Biography of W. Somerset Maugham

William Somerset Maugham was born on January 25, 1874, in the British Embassy in Paris, France. His mother was the socialite Edith Mary Snell, and his father was Robert Orman Maugham, a lawyer. However, Maugham endured a traumatic childhood - he was orphaned at the age of ten when his mother died from tuberculosis and his father died from cancer. He was raised by his childless aunt and uncle, and bullied intensely by the other children at his school.

Maugham studied medicine at St. Thomas' Hospital, and apprenticed as a midwife in London's Lambeth slum area, which may have given him inspiration for the vivid characters in his novels and stories. He published his first novel, Liza of Lambeth, in 1897; the book depicted the life and death of Liza Kent, a working-class woman. The popular and controversial novel launched Maugham's impressive writing career.

One of the highest-paid writers of the early- to mid-twentieth century, Maugham wrote a variety of materials (fiction, memoir, travelogue, plays) but is best known for his novels and short stories. His best-known works are Of Human Bondage (1915) and Moon and Sixpence (1919).

During World War I, Maugham assisted in the ambulance corps and in intelligence work. He was stationed in Russia shortly before the Bolshevik revolution; later, he said that if he had only been sent there six months before, he might have succeeded in his aim of keeping the provisional government in power.

Though he was unhappily married to Syrie Wellcome (a liaison which began when she was still married to her first husband, Henry Wellcome), Maugham's sexual orientation appears to have been primarily homosexual, and he had a number of male lovers throughout his life. Frederick Gerald Haxton was Maugham's constant companion for nearly 30 years, and proofread many of Maugham's manuscripts, including Of Human Bondage.

Maugham died on December 16, 1965 in Nice, France.

Study Guides on Works by W. Somerset Maugham

The short story “Footprints in the Jungle” is one of six that comprises Somerset Maugham’s 1933 collection titled Ah King. The unifying theme that connects all six stories is the psychological effect of Britons in living in the far flung distant...

Of Human Bondage is one of the most famous novels of English writer William Somerset Maugham. The novel was written in 1915. The protagonist – Philip Carey, is an orphan and is with a lame leg, which makes his life very difficult.

The novel itself...

Maugham's story of an unfaithful woman who follows her husband into a cholera epidemic and ultimately earns redemption was inspired by a story in Dante’s The Divine Comedy. The Purgatorio section of the Comedy contains the lines "Pray, when you...