented themselves to
him in the stories he heard during his travels in the outposts of the
Empire. He left behind a long string of angry former hosts, and a
contemporary anti-Maugham writer retraced his footsteps and wrote a
record of his journeys called “Gin And Bitters.” Maugham’s restrained
prose allows him to explore the resulting tensions and passions without
appearing melodramatic. His The Magician (1908) is based on British
occultist Aleister Crowley. Maugham was one of the most significant
travel writers of the inter-war years, and can be compared with
contemporaries such as Evelyn Waugh and Freya Stark.
His best efforts in this line include The Gentleman in the Parlour,
dealing with a journey through Burma, Siam, Cambodia and Vietnam, and On
a Chinese Screen, a series of very brief vignettes which might almost be
notes for short stories that were never written.
Influenced by the published journals of the French writer Jules
Renard, which Maugham had often enjoyed for their conscientiousness,
wisdom and wit, Maugham published selections from his own journals under
the title A Writer’s Notebook in 1949.
Although these journal selections are, by nature, episodic and of
varying quality, they range over more than 50 years of the writer’s life
and contain much that Maugham scholars and admirers find of interest.