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Somerset Maughamby Jeffrey Meyers
"Maugham's success was, in effect, in writing for people who did not have a clue about English as a medium for either tragedy or comedy....But the old boy did show generosity and patience, and set up a prize in his name that encouraged many young writers, among them Kingsley Amis. Despite his exile and his increasingly distraught public and private life, Maugham eventually received an honor from the Crown — but it was for 'services to literature,' rather than for literature itself, and this distinction represents all the difference in the world." Christopher Hitchens, The Atlantic Monthly (read the entire Atlantic Monthly review)
Synopses & Reviews
He was an instinctive and magnificent storyteller, with a talent also for success. Of Human Bondage was his masterpiece; The Razors Edge his most spectacular best-seller. He lived nearly ninety-two years, wrote seventy-eight books (forty million sold worldwide) and once had four plays running in London simultaneously. “Rain,” reflecting his fascination with the South Seas, is among the most widely read stories of our time.
In World War I, he performed expertly and courageously as ambulance driver and as secret agent in Samoa and Russia. Eventually he knew “everybody”: Britains, Hollywoods and literatures royalty. He was seen as formidable, a cynic and the very emblem of worldliness. He wrote constantly about social and sexual entanglements but, in a closeted age, was increasingly secretive about his own–loving men, wanting to love women.
To the extraordinary life of Somerset Maugham and his development as a writer, Jeffrey Meyers brings all his gifts as biographer: of Hemingway (“simply the best book there is on Hemingway” –J. F. Powers), of Orwell (“moving and edifying” –Paul Theroux) and of D. H. Lawrence (“probably the best biography of him” –Times Literary Supplement).
Telling Maughams story, from his sad, orphaned childhood in the small English coastal town of Whitstable, through his Paris years and his wandering years, to his luxurious, indeed glamorous, old age at the Villa Mauresque on Cap Ferrat, Meyers reveals much that is new–about Maughams days at Heidelberg and on Capri, his medical training, his wartime espionage, his quarrels with D. H. Lawrence and Edmund Wilson, his friendship with Noël Coward, and about his longtime lover, Gerald Haxton. He writes of Maughams encounters with Winston Churchill, E. M. Forster, the Sitwells, T. S. Eliot, Bernard Berenson and the Windsors; of his affairs with four attractive and accomplished women; of his torturous ten-year marriage to one of them–Syrie, who became a celebrated decorator–and his wish to marry the actress Sue Jones, gentle, loving and promiscuous, who was his model for Rosie Driffield in Cakes and Ale.
Meyers describes Joseph Conrads influence on Maugham and Maughams on George Orwell and V. S. Naipaul. He provides a fascinating portrait of a brilliant and complex man whose talent has held and dazzled a cultivated audience from the late Victorian era to the twenty-first century.
"[C]onsidered as a portrait of the man and of his work, Meyers's Maugham is a good likeness. Sympathetic, yet objective, Meyers avoids special pleading and makes a case for Maugham that is so sensible and fair-minded that almost any reasonable reader or critic should be able to accept it. Or at the very least, go back and read some of those excellent short stories and well-crafted novels." Merle Rubin, The Christian Science Monitor
"Meyers...continues his work as a prolific and respected biographer with this intimate portrait of a talented, multifaceted, and seemingly inexhaustible writer....[E]ngrossing and very informative." Library Journal
"The long-lived and highly prolific Maugham...finds a sympathetic biographer in the similarly productive Meyers." Publishers Weekly
Book News Annotation:
A frequent biographer, Meyers plies his trade on British writer Maugham (1874-1965). Among the little known details revealed are his days at Hiedelberg and on Capri, his medical training, his wartime espionage, his quarrels and friendships, and his love affairs and committed relationships.
Annotation ©2004 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Filmography: p. 398-400. Includes bibliographical references (p. 395-397) and index.
This is a revealing portrait of a man whose teasing combination of passion and tenderness, coldness and cynicism was stamped on his life and work.
About the Author
Jeffrey Meyers grew up in New York City, graduated from the University of Michigan and received his doctorate from Berkeley. He is the recipient of a Fulbright fellowship and a grant from the Guggenheim Foundation. He is the author of forty-three books, among them biographies of Katherine Mansfield, Joseph Conrad and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Meyers lives with his wife in Berkeley, California.
Table of Contents
Paris and king's school, 1874-1889 — Heidelberg and medicine, 1890-1897 — Liza of Lambeth and Spain, 1897-1899 — Struggling author, 1900-1904 — Bohemia and fame, 1905-1908 — Sue Jones and Syrie, 1909-1915 — The great war and Gerald Haxton, 1914-1916 — Secret agent, 1916-1919 — Malaya and China, 1919-1921 — Dangerous journeys, dangerous friends, 1921-1925 — Villa mauresque, 1926-1928 — "Stately homo," 1928-1929 — Reputations: cakes and ale, 1930-1933 — India and eternal youth, 1934-1938 — War propaganda and Hollywood, 1939-1941 — Yemassee and Haxton's death, 1942-1944 — Alan Searle and Art, 1945-1946 — The Lizard of oz, 1947-1950 — Royalty and honors, 1951-1955 — The old party, 1956-1961 — Family values, 1962-1965 — Afterlife.
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