W. Somerset Maugham was a celebrated writer of novels and short stories. In addition, he published ten important books of travel, autobiography, criticism, and miscellaneous essays. He was a constant contributor to periodicals, and he furnished prefaces, stories, and chapters to more than two dozen anthologies and books by other writers. Many of his works have been translated into foreign languages.
Maugham’s novels began with a story of London slum life, Liza of Lambeth (1897), and closed with Catalina: A Romance (1948), a love story of no great importance. Of the eighteen novels published between these two, at least five are of major importance: Mrs. Craddock (1902), Of Human Bondage (1915), The Moon and Sixpence (1919), Cakes and Ale (1930), and The Razor’s Edge (1944).
Of the collections of short stories, only the three volumes of The Complete Short Stories (1951) need be mentioned here. The publishing history of the individual stories is extremely intricate. An excellent detailing is provided in Raymond Toole Stott’s Maughamiana: The Writings of W. Somerset Maugham (1950). Stott traces the publishing history of Maugham’s short stories from “Don Sebastian,” which appeared in Cosmopolis magazine in October, 1898, through the publication of “Mr. Know-All” in the April 16, 1949, issue of Everybody’s Weekly. Of special value is Stott’s tracing of the stories that appeared in Nash’s Magazine, Cosmopolitan, Hearst’s International Magazine, and Good Housekeeping from November, 1920, to March, 1947. Maugham’s stories that were written in French and published in three French periodicals receive separate treatment.
Maugham’s travel books include The Land of the Blessed Virgin: Sketches and Impressions in Andalusia (1905), On a Chinese Screen (1922), The Gentleman in the Parlour: A Record of a Journey from Rangoon to Haiphong (1930), and Don Fernando (1935). Literary criticism and autobiography are curiously mixed in The Summing Up (1938) and A Writer’s Notebook (1949), later printed together as The Partial View (1954). The autobiographical Strictly Personal (1941) details Maugham’s flight from France in World War II. The Writer’s Point of View (1951) is a lecture to aspiring writers delivered to the National Book League in London. Other essays and criticism are to be found in The Vagrant Mood: Six Essays (1952), Ten Novels and Their Authors (1954), and Points of View (1958). All these books may be said to be both frank and secretive. In his works, Maugham expresses himself freely on many public and some private subjects, but he guards his innermost privacy carefully.