Of Human Bondage: Biography: W. Somerset

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William Somerset Maugham was born the youngest of four sons to English parents, Edith and Robert Maugham at the British embassy in Paris, on January 25, 1874. He grew up with French as his first language. His mother died when he was 8 years old, after childbirth and with consumption in 1882, a trauma he never got over his whole long life. His father died two years later of cancer, leaving a very small inheritance. Maugham went to live with an aunt and uncle at the rectory in Whitstable, Kent. Maugham did not have a physical handicap, but switching languages from French to English gave him a severe stammer that was the equivalent to Philip’s clubfoot in Of Human Bondage. He was withdrawn and self-conscious at King’s School in Canterbury, Kent.

Having finished at King’s School he studied for a year at the University of Heidelberg in Germany. In 1892, though he wanted to be a writer, he enrolled in medical school in London.  Based on his obstetrical work in the slums, he published his first novel,  Liza of Lambeth,  in 1897, the same year he got his medical diploma. He immediately gave up medicine for writing, traveling to Spain. In 1907, he became a successful playwright with the romantic comedy, Lady Frederick.  By the next year four of his plays were on stage at the same time. In 1911, he began an affair with Syrie Wellcome, the mother of his daughter Liza, born in 1915.
In the First World War, Maugham joined an ambulance unit in France and fell in love with Gerald Haxton, who was a companion for almost 30 years. Of Human Bondage was published in 1915, considered his best work, and never out of print, though controversial.
Maugham became a spy during World War I, later writing the first modern spy story, Ashenden (1928) with a suave agent that was an influence on Ian Fleming’s development of the character of James Bond. Maugham considered himself bisexual, and in 1917 married Syrie Wellcome. The Moon and Sixpence, about the life of the French painter, Paul Gauguin, came out in 1919. His travels to the east from 1919-1922 resulted in, among other writings, the short story, “Rain” and a novel in 1925, The Painted Veil.
In 1928 he met Alan Searle who would be a companion for twenty years, and he divorced his wife in 1929. In 1938 he went to India, and some of this experience is recorded in The Razor’s Edge (1944), another big success, about a man on a spiritual quest. During World War II he lived in the United States, a popular figure in Hollywood. His works have frequently been made into films, including “The Moon and Sixpence,” “Rain,” three versions of “The Painted Veil,” two of “The Razor’s Edge,” and three of “Of Human Bondage” the most famous version starring Bette Davis as Mildred.
A millionaire with a villa on the French Riviera that attracted literary figures, Maugham wrote  eleven novels, eight volumes of short stories, sixteen plays, three travel books, and many essays. He traveled, lectured and wrote criticism in his later years. He established the Somerset Maugham Award for young fiction writers.
In 1965, his companion Searle took him to a hospital in Nice where he died of pneumonia , at the age of 91 on December 15. He is known for his realistic observation of ordinary life drama: “The ordinary is the writer’s richest field,” he said in his memoir, The Summing Up (1938).

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