Somerset Maugham: A Genius with a Troubled Past


Somerset Maugham, born in 1874, was a prolific writer whose legacy continues to captivate readers even today. His masterful storytelling and unique perspectives on human nature have earned him the title of one of the greatest English writers of the 20th century. However, behind his genius lay a troubled past that shaped his work and influenced his writing.

Maugham was born in Paris to British parents, but tragedy struck early in his life when his mother died of tuberculosis when he was just eight years old. This loss had a profound impact on the sensitive young boy, and he was often ignored and mistreated by his father and other relatives. Feeling isolated and lonely, Maugham sought solace in books and developed a love for storytelling.

His father, who wanted him to become a lawyer, sent him to study at King’s College, London. However, Maugham’s heart was not in law, and he continued to indulge in his passion for writing. After graduating, he worked as an accountant while devoting his free time to honing his writing skills. In 1897, he published his first novel, “Liza of Lambeth,” which was a commercial success and established him as a promising young writer.

Maugham’s personal life was also filled with turmoil. He had an affair with Syrie Wellcome, the wife of a millionaire, which resulted in a scandalous divorce that had a significant impact on his reputation. He married Syrie, but their marriage was tumultuous, and they eventually divorced after having one daughter. Maugham’s experiences with love and relationships greatly influenced his writing, as seen in his most famous work, “Of Human Bondage.”

Despite facing personal challenges, Maugham continued to produce acclaimed works, including “The Moon and Sixpence,” inspired by the life of artist Paul Gauguin, and “The Razor’s Edge,” a spiritual journey of a disillusioned World War I veteran. His writing style was often compared to that of Russian writer Anton Chekhov, with its focus on the complexities of the human psyche and subtle exploration of morality and societal expectations.

Maugham’s works were also influenced by his extensive travels. He spent many years living in different countries, including Malaysia, where he worked in the British secret service during World War I. These experiences exposed him to different cultures and provided him with a wealth of material for his writing. He also became good friends with many famous writers and artists, such as Ernest Hemingway and Pablo Picasso, who influenced his work and inspired him with their artistic pursuits.

Despite achieving great success and fame, Maugham’s troubled past continued to haunt him. He suffered from severe bouts of depression and alcoholism, seeking solace in his writing and indulging in excessive drinking. He also struggled with his sexual orientation and was known to have had intimate relationships with both men and women.

In 1965, at the age of 91, Maugham passed away, leaving behind a legacy that continues to inspire writers and readers alike. His troubled past may have influenced his work, but it was his immense talent and dedication to his craft that made him a literary genius. As he famously said, “There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.”

In conclusion, Somerset Maugham’s life may have been filled with personal struggles, but his writing remains his greatest legacy. Through his novels, short stories, and plays, he left behind a rich body of work that continues to be celebrated and studied. His storytelling ability and deep understanding of human nature have made him a timeless and enduring figure in literature, and his legacy will continue to live on for generations to come.