The Complex Life of Somerset Maugham


Somerset Maugham was one of the most prolific and versatile writers of the 20th century. His works have been translated into multiple languages, and his stories have been adapted into films and television shows. However, behind his successful writing career was a complex and tumultuous life filled with personal struggles and triumphs.

Born in Paris in 1874, Maugham was the youngest of four children. His parents died at a young age, leaving him and his siblings in the care of a harsh and strict uncle. This early loss and difficult upbringing shaped Maugham’s outlook on life and led him to develop a strong sense of self-reliance.

Maugham’s first love was medicine, but after a brief stint as a medical student, he discovered his true passion for writing. He began to write short stories and novels, and his first major success came in 1907 with the publication of his novel, “Liza of Lambeth”. This marked the beginning of Maugham’s prolific writing career, which spanned over six decades and produced over 70 works.

Despite his success as a writer, Maugham struggled with his personal life. He was married twice, but both marriages were unhappy and ended in divorce. He also had numerous affairs with both men and women, which were frowned upon by society at the time. These relationships and his sexuality influenced many of his works, which often explored themes of love, sexuality, and unconventional relationships.

Maugham’s personal struggles were compounded by his experiences with World War I. He served as an ambulance driver in France and witnessed the horrors of war firsthand. This experience led him to write one of his most acclaimed novels, “Of Human Bondage”, which is semi-autobiographical and deals with the themes of love, passion, and the pursuit of happiness.

In the 1920s and 1930s, Maugham traveled extensively, often to remote and exotic locations. These travels inspired many of his later works, including “The Painted Veil”, “The Razor’s Edge”, and “The Moon and Sixpence”. During this time, he also developed a close friendship with fellow writer, Gertrude Stein, and her partner, Alice B. Toklas, who introduced him to the literary community in Paris.

But Maugham’s reputation as a successful and influential writer was not without controversy. Many of his works were considered scandalous and were banned in certain countries due to their explicit content. He also faced criticism for his portrayal of colonialism and non-white characters in some of his works.

As he grew older, Maugham continued to write, often drawing inspiration from his own life experiences. In 1944, he published “The Razor’s Edge”, which became one of his most successful and acclaimed works. The novel explores themes of Eastern philosophy, redemption, and the pursuit of inner peace.

Maugham’s health began to decline in the 1950s, and he spent his later years living in the south of France. He passed away in 1965, at the age of 91, leaving behind a legacy of influential and controversial works.

Today, Somerset Maugham’s works continue to be appreciated and studied by readers and scholars alike. His complex and tumultuous life is reflected in his writing, which explores themes of love, sexuality, colonialism, and the human condition. Though his personal struggles may have been challenging, they ultimately shaped him into a formidable writer and left a lasting impact on the literary world.