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William Somerset Maugham

William Somerset Maugham William Somerset Maugham[1†]

William Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) was an English writer renowned for his plays, novels, and short stories[1†]. Born in Paris and educated in England and Germany, he qualified as a physician but chose to pursue writing[1†]. His first novel, Liza of Lambeth, gained recognition, but his fame skyrocketed as a playwright with four plays concurrently running in London’s West End by 1908[1†]. Maugham’s work is noted for its clear style, cosmopolitan settings, and insightful portrayal of human nature.[1†]

Early Years and Education

William Somerset Maugham was born on January 25, 1874, in Paris, France[2†][1†]. He spent his first ten years in Paris before moving to England[2†][1†]. Tragically, Maugham was orphaned at the age of 10[2†][1†]. After the loss of his parents, he was brought up by an uncle[2†][1†][3†].

Maugham received his early education at King’s School in Canterbury[2†][1†][4†]. His experiences at school were not entirely pleasant, as he was bullied by other children[2†][3†]. After completing his schooling in England, he spent a year at the University of Heidelberg in Germany[2†][1†][4†].

Following his time in Germany, Maugham returned to England and entered St. Thomas’ medical school in London[2†][1†][4†]. He qualified as a doctor in 1897[2†][1†][4†]. However, his career took a different turn as he drew upon his experiences as an obstetrician for his first novel, Liza of Lambeth, published in the same year[2†][1†][3†]. The success of this novel, though small, encouraged him to abandon medicine and pursue a full-time writing career[2†][1†][3†].

Career Development and Achievements

After qualifying as a doctor in 1897, Maugham decided to become a full-time writer[2†][1†][5†]. His first novel, Liza of Lambeth (1897), a study of life in the slums, attracted attention[2†][1†][5†]. However, it was as a playwright that he first achieved national celebrity[2†][1†][5†]. By 1908, he had four plays running at once in the West End of London[2†][1†][5†][6†]. This theatrical triumph brought him financial security[2†][1†][5†].

During the First World War, Maugham worked for the British Secret Service[2†][1†]. After the war, he resumed his interrupted travels and, in 1928, bought a villa on Cape Ferrat in the south of France, which became his permanent home[2†][1†].

Maugham’s reputation as a novelist rests primarily on four books: Of Human Bondage (1915), The Moon and Sixpence (1919), Cakes and Ale (1930), and The Razor’s Edge (1944)[2†][1†]. His short stories were published in collections such as The Casuarina Tree (1926) and The Mixture as Before (1940); many of them have been adapted for radio, cinema, and television[2†][1†].

His great popularity and prodigious sales provoked adverse reactions from highbrow critics, many of whom sought to belittle him as merely competent[2†][1†]. More recent assessments generally rank Of Human Bondage – a book with a large autobiographical element – as a masterpiece, and his short stories are widely held in high critical regard[2†][1†].

Maugham’s plain prose style became known for its lucidity, but his reliance on clichés attracted adverse critical comment[2†][1†]. He gave up writing novels shortly after the Second World War[2†][1†]. His last years were marred by senility[1†]. He died at the age of 91[2†][1†].

First Publication of His Main Works

William Somerset Maugham’s literary career was prolific, spanning various genres including novels, short stories, and plays[7†]. His works are known for their insightful exploration of human nature and society[7†].

Here are some of his main works, along with details about their first publication:

Maugham’s short stories were published in collections such as:

Many of Maugham’s works have been adapted for radio, cinema, and television, attesting to their enduring appeal[7†][1†].

Analysis and Evaluation

William Somerset Maugham’s works have been the subject of extensive analysis and evaluation[8†][9†]. His writing spans various genres, including novels, short stories, and plays, and he was a constant contributor to periodicals[8†]. He also published important books of travel, autobiography, criticism, and miscellaneous essays[8†].

Maugham’s novels began with a story of London slum life, Liza of Lambeth (1897), and closed with Catalina: A Romance (1948), a love story of no great importance[8†]. Of the eighteen novels published between these two, at least five are of major importance: Mrs. Craddock (1902), Of Human Bondage (1915), The Moon and Sixpence (1919), Cakes and Ale (1930), and The Razor’s Edge (1944)[8†].

His short stories, many of which portray the conflict of Europeans in alien surroundings that provoke strong emotions, have increased in popularity[8†][2†]. Maugham’s skill in handling plot, in the manner of Guy de Maupassant, is distinguished by economy and suspense[8†][2†].

Critics have explored the qualities of Maugham as a writer, pointing out both the strengths and flaws of his work[8†][9†]. They have analyzed diverse features of his writing skills and discovered many themes along with stylistic features of his novels, plays, and short stories[8†][9†].

In his works, Maugham expresses himself freely on many public and some private subjects, but he guards his innermost privacy carefully[8†]. His works may be said to be both frank and secretive[8†].

That W. Somerset Maugham was one of the more successful English writers of the first half of the twentieth century is clear enough, even though the fact is sometimes obscured by that preliminary rising and falling of popular and academic estimation that accompanies the settling of a writer into his place in history[8†].

Personal Life

William Somerset Maugham’s personal life was as intriguing as his professional one. In 1915, he married Syrie Barnardo, but they divorced in 1927[4†]. The writer spent much of his life in southern France[4†]. His home at St-Jean-Cap-Ferrat held a notable collection of modern art[4†].

Although primarily homosexual, he attempted to conform to some extent with the norms of his day[4†][1†]. After a three-year affair with Syrie Wellcome which produced their daughter, Liza, they married in 1917[4†][1†]. The marriage lasted for twelve years, but before, during, and after it, Maugham’s principal partner was a younger man, Gerald Haxton[4†][1†]. Together they made extended visits to Asia, the South Seas, and other destinations; Maugham gathered material for his fiction wherever they went[4†][1†]. They lived together in the French Riviera, where Maugham entertained lavishly[4†][1†]. After Haxton’s death in 1944, Alan Searle became Maugham’s secretary-companion for the rest of the author’s life[1†].

Conclusion and Legacy

William Somerset Maugham’s contributions to British heritage are manifold and enduring[10†]. Through his literary works, he provided keen insights into the human condition and the complexities of human emotions[10†]. His engaging storytelling, coupled with his international experiences, offered readers a window into various cultures and societies[10†].

His reputation as a novelist rests primarily on four books: “Of Human Bondage” (1915), a semi-autobiographical account of a young medical student’s painful progress toward maturity; “The Moon and Sixpence” (1919), an account of an unconventional artist, suggested by the life of Paul Gauguin; “Cakes and Ale” (1930), the story of a famous novelist, which is thought to contain caricatures of Thomas Hardy and Hugh Walpole; and “The Razor’s Edge” (1944), the story of a young American war veteran’s quest for a satisfying way of life[10†][2†].

Maugham’s plays, mainly Edwardian social comedies, soon became dated, but his short stories have increased in popularity[10†][2†]. Many portray the conflict of Europeans in alien surroundings that provoke strong emotions, and Maugham’s skill in handling plot, in the manner of Guy de Maupassant, is distinguished by economy and suspense[10†][2†].

During the 1930s, Maugham was reputedly the highest-paid author of his era, attesting to the immense popularity of his writings[10†]. His plays also enjoyed widespread success, with several running simultaneously in London[10†]. The success of his literary works enabled him to live a comfortable life and afforded him the opportunity to travel extensively, which, in turn, influenced his later travel writing[10†].

Maugham’s influence extended beyond the literary world. He was a significant figure in British society, hosting literary and social salons at his villa in the French Riviera during the 1920s and 1930s[10†]. His engaging personality and witty conversations made him a favorite among his peers[10†]. Despite his success and fame, Maugham remained modest about his abilities as a writer and was known for his candid self-assessment[10†].

Maugham’s travels through Europe, Asia, and the Pacific inspired many of his works[10†]. Notably, his experiences in the South Pacific and Asia influenced his portrayal of colonial life and the psychological impact of isolation in his stories[10†]. During the First World War, Maugham served with the British Red Cross and later undertook intelligence work for the British Secret Intelligence Service (MI6)[10†]. His experiences as a spy and his work with the Red Cross provided material for his spy novel, “Ashenden: Or the British Agent.” This work is considered to have influenced Ian Fleming’s later creation of the James Bond series[10†].

In conclusion, W. Somerset Maugham’s contributions to British heritage are manifold and enduring[10†]. Through his literary works, he provided keen insights into the human condition and the complexities of human emotions[10†]. His engaging storytelling, coupled with his international experiences, offered readers a window into various cultures and societies[10†].

Key Information

References and Citations:

  1. Wikipedia (English) - W. Somerset Maugham [website] - link
  2. Britannica - W. Somerset Maugham: British writer [website] - link
  3. GradeSaver - W. Somerset Maugham Biography [website] - link
  4. Britannica Kids - W. Somerset Maugham [website] - link
  5. Simple Wikipedia (English) - William Somerset Maugham [website] - link
  6. Oxford Reference - W. Somerset Maugham [website] - link
  7. Wikipedia (English) - List of works by W. Somerset Maugham [website] - link
  8. eNotes - W. Somerset Maugham Analysis [website] - link
  9. IPL.org - Critical Analysis Of William Somerset Maugham [website] - link
  10. British Heritage - W. Somerset Maugham [website] - link
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