Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Author Birthday: W. Somerset Maugham

Yes, I know today is Virginia Woolf's birthday and she will no doubt receive the greater amount of attention, but W. Somerset Maugham  was also born on this date.

From today's Writer's Almanac:
It's the birthday of W. Somerset Maugham (books by this author), born in Paris (1874). His father was in Paris as a lawyer for the British Embassy. When Maugham was eight years old, his mother died from tuberculosis. His father died of cancer two years later. The boy was sent back to England into the care of a cold and distant uncle, a vicar. Maugham was miserable at his school. He said later: "I wasn't even likeable as a boy. I was withdrawn and unhappy, and rejected most overtures of sympathy over my stuttering and shyness." Maugham became a doctor and practiced in the London slums. He was particularly moved by the women he encountered in the hospital, where he delivered babies; and he was shocked by his fellow doctors' callous approach to the poor." He wrote: "I saw how men died. I saw how they bore pain. I saw what hope looked like, fear and relief; I saw the dark lines that despair drew on a face; I saw courage and steadfastness. I saw faith shine in the eyes of those who trusted in what I could only think was an illusion and I saw the gallantry that made a man greet the prognosis of death with an ironic joke because he was too proud to let those about him see the terror of his soul." 
When he was 23, he published his first novel, Liza of Lambeth, about a working-class 18-year-old named Liza who has an affair with a 40-year-old married man named Jim, a father of nine. Jim's wife beats up Liza, who is pregnant, and who miscarries, and dies. The novel was a big success, and Maugham made enough money to quit medicine and become a full-time writer. For many years, he made his living as a playwright, but eventually he became one of the most popular novelists in Britain. His novels include Of Human Bondage (1915), The Moon and Sixpence (1919), Cakes and Ale (1930), and The Razor's Edge (1944).
Somerset Maugham said, "To acquire the habit of reading is to construct for yourself a refuge from almost all the miseries of life."

Maugham's The Painted Veil was the first book I reviewed on this blog back in 2008. It was also one of my favorite books that year. I've read a few of his short stories and have Of Human Bondage waiting on the shelf. Have you read Somerset Maugham?


  1. Lovely tribute to an author it seems is being forgotten. Imagine having to share your birthday with Virginia Woolf!

    I enjoyed Cakes and Ale when I finally read it last year. I'm not sure I have the fortitude for Of Human Bondage, but Razor's Edge sounds intriguing.

    Thanks for a great, informative post.

  2. Thanks for this tribute! I love love LOVE Of Human Bondage, and it sounds like a lot of it is semi-autobiographical. I really need to read The Painted Veil; that is the next Maugham on my list.

  3. I was unaware that today is W. Somerset Maugham's birthday and I think it's wonderful that you've written such a thoughtful tribute to him, JoAnn. I've read The Painted Veil and The Razor's Edge and loved both. Of Human Bondage is on my wishlist and I'd be happy to read any of his other works.

    My heart breaks over what a sad childhood he had. It sounds like he grew up with quite a bit of compassion and empathy for human beings, particularly women, despite his childhood. I'm glad he was so successful in his writing career.

    The quote of his you included in your post seems to reflect how he coped with his childhood and the horror he saw when he was a doctor.

    Thank you for this wonderful post, JoAnn.

  4. thanks for sharing this. Though I haven't as yet read him, I have Theatre on my TBR and others on my reading challenges.

  5. A great post especially on his birthday. I'm sad to admit I haven't read any of his books.

  6. Wonderful tribute! I've read several of Maugham's novels lately...Cakes and Ale, The Razor's Edge, and The Moon and Sixpence. I love his writing. I currently have a book of his travel writings checked out from the library. I plan to read The Painted Veil next.


  7. It is also Robert Burns' birthday today!

    Love the photo of him with his pipe. I haven't read Maugham extensively; just a few short stories ages ago. I have Painted Veil in my stacks. I know I'll like it and so should find it and move it to the top of the stack!

  8. Jane GS - Of Human Bondage is daunting, I agree. It must be at least 700 pages! Will look into Cakes and Ale, too.

    L.L. - So glad to hear you loved Of Human Bondage. I seem to shy away from it solely because of length. The Painted Veil was excellent...the movie was beautiful, too.

    Amy - I'm glad you enjoyed this! I didn't realize he had such a sad he's written it into Of Human Bondage. I understand it's very autobiographical. I'll have to check out The Razor's Edge.

    Nana - Theatre is an unfamiliar Maugham title for me... will look it up. Good luck with your challenges!

    Ann - I would definitely recommend The Painted Veil!

    Fances - You have read quite a bit of Maugham's work. I'll be curious to hear how you think The Painted Veil compares to his other books. Be sure to watch the movie, too. It has some gorgeous cinematography!

    TerriB - So many author birthdays today! Maybe if you read a couple more of his short stories, it would inspire you to pick up The Painted Veil.... think I may try that as a warm-up to Of Human Bondage!

  9. The Painted Veil...must look into this one. Happy Birthday, W. Somerset!

  10. Funny story. I was reading Of Human Bondage in my 12th grade English class while my teacher who was a dud played Jeopardy with the class. She came over to me and told me to put the book away. I did reluctantly, but then took it out again and started reading again. She came over and told me to put the book away. I said when you teach me something I will. I must say I was not a brat or back-talker, but this teacher pushed my buttons and wasted our time (collegebound students and we played Jeopardy most of the time).

    She came back a third time, and started to discuss the book with me. I actually loved the book!

  11. Staci - Definitely check out The Painted Veil, and look into the movie to. A beautiful film, very well done, but with a slightly different tone than the book.

    Brenda - OMG, that is horrible!! Unfortunately, it reminds me of my 10th grade English teacher. We did absolutely nothing and I think she gave everyone an A. Her electives were naturally in high demand jr and sr year, but I never took them. Believe it or not, my class actually voted to dedicate our yearbook to her! I took a lit elective senior year with a 'hard' teacher and it was the best class ever!

  12. Wonderful tribute! I have never read any Maugham but hope to rectify that this year.

  13. I have only read one work by Maugham, a short story that I really liked-thanks for this lovely post in tribute to him

  14. Quite a literary day, huh? I've read The Painted Veil and really like it. Think I might have Of Human Bondage on my shelf but maybe I'm thinking of another book by another author. ;)

  15. Mel U - Glad you liked the post. I'll have to feature one of his stories on a Monday very soon.

    Trish - It was most definitely a literary day! Wonder if that book on your shelf might be Pamela? ;-)

  16. Haha. Waiting for the Barbarians by Coetzee. Headdesk. ;)

  17. Thanks for the reminder... albeit I'm a couple of days late to your blog. But happy just the same cause WSM is one of my all time favorite writers. I started reading him at a very young age, but stopped for many years and only in recent years have I 'rediscovered' him. I'm glad he's still being read, and remains relatively popular, with film adaptations of his works. Not too keen about The Painted Veil (Edward Norton, Naomi Watts), but really enjoy Being Julia (Annette Bening, Jeremy Irons) based on his novel Theatre. I do appreciate your tribute to him on his birthday, Thanks again, JoAnn!


  18. Atri- Thanks for your comment. I will add Theatre to my tbr list and then watch Being Julia. Was not familiar with that title, but it has been mentioned in a couple of comments now.

  19. You are reminding me that I would like to read more of his work. I have only read Of Human Bondage and that was so many years ago I think I am overdue for a reread.

  20. Kathleen - I think Of Human Bondage is very autobiographical... hope to get to it soon.

  21. Of Human Bondage was one of the very first classics I ever read for pleasure. It was forced on me my freshman year in college, by a boy down the hall on whom I had a tremendous crush. Things didn't work out between us but I still love Maugham, so I'll always have him to thank for it. It's been more than 20 years since I read it and I'll be rereading it again this year with my library's classic book group, so I'm really looking forward to it.

    I also love The Painted Veil and Up at the Villa. I just read Mrs. Craddock and I'll be posting the review later this week.

  22. LOL! Why am I laughing? I was going to tell you that The Painted Veil was one of my earlier reviews. I went and checked and it was my first book review too! And in 2008! Weird, right? We must have very good taste :)

  23. Karen K. - What a great story! Up the Villa is on my wish list, and I think I first heard about Mrs. Craddock from Amanda a year or two ago. Will keep an eye out for your review.

    Stacybuckeye - No way!! The Painted Veil was your first review, too... and in 2008? Such an strange coincidence, but definitely a tribute to our mutual good taste ;-)

  24. JoAnn,
    Maugham is on my list to be read this year without fail. I don't know what I'll read yet, but I'm looking forward to making a decision.
    Thanks so much for including his quote about reading. So perfect to be etched on my brow!

    1. Judith - I'll be curious to see where you decide to begin with Maugham :)


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