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W. Somerset Maugham (1874 - 1965)

Maugham, W. Somerset

W. Somerset Maugham was born in Paris as the sixth and youngest son of a solicitor to the British embassy. He learned French as his native language. At the age of 10, Maugham was orphaned and sent to England to live with his uncle, the vicar of Whitstable. Educated at King's School, Canterbury, and Heidelberg University, Maugham then studied medicine in London for six years. He qualified in 1897 as doctor from St. Thomas' medical school but abandoned medicine after the success of his first novels and plays.

Maugham lived in Paris for ten years as a struggling young author. His first novel, Liza of Lambeth appeared in 1897, and drew on his experiences of attending women in childbirth. His first play, A Man of Honor, was produced in 1903. Four of his plays ran simultaneously in London in 1904. Maugham's breakthrough novel was the semi-autobiographical Of Human Bondage (1915), which is usually considered his outstanding achievement.

Disguised as a reporter, Maugham worked for the British Intelligence in Russia during the Russian Revolution in 1917, but his stuttering and poor health hindered his career in this field. He then set off with a friend on a series of travels to eastern Asia, the Pacific Islands, and Mexico. His most famous story, which became the play Rain and was made into several movies, was inspired by a missionary and prostitute among his fellow passengers on a trip to Pago Pago. In the 1928 he settled in Cape Ferrat in France. His plays, among them The Circle (1921), a satire of social life, Our Betters (1923), about Americans in Europe, and The Constant Wife (1927), about a wife who takes revenge on her unfaithful husband, were performed in Europe and in the United States. Maugham's famous novel The Moon And The Sixpence (1919) was the story of Charles Strickland (or actually Paul Gauguin), an artist, whose rejection of Western civilization led to his departure for Tahiti. Trembling of a Leaf (1921) included the story "Rain," made into a play by John Colton and Clemence Randolph in 1922. Razor’s Edge (1944), about a spiritual quest, was made into film two times.

After the 1930s Maugham's reputation abroad was greater than in England. Interest in him revived again in his 80th birthday, which he celebrated by the special republication of Cakes And Ale (1930), a novel satirizing London literary circles and Grand Old Men. Maugham collected his literary experiences in The Summing Up, which has been used as a guidebook for creative writing.

Famous quotations by W. Somerset Maugham:

  • It is an illusion that youth is happy, an illusion of those who have lost it.

  • Beauty is an ecstasy; it is as simple as hunger. There is really nothing to be said about it. It is like the perfume of a rose: you can smell it and that is all.

  • The artist produces for the liberation of his soul. It is his nature to create as it is the nature of water to run down the hill.

  • It's no good trying to keep up old friendships. It's painful for both sides. The fact is, one grows out of people, and the only thing is to face it.

  • We know our friends by their defects rather than by their merits.

  • Imagination grows by exercise and contrary to common belief is more powerful in the mature than in the young.

  • We are not the same persons this year as last; nor are those we love. It is a happy chance if we, changing, continue to love a changed person.

  • In the country the darkness of night is friendly and familiar, but in a city, with its blaze of lights, it is unnatural, hostile and menacing. It is like a monstrous vulture that hovers, biding its time.

  • The common idea that success spoils people by making them vain, egotistic, and self-complacent is erroneous; on the contrary, it makes them, for the most part, humble, tolerant, and kind. Failure makes people cruel and bitter.

  • Perfection is a trifle dull. It is not the least of life's ironies that this, which we all aim at, is better not quite achieved.

  • A man marries to have a home, but also because he doesn't want to be bothered with sex and all that sort of thing.

  • An unfortunate thing about this world is that the good habits are much easier to give up than the bad ones.

  • Death is a very dull, dreary affair, and my advice to you is to have nothing whatsoever to do with it.

  • Suggested sites for W. Somerset Maugham:

    Encyclopedia article about W. Somerset Maugham
    Texts by Maugham
    Moon and Sixpence
    The life and death of impressionist painter Paul Gauguin.
    Of Human Bondage
    The story follows the life of Philip Carey, the sufferer of a club foot. A semi-autobiographical novel.

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