Monumentally engaging account of W. Somerset Maugham’s fiercely protected personal life (1874–1965).
On the surface, Maugham’s life was fulfilling and successful. His many plays, novels and stories earned him great fame and wealth, and his marriage to the socialite Syrie Wellcome provided him with a posh London home complete with lavish dinner parties with fashionable guests. Additionally, his handsome income allowed him the freedom to travel the world, including French Polynesia and the Far East, providing him with some of the most robust literary inspiration of his career. Maugham’s emotional well-being, however, faced constant strife. From the death of his parents during childhood, Maugham was insecure and shy and suffered a debilitating stammer. He was also secretly homosexual. Literary biographer Hastings (Rosamond Lehmann, 2002, etc.), who had extensive access to Maugham’s surviving letters and interviews with his only child, spares no detail in describing these other facets of the famous writer’s existence. She writes with great perception about Syrie’s duplicity and selfishness, the sham marriage providing Maugham with both the image of respectability (which “had always been of the utmost importance to him”) but also much misery. It was his tumultuous relationship with the vivacious Gerald Haxton, with whom he shared his life for almost 30 years, that was Maugham’s true passion—maintaining a pretense with Syrie was a tiresome, and expensive, chore. Haxton accompanied Maugham on his far-flung adventures, times that would remain some of the most cherished of his life. Hastings also recounts Maugham’s two stints with British Intelligence, where he thrilled at secreting information and disseminating propaganda, episodes that would inspire Maugham’s much-admired Ashenden stories. All of the drama, intrigue, heartbreak and joy that marked Maugham’s life is reconstructed by the author in enthralling, novelistic prose.
A powerful, revealing and authoritative depiction of one the 20th century’s most notorious literary figures.