The British novelist William Somerset Maugham (1874-1965), one of the most popular writers in English in the 20th century, is noted for his clarity of style and skill in storytelling. Born in Paris, he was the sixth and youngest son of the solicitor to the British Embassy. At the age of 10, Maugham lost his parents and was reared by a paternal uncle, the Reverend Henry MacDonald Maugham, the Vicar of Whitslable, in Kent.
Maugham’s uncle was cold and emotionally cruel and the school, King’s school, Canterbury proved merely another version of purgatory. He was teased and bullied which resulted in developing the stammer which stayed with him all his life. Thus Maugham was miserable both at the Vicarage and at school.
At sixteen, Maugham refused to continue at the King’s school and his Uncle allowed him to travel to Germany, where he studied literature, Philosophy and German at Heidelberg University. He then chose the profession of Medicine and spent six years intraining at a London hospital but abandoned medicine after the success of his novels and plays.
In 1897, Maugham’s life took a new turn as his first novel, Liza of Lambeth, which drew on his experiences of attending women in childbirth was a huge success. His first play, A Man of Honour, was produced in1903. By 1914 Maugham was famous, with 10 novels published.
During World War I Maugham served in France as an espionage agent. He also worked for a short period of time in 1917 in Russia but his stuttering and poor health hindered his career in this field. He then set off with a friend on a series of travels to eastern Asia, The Pacific Islands and Mexico.
Maugham’s breakthrough novel was the semi-auto-biographical ‘Of Human Bond-age’ (1915), fictional recounting of his unhappy attendance at The King’s School in Canterbury, his liberating year of study abroad in Heidelberg and his return to London. These events served in part to shape the character of a man who was sensitive and perceptive yet also timorous and withdrawn, an outside observer of life’s experiences rather than one totally and passionately immersed in them.
In the early 1928, Maugham bought Villa Mauresque in the south of France, though he continued to travel widely. He was forced to flee after the collapse of France in 1940 but returned after the war. In 1954, on his eightieth birthday, he was made a Companion of Honorary senator of Heidelberg University. He was one of the most famous and wealthiest writers in the English-speaking world.
Maugham died in Nice on December 16, 1965 at the age of 91. In his last years Maugham adopted Alan Searle as his son to ensure that he would inherit his estate, a move which exposed Maugham to the public ridicule. There is no grave for Maugham. His ashes were scattered near the Maugham Library, The King’s School, Canterbury.