Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
William Somerset Maugham
William Somerset Maugham (January 25, 1874 – December 16, 1965) was born in Paris, France to English parents, speaking only French until he was orphaned at 11 and moved to his surviving family in England. Nevertheless, he became an extremely popular English playwright, novelist and short story writer, reputedly the highest paid author of the 1930s. Maugham wrote comedies, psychological novels and spy stories (although the latter part of his work is hardly ever seen as belonging to crime fiction proper). Prior to his literary success, he studied literature and philosophy at Heidelberg University, then medicine in London, qualifying from St Thomas' hospital in 1897. During World War I, Maugham served as a spy for MI6, being sent to Russia with the mission of preventing the Russian Revolution by keeping the Mensheviks in power, after a stint working as a British Red Cross ambulance driver, in which capacity he met Gerald Haxton , a young San Franciscan who would become Maugham's homosexual lover until his 1944 death. Maugham subsequently lived with Alan Searle .
Commercial success with high book sales, successful play productions and a string of film adaptations allowed Maugham to live a very comfortable life. He enjoyed travelling widely, particularly to East Asia, the Pacific Islands and Mexico, often accompanied by Haxton (even while he was married). In 1926 he bought a villa on the French Riviera which would be his home for most of the rest of his life. Despite his triumphs, his own opinion of his abilities remained somewhat low, describing himself towards the end of his career as "in the very first row of the second-raters".
Maugham's masterpiece is generally agreed to be Of Human Bondage, an autobiographical novel which deals with the life of Philip Carey, who, like Maugham, was orphaned and brought up by his pious uncle. Maugham's severe stutter has been replaced by Philip's clubfoot.
Among his short stories, some of the most memorable are those dealing with the lives of western, mostly British, colonists in the Far East. The stories are typically concerned with the emotional toll exacted on the colonists by their isolation. Maugham's restrained prose allows him to explore the resulting tensions and passions without descending into melodrama.
In 1917, in New Jersey, Maugham married his mistress, Maud Gwendolen Syrie Barnardo, a daughter of orphanage founder Thomas John Barnardo and former wife of American-born English pharmaceutical magnate Henry Wellcome. (She became celebrated as Syrie Maugham, a noted interior decorator who popularized the all-white room in the 1920s.) Divorced in 1928 after a tempestuous marriage that was complicated by Maugham's homosexuality and relationship with Haxton, they had one daughter, Elizabeth Mary Maugham (a.k.a. Liza) (1915 - 1998).
In 1947 he instituted the Somerset Maugham Award, still given to this day to the best British writer or writers under the age of thirty-five of a work of fiction published in the past year. Notable past winners include Kingsley Amis and Thom Gunn.
- Liza of Lambeth (1897)
- Mrs Craddock (1902)
- The Magician (1902)
- Of Human Bondage (1915)
- The Moon and Sixpence (1919)
- The Painted Veil (1925)
- The Narrow Corner (1932)
- Up at the Villa (1941)
- The Razor's Edge (1943)
- Then and Now (1946)
- Theatre (1947)
- Catalina (1948)
- A Writer's Notebook (1949)
- A Man of Honour (1903)
- The Circle (1921)
- Our Betters (1923)
- The Constant Wife (1927)
- The Sacred Flame (1928)
- On a Chinese Screen (1922)
- The Truth at Last (1924) (in collaboration with Charles Hawtrey)
- The Summing Up (1938)
- A Writer's Notebook (1949)
- The Partial View (1954)
- The Travel Books of W. Somerset Maugham (1955)
- Points of View (1958)
- Ten Novels and Their Authors (1963)
- Essays on Literature (1967)
- "The Magician" (1908)
- "Lord Mountdrago" (1939)
- "A Man from Glasgow" (1947)
- "Before the Party"
- "The End of the Flight"
- "The Facts of Life"
- "Footprints in the Jungle"
- "An Official Position"
- "The Outstation"
- "The Taipan"
- "The Treasure"
Short story collections
- The Trembling of a Leaf (1921)
- The Lotus Eater (1945)
Maugham on film
- Being Julia (2004), based on the 1937 novella Theatre , with Annette Bening
- Encore (1952) dramatizes three Maugham short stories
- Of Human Bondage (1934) starring Leslie Howard and Bette Davis
- Of Human Bondage (1946) starring Eleanor Parker
- Of Human Bondage (1964) starring Laurence Harvey and Kim Novak
- The Razor's Edge (1946) starring Tyrone Power and Gene Tierney
- The Razor's Edge (1984) starring Bill Murray
- Sadie Thompson (1928), a silent movie starring Gloria Swanson based on "Rain", a 1921 short story from The Trembing of a Leaf (and several remakes)
- Up at the Villa (2000), based on the 1941 novella, starring Kristin Scott Thomas and Sean Penn, directed by Philip Haas
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