Table of Contents | Message Board | Printable Version
William Somerset Maugham, the youngest child of Mr. and Mrs. Robert Maugham, was born in Paris, France on January 25, 1874. At the time of his birth, his father was working as a lawyer for the British Embassy in Paris. In 1882, his mother died of tuberculosis. His three brothers went to study in London, and William was sent to a clergyman attached to the British Embassy. When his father died two years later, there was no one to look after him in Paris. As a result, h e was sent to Kent to live with his uncle, Henry Maugham. Since his uncle and aunt were childless, they found it difficult to care for him. William, at the age of ten, was a lonely and unhappy child. His life at King's School in Canterbury was no better. Frail and sensitive, he felt isolated from the other boys because of his stammer.
Maugham was smart, but the rigid school discipline and the taunts of his classmates made him leave school before he could complete his education. He left for Germany with the help of his uncle. In Heidelberg, he learned to appreciate language, literature, and theatre. Through friendly disputations with his friends, he became aware of Christian teaching and the rigidity of the Church of England. The city also introduced him to philosophy.
William returned to England, hoping to become a writer; but afraid of disappointing his uncle, he tried his hand at accounting. Within a few months, he lost interest in the subject and decided to pursue medicine. In 1892, he entered St.Thomas Medical School, which he found to be tedious. Serving as an outpatient clerk and then an obstetric clerk, he became aware of the sufferings and feelings of the lower strata of society. He wrote his first novel, Liza of Lambeth, out of these experiences. Although he earned a degree in medicine, William did not go into practice, for he wanted to explore the world. His travels took him to France, Spain, and Italy. In Paris, he spent a few years in the company of artists and writers whose influence enriched his life as a man and a writer.
William began to write plays, several of which were staged and became popular. His first play, Lady Frederick, was produced in 1907. Slowly and steadily he began to climb the ladder of literary success, even though he was always more popular with the public than with the critics. In 1912, he began writing Of Human Bondage, a somewhat autobiographical novel that he completed in two years and published in 1915; it is considered his greatest novel. In 1919, his novel, Moon and Sixpence, based on the life of Paul Gaugin, was published and became a popular success.
Because of the army intelligence work, Maugham had the opportunity to travel all around the world. His experiences in Asia made him write collections of short stories entitled South Sea Stories and Casuarina Tree. In 1917, he was sent on an important mission to Russia. His responsibility was to persuade the government to engage in war with Germany and prevent the formation of a Bolshevik government. When his mission failed, his health deteriorated. He finally admitted himself to a sanatorium in Scotland for the treatment of tuberculosis.