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The Secret Lives of Somerset Maugham: A Biographyby Selina Hastings
Synopses & Reviews
A Blackstable Boyhood
For much of his long life--he lived to be over ninety--Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) was the most famous writer in the world. He was known everywhere for his superb short stories and for his novels, the immensely acclaimed, Of Human Bondage, becoming one of the most widely read works of fiction of the twentieth century. His books were translated into almost every known tongue, filmed, dramatized, and sold in their millions, bringing
him celebrity and enormous wealth. Wherever he went he was pursued by journalists, eager for information: this extraordinary man seemed to know everyone, from Henry James to Winston Churchill, from Dorothy Parker to D. H. Lawrence. His magnificent villa in the south of France, much photographed and written about, was a byword for luxury and elegance. On the Riviera, as in London and New York, Maugham, always elegantly dressed, looked every inch the conventional English gentleman. And yet conventional he was not. In Maugham's outwardly respectable life there was a great deal he was determined to keep hidden, and in old age, when he was besieged by would-be biographers, he did his utmost to make sure his privacy would remain intact. Evening after evening at the Villa Mauresque, Maugham, assisted by his secretary, went systematically through his papers, throwing every last scrap of personal correspondence onto the fire. He also wrote to his friends asking them to destroy any letters of his in their possession; and he issued strict instructions to his literary executors that no biography should be authorized, no access to his papers be allowed, and all requests for information be firmly refused.
And what were these areas of experience that it was so important to keep concealed? Mainly they were to do with his homosexuality, for Maugham lived in an era when in Britain homosexual practice was against the law. He was twenty-one at the time of the trial of Oscar Wilde in 1895, an event that traumatized a generation of men who were not by nature inclined toward marriage. And although Maugham himself did marry, and indeed fathered a child, his relations with his wife, Syrie, were wretchedly unhappy, even though he never allowed her for long to keep him apart from the great love of his life, a dissolute charmer named Gerald Haxton. Now, nearly half a century after Maugham's death, the details of his long affair with Gerald and the harrowing story of his life with Syrie have come to light. The executors of the Maugham estate in London, the Royal Literary Fund, recently rescinded the clause in his will forbidding access to his correspondence; and a transcript has been uncovered of a long and detailed recording made by his daughter, Liza, of the inside story of her father's private and domestic life. The material has turned out to be richly revealing: Liza, speaking to a close friend, was extremely frank; and ironically, Maugham's request that his letters should be destroyed ensured not only that they were kept but that most were sold for very large sums to American universities.
The story that unfolds is that of a man who after a harrowing and unhappy childhood learned early to live undercover; appropriately, in both world wars he worked for British intelligence, sometimes at considerable risk to his personal safety. He was further distanced by developing at an early age a stammer that made him
Selina Hastings worked at the Daily Telegraph before becoming the literary editor for Harpers & Queen. She is the
Draws on exclusive access to the literary master's private papers and interviews with his daughter to share insights into such topics as his work as a British spy and private homosexuality, in a profile that is complemented by previously unpublished photographs.
He was a brilliant teller of tales, one of the most widely read authors of the twentieth century, and at one time the most famous writer in the world, yet W. Somerset Maugham’s own true story has never been fully told. At last, the fascinating truth is revealed in a landmark biography by the award-winning writer Selina Hastings. Granted unprecedented access to Maugham’s personal correspondence and to newly uncovered interviews with his only child, Hastings portrays the secret loves, betrayals, integrity, and passion that inspired Maugham to create such classics as The Razor’s Edge and Of Human Bondage.
Hastings vividly presents Maugham’s lonely childhood spent with unloving relatives after the death of his parents, a trauma that resulted in shyness, a stammer, and for the rest of his life an urgent need for physical tenderness. Here, too, are his adult triumphs on the stage and page, works that allowed him a glittering social life in which he befriended and sometimes fell out with such luminaries as Dorothy Parker, Charlie Chaplin, D. H. Lawrence, and Winston Churchill.
The Secret Lives of Somerset Maugham portrays in full for the first time Maugham’s disastrous marriage to Syrie Wellcome, a manipulative society woman of dubious morality who trapped Maugham with a pregnancy and an attempted suicide. Hastings also explores Maugham’s many affairs with men, including his great love, Gerald Haxton, an alcoholic charmer and a cad. Maugham’s courageous work in secret intelligence during two world wars is described in fascinating detail—experiences that provided the inspiration for the groundbreaking Ashenden stories. From the West End to Broadway, from China to the South Pacific, Maugham’s restless and remarkably productive life is thrillingly recounted as Hastings uncovers the real stories behind such classics as “Rain,” The Painted Veil, Cakes & Ale, and other well-known tales.
An epic biography of a hugely talented and hugely conflicted man, The Secret Lives of Somerset Maugham is the definitive account of Maugham’s extraordinary life.
Table of Contents
A Blackstable boyhood — At St. Thomas's Hospital — A writer by instinct — Le chat blanc — England's dramatist — Syrie — Code name "Somerville" — Behind The painted veil — A world of veranda and prahu — Separation — The Villa Mauresque — Master Hacky — The teller of tales — An exercise in propaganda — The Bronzino boy — Betrayal.
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