Birthday: January 25, 1874
Died At Age: 91
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Born in: Paris
Famous as: Novelist & Playwright
Spouse/Ex-: Gwendoline Maud Syrie Barnardo (m. 1917–1928)
father: Robert Ormond Maugham
mother: Edith Mary (née Snell)
siblings: Viscount Maugham
children: Mary Elizabeth Wellcome
Died on: December 16, 1965
place of death: Nice, France
education: The King's School, Canterbury, St Thomas' Hospital, Heidelberg University
Who was William Maugham?
William Somerset Maugham, British playwright and novelist, was one of the most reputed and well-known writers of his era, and one of the highest-paid authors of his time. His work was popular for his simple style of writing, as well as his sharp and accurate understanding and judgment of human nature. His uniqueness inspired several other writers like Ian Fleming and George Orwell. Orwell stated that he not only immensely admired Maugham's straightforward storytelling skills, but it was Maugham who had inspired him the most, out of all writers. English writer Anthony Burgess also praised Maugham's influence by including a fictional portrait in one of his novels 'Earthly Powers.' He is also remembered for his short stories, most of them dealing with the lives of the Western colonists, mostly British, in the Far East. The emotional toll which the colonists had to bear by their isolation was expressed in the stories. Maugham can also be regarded as one of the important travel writers of the inter-war years. His work 'The Gentleman in the Parlour' deals with a journey through places like Burma, Siam, Cambodia and Vietnam. This work is regarded as Maugham's best work in this genre. Many of his works have also been adapted for both television and radio.
Childhood & Early Life
William Somerset Maugham was born to English parents Robert Ormond Maugham and Edith Mary, on 25th January 1874, in the UK Embassy in Paris.
Both his father and grandfather were lawyers; his father handled legal affairs of the British embassy in Paris. According to French law, all children born on French soil could be enlisted compulsorily into the armed forces. Therefore, his father arranged for William to be born at the embassy, so that technically, he would be born on British soil.
Maugham lost both parents at a very early age after which he was sent to the UK to live with his uncle, Henry McDonald Maugham. However his uncle proved to be cruel and unsympathetic to young William and the boy was damaged psychologically.
He was sent to the King's school in Canterbury. However, French being his first language, he had very bad English, for which he was often mocked. He also developed a stammer that stayed throughout his life.
At the age of 16, he refused to continue his education at the King's school anymore. His uncle had no option but to let him travel to Germany where he studied at Heidelberg University. Here, he wrote his first book, which was a biography of Giacomo Meyerbeer, who was a German opera composer.
After the completion of his studies there, Maugham returned to England, and with his uncle's help, he found a position in an accountant's office. However, he gave up the job later. He was also not interested in following his father's footsteps by becoming a lawyer. After much persuasion, however, his uncle sent him to St. Thomas’ medical school, London, to study medicine. He qualified as a doctor in 1897.
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Soon, he wrote his first novel 'Liza of Lambeth’ (1897) where he wrote about his experiences as an obstetrician. The book became an instant success, which made him give up medicine and take up writing as a full-time career.
Over the next decade, he traveled and spent his time in places such as Spain and Capri. However, he struggled for the next ten years before finding massive success in 1907 with the play 'Lady Frederick.' By the next year, he had four plays running simultaneously in London.
In 1908, he wrote the supernatural thriller 'The Magician', which also proved to be a great success. However, some writers accused him of plagiarism. A film of the same name was also made in 1926, which was directed by horror film director Rex Ingram.
By 1914, he had become quite famous with ten plays as well as ten novels to his name. When the World War I broke out, he joined the British Red Cross’ “Literary Ambulance Drivers”, along with twenty-three other well-known writers. After the war he continued to write and edit works as well.
Maugham later focused on a novel based on the life of Paul Gaugin which was named 'The Moon and Sixpence', published in 1919. He also wrote books portraying the last days of colonialism in India as well as other parts of Southeast Asia.
He also did intelligence work for the British Secret Intelligence Service, and undertook a special mission in Russia. It was actually an attempt to keep the Provisional Government in power and thus keep Russia in war, by countering German pacifist agenda.
He wrote a book about his experiences as a spy, which was published as 'Ashenden: Or the British Agent.' It is a collection of short stories about an aloof spy, the very character who is considered by many to have inspired the influential James Bond novels.
’Of Human Bondage’ can be regarded not just as a masterpiece, but also as the best work of William Somerset Maugham. He had actually planned to name his book ‘Beauty from Ashes’, though he later decided to name it after a title which was taken from a section of the philosophical treatise known as 'Spinoza's Ethics.'
’Liza of Lambeth’ was Maugham's first work which he had written while he was studying to be a doctor. The book, which depicts the life of an 18-year-old factory worker named Liza Kemp, gives an understanding of the way working class people in London used to live their everyday lives at the end of the nineteenth century.
’The Moon and Sixpence’ written and published in 1919, ‘Cakes and Ale’ (1930), and ‘The Razor's Edge’ (1944), can also be regarded as some of his most important works, on which Maugham's reputation as a novelist stands on.
Awards & Achievements
In 1954, William Somerset Maugham was honored by being made a Companion of Honor, which is an honorable order of the Commonwealth Realms.
On the list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th Century by the Modern Library, Maugham's ‘Of Human Bondage’ was ranked at No. 66.
Personal Life & Legacy
Despite being known for having homosexual tendencies, William Somerset Maugham entered into a relationship with Syrie Wellcome, who was the wife of Henry Wellcome, a renowned pharmaceutical entrepreneur. After they had a daughter together, Henry sued his wife for divorce, following which Syrie and Maugham got married in 1917.
Their daughter was named Mary Elizabeth Maugham, also known as Liza, and she was his only biological child.
His marriage with Syrie was a troubled one and the couple later separated. Maugham later had relationships with Gerald Haxton and Alan Searle.
Maugham lived a long life and passed away on 16 December in 1965 in Nice, France. He was 91.