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 for the British Secret Service in Switzerland and Russia, where he was to prevent, if possible, the Bolshevik Revolution. During and after the war, he traveled extensively in Hawaii, Samoa, Tahiti, China, Malaysia, Indochina, Australia, the West Indies, various Central and South American countries, and the United States. In 1928, Maugham settled on the French Riviera, buying Villa Mauresque. Maugham died in Nice, France, on December 16, 1965.