Somerset Maugham's stories had the quality of creating very very memorable characters. In fact a trememndous amount of effort was spent in building up characters, who probably often took priority over the plot! A lot of his stories(The Ashenden Stories) were based on his one real life experiences as an intelligence agent during the second world war.

Two novels I would particularly like to recommend are the Moon and Sixpence based on the character of Paul Gaguin and the Razor's edge based on a character called Larry Evans

There are three basic rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately nobody knows what they are.

William Somerset Maugham was one of the most financially successful writers of the 20th century. Although he was sometimes ignored by the critics as a serious writer, Maugham dedicated a vast amount of energy to writing about writing, its purpose and methods. In his time, he was one of the wealthiest authors and entertained the rich and famous at his villa in France, including Winston Churchill. Perhaps it was out of envy that the critics derided him for writing short stories for magazines, for he was certainly a very talented, popular and successful writer of words.

William Somerset Maugham was born on January 25th, 1874 at the British Embassy in Paris. His mother died in childbirth when he was eight years old and his father died two years later. The 10 year old orphan was sent to live with his aunt and uncle in Whitstable. He was educated at the King's School in Canterbury and later studied philosophy and literature in Hiedelberg, Germany. He then qualified as a surgeon at St.Thomas' Hospital in London.

His work as a doctor in the slums of London and the realist style of the novels of Emile Zola, influenced Maugham's first novel Liza of Lambeth , published in 1897. It was the minor success of this novel that convinced Maugham to write for a living. For ten years afterwards, Maugham wrote a long list of mostly unsuccessful novels, plays and short stories, and there is little from this time period of any lasting merit. 1907 saw the production of Lady Frederick which gave Maugham the fame and recognition he was after. By the end of 1908, he had four plays running concurrently in London. He quickly became an important figure in society and a very wealthy man.

In 1917, Maugham married Sylvie Wellcome, but they spent most of their marriage apart. Shortly after saying his vows, Maugham went on the first of many trips to the islands of the South Pacific. It was a kind of honeymoon, except of course, that he was not accompanied by his new bride, but rather by his special friend, Gerald Haxton. It was somewhat known that Maugham preferred the company of men. He was however, afraid of living out in the open, not wanting to suffer the same repercussions as his predecessor, Oscar Wilde. He did not divorce his wife until 1928, when Haxton was deported from England as an undesirable alien. Maugham and Haxton moved together into a villa on the French Riviera.

Maugham spent a lot of his life traveling and contributed a great amount to the development of the travel writing genre, which was at the time becoming popular. He visited South East Asia, China and many places in South America, usually accompanied by Haxton. Some of his greatest writings come from these travels, including the short story Rain which was inspired by a prostitute and a missionary he met en route to Pago Pago.

During WWI Maugham first served with the Red Cross and later worked as a British secret agent in Geneva and Petrograd. During WWII, he left Europe and settled in the United States. He lectured briefly at the University of Chicago and later became a popular figure in Hollywood. Several of his stories have been made and, indeed, continue to be made into movies. Rain was shot three times, once starring Joan Crawford. After the war ended, Maugham resettled in Paris where he lived until his death in 1965.

Maugham was a prolific writer producing over 20 novels, 25 plays and over a hundred short stories.


Short Story Collections


Travel Books

Essays, Memoirs



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