William Somerset Maugham, CH

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William Somerset Maugham

Birthdate: (91)
Birthplace: Paris, Île-de-France, France
Death: December 16, 1965 (91)
Nice, Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur, France
Place of Burial: France
Immediate Family:

Son of Robert Ormond Maugham and Edith Mary Maugham (Snell)
Husband of Syrie Maugham (Barnardo)
Partner of Frederick Gerald Haxton and Alan Searle
Father of Elizabeth "Liza" Mary Hope (Maugham)
Brother of Frederic Herbert Maugham

Occupation: Author
Managed by: Michael Lawrence Rhodes
Last Updated:

About William Somerset Maugham, CH

William Somerset Maugham was a famous English author, novelist and playwright. His popularity lies in the fact that by early 1930's, he had become the highest paid author of his era. His most famous works include novels Of Human Bondage, The Razor's Edge and The Moon and Sixpence and short stories Footprints In The Jungle, Rain and The Outstation. Of Human Bondage- a semi autographical book- is a reflection of his own childhood. The main character of the book Philip earned international attention who was orphaned and raised by his pious uncle like Maugham. During the peak of his popularity, Maugham also earned praise as one of the most significant travel writers. The Gentleman in the Parlour, an account of his travels to Burma, Vietnam and Cambodia, is considered his best work in this genre. Many of his short stories and novels have been adapted for radio and televisions. The author died on 16 December 1965.

Childhood & Education

Maugham was born on 25 January 1874 in Paris in an English family. His father was an English lawyer and solicitor to the British Embassy in Paris. His grandfather was also an English lawyer and a cofounder of the English law society and it was expected that Maugham would follow his father and grandfather in their successful legal career. His brother Viscount Maugham followed the elders in their footsteps and became a Lord Chancellor. However, Maugham did not show any willingness towards their legacy.

Maugham's mother Edith Mary died at the age of 41, followed by his father two years later. Now orphaned, Maugham was moved to England at his uncle's place in England. His uncle Henry Maugham, the Vicar of Whistable, prove to be cold and emotionally cruel to the young Maugham and his unsympathetic treatment would lead him to develop a stammer. Maugham was sent to the King's Canterbury which proved to be the extension of the humiliation and indifference he suffered at home.

Life became miserable and he left the school at the age of sixteen. He moved to Germany where he enrolled in Heidelberg University to study literature, philosophy and German. During his stay in Germany, Maugham first acknowledged his homosexuality after his first sexual encounter with John Ellingham Brooks. On the completion of his degree there, Maugham returned to England and found a position in an accountant's office with his uncle's help. Though he left the job soon and it further displeased his uncle. He finally persuaded him into the profession of medicine and sent him to the King's College, London, where he spent another five years studying medicine.

Early Years & Career

Though he was never interested in the profession of medicine and took it only to appease his uncle, he claimed it to be contributing to his talent as a writer. According to him, it made him able to look in to human emotions, suffering and pain and see the misery of life. By this time, he had begun writing books and working upon literary ideas. Liza of Lambeth, a short story based upon adultery in working class was a reflection of his own experience as a medical student. The book proved popular with the readers who found it 'real and thoughtful' and acted as a driving force in leaving the medical profession to become a writer. After a steady beginning, his next big success came with a play Lady Frederick in 1907 and he followed the success with another four plays that came in the next year.

Road to Success

By the late 1914, Maugham had become famous and had published as many as ten plays and ten novels. With the onset of the World War I, he joined the British Red Cross's "Literary Ambulance Drivers", with other 23 popular writers including E. E. Cummings and Ernest Hemingway. He continued to produce novels and edit previous works. Of Human Bondage, another novel written during this period and his masterpiece, appeared in 1905 and received a mixed reaction initially from the literary society of England. However, it gained popularity with time and it has since never been out of print.

In 1916, Maugham embarked upon writing The Moon and Sixpence, a novel based upon the life of Paul Gauguin. He voyaged to the Pacific for the necessary research work accompanied by Haxton, his companion and a long time lover. During this period he wrote Ashenden, a collection of short stories about a gentleman and indifferent spy. In 1922, Maugham produced a book of 58 short story sketches, based upon his travels to China and Hong Kong. Maugham's play The Letter, was performed in London in 1927 and was later adapted in to a film in 1929 and then in 1940. With the collapse of France, he left the country, though his prodigious output of play and novels continued to emerge and he became the most popular and highest paid writer in the English literature.

Marriage & Personal Life

By this time, his homosexuality had become known to everyone and he was often dragged into controversies for to his sexual orientation. Nonetheless, he also had affairs with many women among which the most enduring was with Syrie Wellcome, wife of American-born Englishman Henry Wellcome. hsi romance with Syrie resulted in a daughter Liza and Syrie's divorce with his husband Henry. In May 1917, Maugham married Syrie accepting Liza as his daughter. The marriage became strained due to his contemptuous relationship with Haxton and they divorced around 1927.

Later years & Death

Now a refugee in the United States, Maugham widely worked in Hollywood as a script writer. Even in his sixties, he did not try to conceal his sexual orientation and continued his relationship with his male friends. After the death of Gerald Haxton in 1944, he found his new companion in Alan Searle, another Englishman. Controversies once again stirred up with their open admission of the relationship, though it had a little effect on Maugham.

In 1962, Maugham fell out with his daughter Liza over the illegal selling of his paintings that were assigned to her. Liza sued her father for the compensation and he responded by disowning his daughter in public. He went as far as attacking his late wife Syrie in his memoir Looking Back, published in 1962. It was discovered in the memoir, that Liza was born before her parents married. The incident damaged his reputation and he was shunned by his own people after the heinous unveiling.

Maugham also claimed Searle as his son and towards the end of his life; he bequeathed Searle a large sum of $ 50,000 and his copyright acts for 30 years after which it was to be passed to the Royal Literary Fund. W. Somerset Maugham died on 16 December 1965 and his remains were scattered near the Maugham Library, The King's School in Canterbury. His daughter Liza died in 1998.

Notable Works

Among his most important works is the novel Of Human Bondage and is also considered his masterpiece. The novel is a semi autobiography with the main character Philip Carey depicted as an orphaned child, like Maugham, and brought up by his self-righteous uncle. Another novel The Moon and Sixpence, which gave him a stunning success,is a real life based story of Paul Gauguin. On of his most famous novels, The Razor's Edge was published in 1944 and has been adapted in to movies. Maugham also wrote some fine short stories among which Footprints In The Jungle, Rain and The Outstation are considered his best work in this genre. A prominent travel writer, he authored The Gentleman in the Parlour, an account of his travels to Burma, Vietnam and Cambodia.


1874- Maugham was born on 25 January. 1905- Of Human Bondage, another novel written during this period, appeared. 1916- Maugham embarked upon writing The Moon and Sixpence. 1917- Maugham married Syrie. 1922- Maugham produced a book of 58 short story sketches. 1927- Maugham's play The Letter, was performed in London. 1944- The Razor's Edge was published. 1962- Maugham fell out with his daughter Liza. 1962- He wrote his memoir Looking Back. 1965- W. Somerset Maugham died on 16 December. 1998- His daughter Liza died.

GRANDFATHER: Robert FATHER: Robert Ormond Maugham

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William Somerset Maugham, CH's Timeline

January 25, 1874
Paris, Île-de-France, France
Age 40
Rome, Lazio, Italy
December 16, 1965
Age 91
Nice, Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur, France
December 1965
Age 91