Thanks to Rita Hayworth’s inimitable incarnation as the title character in the film adaptation retitled Miss Sadie Thompson, the short story “Rain” may arguably be Somerset Maugham’s most well-known tale. Hayworth was actually the third legendary Hollywood star to take on the role of the iconic bad girl of Maugham’s story following in the footsteps of Gloria Swanson and Joan Crawford. So integrated into the fabric of “Rain” is this character that Maugham had originally titled it simply “Sadie Thompson”
The retitled story appeared in Maugham’s 1921 collection, The Trembling of a Leaf: Stories of the South Sea Islands. Four years later, the story was adapted into a stage play that had a successful 648-performance run on Broadway in its initial production. “Rain” is yet another of Maugham’s stories that intermingle reality with fiction to an unusually honest degree: the story was inspired by an actual prostitute named Thompson (he changed her first for the story) that he met aboard a ship sailing to Pago Pago. The real Miss Thompson was fleeing the authorities in Hawaii with plan to go back into business on another island.
Maugham, however, invented the story of what happens eventually happens to the prostitute in a narrative that pits the sexual repression versus sexual expression in a battle to the death. The story of the married evangelical minister whose attempts to reform and redeem Sadie instead culminate with the unleashing of his repressed passion in a violent climax of attempted rape and successful suicide has been interpreted as Maugham’s bitterly corrosive critique of the long-term negative effects of British missionaries attempting to impose their rigid moral code upon native populations as part of the country’s racist colonial imperialism.