W Somerset Maugham (1874 – 1965)

William Somerset Maugham was an English novelist, playwright, and short-story writer.

He was born at the British Embassy in Paris on January 25, 1874. His father, Robert Ormond Maugham, handled the legal affairs of the British Embassy in Paris and arranged the birth of his son at the embassy to avoid the law that any child born on French soil could be conscripted for military service. Both of Maugham's parents died before he was 10 years old - his mother from tuberculosis just after Maugham's eighth birthday, and his father two years later from cancer. Maugham's youngest brother died on Maugham's eighth birthday. After the death of his parents, Maugham was sent to the UK to live with his uncle, who proved to be cold and cruel. He attended King's School in Canterbury, and struggled, especially since English was his second language. During this time he developed a stammer that stayed with him throughout his life.

He then went to Germany to study, where he had a relationship with John Ellingham Brooks, and wrote his first book, a biography of Giocomo Meyerbeer, an opera composer. He had been writing since the age of 15, but did not tell his uncle, who was trying to find the young Maugham a suitable career. They settled on medicine, and Maugham continued to write at night while studying at the medical school of St. Thomas' Hospital in Lambeth.

Maugham's first novel Liza Of Lambeth, was published in 1897 when he was just 23 years old, about the consequences of adultery in the working-class, was instantly successful, the first print run selling out in a matter of weeks. Maugham promptly quit his work as a medic and engaged in a long and successful career of writing.

In the early 1900s Maugham also became successful as a playwright as well. When World War I broke out he was too old to enlist, but volunteered as a member of the British Red Cross in France, serving as one of the 'Literary Ambulance Drivers.' In 1915 Of Human Bondage was published, and although not initially received well, eventually took of thanks to a glowing review by writer and critic Theodore Dreiser.

After promoting Of Human Bondage, Maugham returned to the War effort, working for the British Secret Intellegence Service. This work later inspired his story collection Ashenden.

Although Maugham had a relationship with Frederick Gerald Haxton, that would continue until Haxton's death in 1944, Maugham met and had a daughter with Syrie Wellcome, who was married to a pharmecutical magnate Henry Wellcome at the time. After her husband sued her, and they were divorced, Maugham and Syrie were married, although the couple separated shortly after, and Maugham lived with Haxton, then after Haxton Alan Searle, until his death.

In the years between the first and second World War Maugham traveled extensively throughout the Pacific, and his writing is well known for documenting the last days of colonialism in India, Southeast Asia, and China during this time.

During the Second World War Maugham spent most of his time between Los Angeles and the US South, staying at his publisher Nelson Doubleday's secluded plantation in the lowcountry of South Carolina.

Maugham was one of the most popular writers of the 20th century, and reportedly the highest paid author of the 1930s.

He died September 16th, 1961 at the age of 91 at his villa in the French Riviera.

Books by W Somerset Maugham