Biography (Critical Survey of Drama, Second Revised Edition)
William Somerset Maugham was born in the British Embassy in Paris, which ensured his British citizenship. He passed his early life in France and, although he was staunchly English, he never lost his attachment to France, living and vacationing there whenever he could and, in the end, dying in his longtime home, the Villa Mauresque on Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat.
Maugham was born into a “legal” family: His father, Robert Ormond Maugham, was a solicitor for the British Embassy in Paris; his grandfather was reputedly one of the founders of the Law Society in England; and Maugham’s brother Frederick Herbert Maugham, first viscount Maugham of Hartfield, was an outstanding lawyer, politician, and writer. His mother, Edith Mary Snell Maugham, a woman of great beauty and sensitivity, was socialite of some note in Paris. Her death at forty-one (January 13, 1882) was a shock from which Maugham never fully recovered. Her portrait stood at his bedside for the rest of his life. Edith Maugham bore six sons in all. Among those who survived to adulthood, Henry Neville Maugham was an unsuccessful writer who committed suicide in 1904, while Charles Ormond Maugham went into the law and eventually headed the family law firm in Paris.
In 1884, Maugham was uprooted from his Parisian home and was sent to live with his uncle, the Reverend Henry MacDonald Maugham, vicar of Whitstable, Kent, and his aristocratic German wife. While his older brothers were romping their...
(The entire section is 1480 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of this article. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!
Biography (Critical Survey of Short Fiction, Second Revised Edition)
When William Somerset Maugham was eight, his mother died, and his father, a solicitor for the British Embassy in Paris, died two years later. Shy and speaking little English, Maugham was sent to Whitstable in Kent to live with an uncle, the Reverend Henry MacDonald Maugham, and his German-born wife, and thence almost immediately to King’s School, Canterbury. These wretched and unhappy years were later detailed in Maugham’s first masterpiece, the novel Of Human Bondage (1915). A stammer which stayed with him for life seems to have originated about this time. At seventeen, Maugham went to Heidelberg and attended lectures at the university. His first play, Schiffbrüchig (Marriages Are Made in Heaven), was written during this year abroad and first performed in Berlin in 1902.
Returning to London, he began the study of medicine at St. Thomas’ Hospital, where the misery of the nearby Lambeth slums profoundly impressed him. He took his medical degree in 1897, the same year Liza of Lambeth, his first novel, was published, then abandoned medicine. By 1908, Maugham had an unprecedented four plays running simultaneously in London, and by 1911, he had become successful enough to buy a fashionable house in Mayfair.
In 1915, he married Syrie Barnardo Wellcome. Divorced in 1927, they had one daughter, Liza, who became Lady Glendevon. During World War I, Maugham served as a medical officer in France and as an agent...
(The entire section is 293 words.)
Biography (Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition)
William Somerset Maugham, son of an English solicitor, was born in the British embassy in Paris and spent his early childhood in France, learning French as his first language. Following the early death of both parents, Maugham went at age ten to England to live with his uncle, the Reverend Henry Maugham, Vicar of Whitstable, and his German-born wife. The rigid routine and disciplined family life of the Whitstable rectory contrasted with the casual, carefree existence and close warmth that Maugham had known in France. He was enrolled in the King’s School, Canterbury, where he spent several unhappy years. A permanent stammer that developed during this period of his life destroyed any possibility of following the profession of his father and two of his brothers. Instead of enrolling in a university, Maugham chose to travel abroad to Germany, where at Heidelberg he saw Henrik Ibsen’s dramas and attended lectures by Kuno Fischer on the philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer. Returning to London, he enrolled in the medical school at St. Thomas’s Hospital, where he received his M.D. in 1897.
Maugham’s stronger interests, however, were literary and aesthetic, and when his first novel, Liza of Lambeth, achieved a modest success, he resolved to enter upon a career as a writer. None of the novels that Maugham wrote during the following decade repeated the success of Liza of Lambeth, yet he achieved sudden and unexpected acclaim through a series...
(The entire section is 381 words.)
Biography (Critical Survey of Mystery & Detective Fiction, Revised Edition)
William Somerset Maugham, the fourth son of an English solicitor, was born in the British Embassy in Paris on January 25, 1874. He spent his early childhood in France, but following the deaths of his parents he went to England to live with an uncle, the Reverend Henry Maugham, vicar of Whitstable. In a nearby boarding school, King’s School, Canterbury, Maugham found that the bitterness of his childhood only increased. A permanent stammer that developed at the time prevented his becoming a lawyer like his father and two brothers. Instead of entering an English university after his schooling, he traveled to Heidelberg, where he learned German, attended lectures by Kuno Fischer on the philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer, and saw the dramas of Henrik Ibsen. On his return to England, he enrolled in the medical school at St. Thomas Hospital in London.
Although Maugham received his doctor of medicine degree in 1897, he found that his interest in writing overshadowed his desire to become a practicing physician. With the publication of Liza of Lambeth (1897), a naturalistic novel, he resolved to devote his career to writing. Although none of the numerous novels he wrote during the next decade approached the success of Liza of Lambeth, Maugham was to become one of the most prolific and successful English authors. He achieved sudden and unexpected fame with drama, producing numerous comedies of manners for the London stage. In 1915, Maugham...
(The entire section is 464 words.)
Biography (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
William Somerset Maugham (mawm) was born in the British Embassy in Paris, France, on January 25, 1874, and was therefore a British subject. French was his first language, however, and he spent much of his life in France. His father, Robert Ormond Maugham, an attorney whose firm, Maugham and Sewell, was located in Paris, was married to Edith Mary Snell Maugham, twenty-one years his junior.
Willie, as Maugham was familiarly called, was the family’s fourth son and was reared virtually as an only child. He was six years younger than his next youngest brother Henry Neville, who, with the other two brothers, Frederic Herbert (born in 1866) and Charles Ormond (born in 1865), was sent to the Dover School in England before Willie knew them well.
When Maugham was eight, his mother, suffering from tuberculosis, died a week after bearing another son, who also died. Two and a half years later, Robert Maugham succumbed to cancer, leaving Maugham an orphan. The boy was sent to England to live with his uncle, a stolid, humorless clergyman, in Kent. He attended the junior annex of King’s School in Canterbury until he was sixteen. Leaving King’s School in 1891, Maugham spent an academic year in Germany, where he enrolled in Heidelberg University to study philosophy and literature. It was there that he had his first homosexual encounters and began to...
(The entire section is 985 words.)
Biography (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
W. Somerset Maugham was a highly competent dramatist who succeeded best in his fiction after he had learned to apply the devices he had used successfully in drama to other genres. His novels prior to Of Human Bondage lacked the dramatic tension and thematic intensity of such works as that autobiographical novel and of such later novels as The Moon and Sixpence, Cakes and Ale, and The Razor’s Edge. If sophisticated literary scholars found his work disappointing, the general readers whom he defined as his audience read his novels and short stories with considerable appreciation and enthusiasm. In their eyes, he was a highly successful author who entertained them genially and who, in novels like those mentioned in the preceding paragraph, caused them to think.
(The entire section is 126 words.)
Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
William Somerset Maugham (mawm) was among England’s most versatile, prolific, and successful authors of the twentieth century. He was born in the British embassy in Paris on January 25, 1874, the fourth son of a British solicitor and his socialite wife. By age ten he had suffered the loss of both parents and was placed under the guardianship of his uncle, the Reverend Henry Macdonald Maugham, vicar of Whitstable, a childless man in his fifties with a German-born wife. At the lonely vicarage Maugham experienced an unhappy childhood; his only solace was found in reading his uncle’s books. Enrolled in the nearby King’s School, Canterbury, Maugham experienced further unhappiness despite his academic success. A permanent stammer which developed at this time made him unfit for the legal profession of his father and two older brothers.
After completing the sixth form at Canterbury, Maugham chose travel over attendance at a university. At Heidelberg, he came under the ways of modernism in the form of Henrik Ibsen’s dramas and Arthur Schopenhauer’s philosophy. Returning to London, he enrolled in the medical school at St. Thomas’ Hospital, receiving his M.D. in 1897.
The unexpected success of his short, naturalistic novel Liza of Lambeth encouraged Maugham to change his career choice to writing, and, as a consequence, he never...
(The entire section is 812 words.)
IntroductionHollywood loves W. Somerset Maugham. More than the works of most other twentieth-century writers, Maugham’s plays, novels, and short stories have been adapted into films. In part, this was attributable to his enormous output, but it is even more closely tied to his enduring popularity. That popularity and the lucrative financial benefits that it brought had a negative impact on Maugham’s literary reputation. A writer who was too often written off as well liked rather than well respected, Maugham frequent joked about his own apparent inferiority. Yet, despite his modesty, Maugham created a body of work characterized by incredible range. While he was known for fluffy tales like Theatre (which was adapted into the 2004 film Being Julia), his dark, late-career novel The Razor’s Edge proved Maugham was an author of substance.
- Although of British descent, Maugham was born in Paris. To prevent Maugham from being drafted into the military under French law, Maugham’s father arranged for his son to be born on British Embassy grounds.
- Despite his gift with language on the page, Maugham suffered from a severe stutter throughout his life.
- Maugham was one of the “Literary Ambulance Drivers” of World War I. The moniker was a slang term for the unusually high number of literary greats (such as Ernest Hemingway and E. E. Cummings) who served as ambulance drivers during the war.
- Maugham briefly did intelligence work at the end of the First World War. The written account of his experiences was highly influential on Ian Fleming, creator of James Bond.
- For half a decade, Maugham studied medicine. Though the experience would continue to influence his writing for the rest of his life, it was particularly crucial to his first and highly successful novel, Liza of Lambeth.
All Resources by Category
W(illiam) Somerset Maugham Criticism (Vol. 1)
W(illiam) Somerset Maugham Criticism (Vol. 11)
W(illiam) Somerset Maugham Criticism (Vol. 15)
W. Somerset Of Human Bondage Maugham Criticism
An Official Position Summary - W. Somerset Maugham
Cakes and Ale Character Analysis
Cakes and Ale Summary - W. Somerset Maugham
Liza of Lambeth Summary - W. Somerset Maugham
Of Human Bondage Character Analysis
Of Human Bondage Summary - W. Somerset Maugham
Rain Summary - W. Somerset Maugham
The Alien Corn Summary - W. Somerset Maugham
The Circle Character Analysis
The Circle Summary - W. Somerset Maugham
The Moon and Sixpence Character Analysis
The Moon and Sixpence Summary - W. Somerset Maugham
The Outstation Summary - W. Somerset Maugham
The Razor’s Edge Summary - W. Somerset Maugham
The Summing Up Summary - W. Somerset Maugham
Cakes and Ale Review - W. Somerset Maugham
Of Human Bondage Review - W. Somerset Maugham
Somerset Maugham Review - Jeffrey Meyers
The Moon and Sixpence Review - W. Somerset Maugham
The Razor’s Edge Review - W. Somerset Maugham
Cakes and Ale; or, The Skeleton in the Cupboard Summary / Study Guide
For Services Rendered Summary and Study Guide - W. Somerset Maugham
Of Human Bondage Study Guide (quickNotes)
Rain Summary / Study Guide
Red Summary / Study Guide
The Fall of Edward Barnard Summary and Study Guide - W. Somerset Maugham
The Moon and Sixpence Summary / Study Guide
The Razor's Edge Study Guide (eNotes)
William Somerset Maugham was born at the British Embassy in Paris on January 25, 1874. His mother died when he was eight and his father, an English lawyer, died when Maugham was ten. Maugham was sent to England to live with his uncle, a clergyman, and his aunt in Whitstable. He attended King’s School in Canterbury, then spent over a year in Germany. From 1892 to 1897, Maugham attended medical school at St. Thomas’s Hospital in London, receiving an M. D. degree. However, he had no desire to practice medicine, wanting instead to be a writer. His first novel, Liza of Lambeth, was published in 1897.
The next ten years constituted Maugham’s literary apprenticeship. He published four more novels and a collection of short stories, Orientations: Short Stories (1899). He also wrote plays, but in that genre he had no initial success. But in 1907 his play Lady Frederick ran for over a year in London. It was the first of twenty-nine of his plays that would be produced over the next twenty-six years.
From 1914 to 1915, at the outset of World War I, Maugham served with a British ambulance unit and with military intelligence in Geneva. In 1915, he published what many regard as his finest novel, the autobiographical Of Human Bondage, which has twice been made into a movie. The following year, he visited the South Sea islands, which were to inspire several short stories, and in 1917 he was chief agent in Russia for the British...
(The entire section is 482 words.)
Biography (Drama for Students)
William Somerset Maugham was born on January 25, 1874, in Paris, France. Maugham’s father, Robert, worked for the British Embassy as a solicitor. After the deaths of both of his parents within two years of each other, the eleven year-old Maugham was sent to Kent, England, and raised by his uncle, a reverend in a local vicarage, and his wife. Maugham had a difficult time at King’s School in Canterbury due to a persistent stammer and his small stature, which made him painfully shy. In 1890, at sixteen, he began studying philosophy at the University of Heidelberg.
After returning to Kent a few years later, he started writing but decided to go into medicine to pay the bills. He trained for six years at St. Thomas’s Hospital in London where he worked as a midwife for working-class mothers. After he earned his medical degree in 1897, he gave up the profession and turned to writing full-time, gaining confidence from his initial literary success. His first novel, Liza of Lambeth, which reflected his work as a midwife, was published that same year along with short stories that appeared in Punch and other journals. He continued writing after he moved to Paris but lived in poverty there until his literary reputation began to grow after the production of his first play, Lady Frederick, in 1907, and four other plays the following year.
After Oscar Wilde’s infamous trial in 1895, Maugham became much more secretive about his own...
(The entire section is 408 words.)
Biography (Novels for Students)
Playwright, short story writer, and novelist William Somerset Maugham was one of Britain's finest twentieth-century writers. He was born in the British Embassy in Paris on January 25, 1874. His father, a lawyer who was serving in the British Embassy, died when Maugham was ten; his mother, who had a keen interest in art and literature, died when Maugham was eight. After his father's death, Maugham was sent to live with his uncle in England.
Maugham was educated at King's School, in Canterbury, and then attended medical school at St. Thomas's Hospital in London, from which he received an M.D. degree in 1897. But Maugham never intended to practice medicine. Instead, he wanted to be a writer, and he wrote constantly. His first novel was Liza of Lambeth (1897), which was based on his medical experience. This was followed within a few years by two more novels and Maugham's first collection of short stories: Orientations: Short Stories (1899).
Maugham had long held ambitions to be a playwright, and in 1907 his play, Lady Frederick, ran for over year at the Royal Court Theatre in London. Over the next quarter of a century, Maugham was an extremely popular dramatist. He had twenty-nine plays produced, including The Circle (1921), Our Betters (1923) and The Constant Wife (1926).
In 1911, Maugham began writing what is usually considered his finest novel, Of Human Bondage (1915). His literary...
(The entire section is 461 words.)