William Somerset Maugham
(25 January 1874 – 16 December 1965)
The British novelist William Somerset Maugham, one of the most popular writers in English in the 20th century, is noted for his clarity of style and skill in storytelling. Born in Paris, of Irish ancestry, Somerset Maugham was to lead a fascinating life and would become famous for his mastery of short evocative stories that were often set in the more obscure and remote areas of the British Empire. Suffering from a bad stammer, he received a classic public school education at King's school in Canterbury, Kent. Rather more unconventionally he studied at Heidelburg University where he read philosophy and literature. He then studied in London, eventually qualifying as a surgeon at St Thomas's hospital. He conducted his year's medical practice in the slums of the East End. It was here that he found material for his first, rather lurid, novel Liza of Lambeth in 1897 and much of the material for his critically acclaimed autobiographical novel Of Human Bondage although this wasn't to be published until 1915. He moved to Paris where he would strike up a successful working relationship with Laurence Housman and write a number of plays that would be run in London from 1908. At the outbreak of The Great War, Maugham, at age 40 and 5'6" was both too old and too short to enlist in the military so he joined a British Red Cross ambulance unit attached to the French Army, becoming like his comtemporaries, one of many Literary Ambulance Drivers. One of his co-drivers was Desmond MacCarthy, a writer in his own right who later became literary critic for The London Sunday Times. Before long Maugham was recruited for a far more interesting assignment as secret agent in Geneva and then Petrograd. In Russia, he was given the rather mammoth job of attempting to prevent the Russian Revolution from starting. His novel Ashenden published in 1928 would draw on these eclectic experiences. Continuing with more peacable travels, Maugham took to the South Seas, where he visited the island of Tahiti and on which he based his novel The Moon and Sixpence. Sickness would then force Maugham to return and remain in a Scottish tubercoulosis sanatorium. However, on recovery, he returned to the Far East and collected imperial information and experiences that would form the basis of many short stories, plays and novels: East of Suez in 1922, Our Betters in 1923 and The Letter in 1927, are amongst the better known of these. Returning to settle in France in 1928, Maugham bought a villa in St. Jean Cap Ferrat on the French Riviera called Mauresque (a word meaning 'of Moorish style') where he enjoyed a near royal lifestyle. An invitation by Maugham to spend a few hours to a weeks was highly prized by the literary and social elite of the era. In France he wrote what many regard as his satirical masterpiece Cakes and Ale, a literary biography within a novel that examined the private sin that accompanies public success. From early January 1938 until the end of March 1938 Maugham Travels in India, meeting the venerated Indian holy man Sri Ramana Maharshi, returning to France the first part of April. The brewing winds of war would not allow Maugham to remain in France indefinitely. On September 1, 1939 the German Army invaded Poland and reached Paris by June 14, 1940. With the Nazi's lightening advance, as might be expected, many, many lives, both large and small --- including Maugham's --- were adversely impacted. He was forced to flee late one night with nothing but a single suitcase. Although the full nature of his escape is seldom brought up by Maugham as being anything special, it was far more harrowing than most people have come to realize. The following quote on the subject is from an article that covers the escape somewhat concisely, albeit still fairly thoroughly, especially if one takes time to go down to the Footnotes. The article, called Guy Hague, refers to the person thought by many as being...
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