Friday, January 25, 2013

Author Birthday: W. Somerset Maugham

From The 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 I was withdrawn and unhappy, and rejected most overtures of sympathy over my stuttering and shyness."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."

W. Somerset Maugham's The Painted Veil  will always be special to me. It was the first book reviewed on Lakeside Musing (I'm too embarrassed to link to the post) and also a favorite read of 2008. Although I keep meaning to read more of his work, it just hasn't happened yet. Of Human Bondage  is on my shelf and my Classics Club list, but I'm open to other recommendations. Have you read Maugham?


  1. I've read Cakes and Ale, and a collection of short stories. Razor's Edge has been on my TBR shelf for a long time, but I never seem to get around to it, mainly because I think of his stories as unrelentingly somber and while that is okay for a short story, an entire novel of grim puts me off.

    I honestly don't know what the first book I reviewed was...I'll have to check. And I'll have to check out your first as well! :)

  2. I read a short story by Maugham in high school and remember being entranced and thinking "I need to read more by this author!" Never did. I have The Painted Veil sitting on my shelves and REALLY need to read it.

  3. I am not fond of Mr. M. but this day is also the birthday of my favorite writer, dear Virginia W.

  4. Razor's Edge is fantastic. Of Human Bondage is amazing. The Christmas Story is fascinating. I always thought The Painted Veil would make a good opera. Cakes and Ale was good but somewhat forgettable. Up at the Villa is suspenseful. So many good books waiting for you.

    1. Thomas - Oh, yes. I can definitely see The Painted Veil as an opera - it would be beautiful! Just checked amazon and found all of Maugham's book available free for download. I received a kindle paperwhite for Christmas and am really surprised at how much I love it. A little late, but it looks like I've finally joined the 21st century!

  5. I read The Painted Veil last year (?) and adored it. Seriously loved every sentence. I bought Cakes and Ale but haven't gotten to it yet. Need to do that!


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