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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 pe 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.


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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 pe 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.

30 review for The Secret Lives of Somerset Maugham: A Biography

  1. 4 out of 5

    Tim Pendry

    This is how biography should be written and I unhesitatingly recommend it - to the extent that I will now be seeking out Selina Hastings' account of Evelyn Waugh (she has also written biographies of Nancy Mitford and Rosamond Lehmann). The achievement is all the more remarkable because Maugham, perfectly in character, systematically destroyed his own private papers and encouraged his correspondents to do the same, so Hastings has had to construct his life out of a paucity of material, much of whi This is how biography should be written and I unhesitatingly recommend it - to the extent that I will now be seeking out Selina Hastings' account of Evelyn Waugh (she has also written biographies of Nancy Mitford and Rosamond Lehmann). The achievement is all the more remarkable because Maugham, perfectly in character, systematically destroyed his own private papers and encouraged his correspondents to do the same, so Hastings has had to construct his life out of a paucity of material, much of which she must count as gossip. Like all the best biographies, this is not just about a person but about the culture and environment in which that person flourished. In Maugham's case, a central interest is in how a homosexual from the English middle classes managed to survive and prosper in an era when sexuality was being increasingly suppressed, often because British imperial morality had to be imposed to justify rule over 'lesser people'. Maugham is not always a nice person but he is basically a decent one, whose skill (at the root of his creativity) was his ability to distance himself from the mores of his culture, observe them detachedly and then reproduce them in narratives that could be played back to its members. That detachment had its autistic moments. The paradox that his was a type of mind that could learn its way into convention and conformity, often with snobbism and some ritual, but perhaps did not always understand that the subjects of his investigation might not take kindly to his exposure. The comically suburban English middle classes of Malaya and a number of individuals found to their cost that Maugham, for all his grace and quiet charm, was treating them as mere raw material for sometimes coruscating insights into their own idiosyncrasies and delusions. This biography covers some ninety years of history from the 1880s to the 1960s so no review can do justice to the issues raised but there are some themes that can be traced throughout the story. Maugham's homosexuality is clearly one of these, with insights into a fairly free and open gay culture amongst the prosperous and their young acquisitions, largely conducted overseas - in Italy and France or on foreign trips outside the prying eyes of convention. There is a genuine 'gay marriage' (avant la lettre) with Gerald Haxton, whose death has a devastating effect on Maugham, while his 'secretary' of his final decades, Alan Searle, comes across as an insecure camp 'poison dwarf' of a type not unfamiliar from the literature. But there is also the tensions of a bourgeois family life with issues of inheritance, hatreds, rivalry and misunderstandings that would be 'normal' in any English family with some property - the murders investigated by Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot relied on such. The work takes second place in the book to the life. Hastings is perhaps a little embarrassed by the fact that, though he was immensely popular, becoming one of the richest literary figures of his era (a super star like GB Shaw), his work is not managing to 'last'. The truth is that he was a very fine story teller but one relating not so much to eternal human verities as the contingent verities at the high point of a crumbling empire. The British Empire in the middle of the twentieth century was at its very largest but it was also over-stretched and reliant on exporting increasingly dim losers from minor public schools to administer it. The analogies with its successor empire today do not need to be laboured. Whether his extensive body of drama (where he was a key figure in the first three decades of the London and New York stage) or his short stories that took up the story of empire where Conrad and Kipling left off, these were tales about a world which has not survived. Maugham will thus always be of great historical interest and there are some 'eternal verities' (especially about snobbery and cruelty) to be taken from the work but he knew what he was and rarely tried to claim to be greater than he was. The rest of the literary world treated him with courteous private disdain and perhaps that attitude, which festered as a form of literary elitism throughout the second half of the last century, is precisely why 'literature' has degenerated into a cult of self-reference for a minority. The problem was that Maugham did have a vision of the world that was a little more advanced - he always tended to what would be called the centre-left today and was deeply anti-war despite his own bravery on occasions - but whenever he tried to do an HG Wells or GB Shaw, his efforts failed. In his novels, fine breezy narrative and exquisite characterisation might be held back by a block of writing where he tried a dash of didacticism or literary experimentation but the reader would always be grateful when these moments passed. Having said this, Hastings does an excellent job of rehabilitating and explaining him. Nearly all his significant books are still in print as paperbacks (in the UK) and are still enjoyed for what they are - excellent storytelling written subtly but at the level of the literate middle class. There is much other interesting material in this book - about the interconnections between the transatlantic theatrical community, literary society and Hollywood and about the 'gay' component to the machine producing popular culture. The internationalism of Maugham's world is also an eye-opener. He was half-French by upbringing (though entirely English in other respects), he travelled extensively and he shuttled between the US, England and the South of France because borders did not then matter to the creative and wealthy. It makes one realise the extent to which Anglo-American hegemony (to which France was aligned) represented a freedom of movement that only really closed up with the second world war. All in all, a superb biography, clearly written, astute and honest when dealing with gossip and with the man and his weaknesses. I am not sure I would have sought out the company of this bright and irascible man but I would have recognised him as fundamentally decent, better than his peers. There are good photographs, a full index and short and judicious accounts of his works as they appeared. Fortunately, this really is a biography and not criticism masked by a life story. For this alone, Ms. Hastings should be thanked.

  2. 5 out of 5

    John

    To put my cards on the table: I've never liked Maugham's fiction and I've never liked Maugham, or what I knew of him, so it's a very good question as to why I would read a 640-page biography of him. In truth, I didn't think I would make it through the first fifty pages, but the reviews made it tempting to at least give the book a try. I'm glad I did. Selina Hastings tart, clear, intelligent prose drove me on through misery, scandal, and a strong dose of depravity with a feeling of constant aston To put my cards on the table: I've never liked Maugham's fiction and I've never liked Maugham, or what I knew of him, so it's a very good question as to why I would read a 640-page biography of him. In truth, I didn't think I would make it through the first fifty pages, but the reviews made it tempting to at least give the book a try. I'm glad I did. Selina Hastings tart, clear, intelligent prose drove me on through misery, scandal, and a strong dose of depravity with a feeling of constant astonishment and toward what can only be called a tentative feeling of (sigh) empathy. Maugham was extremely complex and in these pages the different facets of his personality, often at war with each other, end up creating something much more interesting than the sum of their parts. I would be lying if I pretended that the endless scandal of his life (almost entirely successfully hushed up while he was alive) wasn't a large part of my pleasure of the book — but the world it portrays of gay life and literary life in Edwardian England (and onwards — Maugham lived until the last month of 1965), the astonishment of his success once his reputation took fire (as a playwright, novelist, and above all a short story writer), and the sheer strangeness of it (he rode out most of WWII living in a cottage in North Carolina, where he swapped recipes with Eleanor Roosevelt) — well, the book is simply an amazement ... and an extremely well written one as well. I may well have to actually read him.

  3. 4 out of 5

    LenaRibka

    Kindle edition 19,82€????!!!! Are you kidding me???!!! I need my "shock" koala! No way I'll buy it for this price. And I would like to read this book :( Kindle price update: € 24,32 Kindle edition 19,82€????!!!! Are you kidding me???!!! I need my "shock" koala! No way I'll buy it for this price. And I would like to read this book :( Kindle price update: € 24,32

  4. 5 out of 5

    Cynthia

    I’ve long been a Maugham fan so I looked forward to reading this book. I wasn’t disappointed. Hastings includes an amazing level of detail and a nice balance between points about his writing and facts about his personal life. Her source notes, bibliography, and index are about 75 pages and that’s without the notes. I find footnotes much more helpful than having to flip to the back. “The Secret Lives” reads like a novel though with lots of specificity. One of the best things was reading Maugham’s I’ve long been a Maugham fan so I looked forward to reading this book. I wasn’t disappointed. Hastings includes an amazing level of detail and a nice balance between points about his writing and facts about his personal life. Her source notes, bibliography, and index are about 75 pages and that’s without the notes. I find footnotes much more helpful than having to flip to the back. “The Secret Lives” reads like a novel though with lots of specificity. One of the best things was reading Maugham’s own thoughts on happenings set against a friend’s take on the same incident or perception. It gave a more complete personality study. It was fun to puzzle the relationship between facts and novel characters, speculating how they tied in. This isn’t a homage nor is it an expose. Hastings hit a wonderful balance in that regard. What a life Maugham led. He seems to have known all of English society and people in the arts as well as prominent Americans. Though he was an introvert he loved playing host to his friends but he was strict about blocking out time to write and read. He lost both his parents a few years apart when he was a preteen, he was born in France to a French mother and French was his first language, he stuttered, he had tuberculosis, he worked undercover for Britain in both wars, he spent most of World War II in the American south, he was openly gay around his friends, he spoke many European languages, he had one daughter from an unpleasant marriage, he made lots of money especially from his plays. I enjoyed reading about his travels with his lover through the years and how they worked together to gather expatriot’s stories. Many of these stories ended up in his writings. Hastings also included pictures of Maugham and his friends notably one with H.G. Wells and Winston Churchill on an English lawn. Sadly, at the end of his life, he was betrayed by some key people. I could almost understand this if they did it to get his money but they seemed to have done it mostly for a whiff of power. I enjoyed this book immensely; it was well written and well researched.

  5. 4 out of 5

    D

    An interesting biography of a fascinating person who lived a long interesting life in interesting times. Interesting; I should re-read Maugham, now that I know more about the background.

  6. 4 out of 5

    James Hartley

    Brilliant, entertaining, insightful read, this, from the first page to last. Not much more to add - if you're thinking about it, get it and read it. Brilliant, entertaining, insightful read, this, from the first page to last. Not much more to add - if you're thinking about it, get it and read it.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Shane

    Known as the “greatest writer of the 20th century” Somerset Maugham indeed had many lives, public and secret, and this book focuses on both aspects of this complex yet disciplined man. A shy boy, orphaned by the age of 10, with a perennial stammer, Maugham spent his early years in France and was more French than English when he arrived in England to be the ward of his dull, pastor uncle and wife, to lead an unhappy life that was to be the grist for his most famous novel, Of Human Bondage. A brigh Known as the “greatest writer of the 20th century” Somerset Maugham indeed had many lives, public and secret, and this book focuses on both aspects of this complex yet disciplined man. A shy boy, orphaned by the age of 10, with a perennial stammer, Maugham spent his early years in France and was more French than English when he arrived in England to be the ward of his dull, pastor uncle and wife, to lead an unhappy life that was to be the grist for his most famous novel, Of Human Bondage. A bright student, he graduated from medical school but never practised, as he gave himself to writing. Success was hard-earned for many of his early novels, stories and plays were rejected until Lady Frederick launched him into the theatre limelight where he was to bask in, earn most of his fortune, and write over 30 plays during an equal amount of years. The novels and stories were to follow, culled from his life and from his travels in the South Pacific, the Orient, South America and the Caribbean. Maugham recognized his bi-sexuality from his teen years—he was more homo than hetero— but given the “illegality” of the former at the time, he had to live a duplicitous life. Unlike his more restricted peer, E.M. Forster, Maugham indulged his sexuality, often skirting the edges of danger to his reputation. It was fashionable then for men to marry women for respectability and then indulge their sexuality with men and boys. And Maugham being from the professional class, these transgressions were deemed socially acceptable behaviour, especially within the arts world, though legally they were not. He served in both world wars even though he was too old for active duty even in WWI. In the first war he was a spy couriering information between field operatives and HQ; in the second conflagration, and a world-famous author and playwright by then, he was used as an “influencer” to get America to join the war. Despite his mounting fame, wealth and lavish lifestyle on the Riviera, in London and Hollywood, Maugham’s private life was barren and tense, for the people he was nearest to let him down. His marriage to Syrie, a union he entered into because he had to do “the right thing” by her, was loveless and ended in acrimony, leading to a bitter divorce and alimony for nearly 30 years. Syrie, a London socialite, went onto develop her own design career by leveraging Maugham’s fame. His long relationship with Gerald Hexton, a drunken playboy, ended in many embarrassing situations before Hexton succumbed to alcoholic excess in his early fifties. Other personal assistants like Alan Searle and Robin Maugham (his nephew), who were both homosexual, ended up costing Maugham money and his reputation. And his only daughter, Liza, ended up launching a lawsuit against him over her inheritance. He was a reserved man—some say caused by his stammer—who observed more than talked, who had rigid habits (he wrote daily from 9 a.m. to 12noon, which was also his greatest refuge from people), he disliked the Hollywood and the theatre societies although he had to associate and profit from them, he was reluctant to proposition his many male sexual conquests and had Hexton do his dirty work. He was also a lucky man, for success begat success. His short story “Rain,” for instance, earned him over a million dollars in royalties when it was converted into a play, three movies, a musical and a ballet. And yet the literary establishment shunned him, as he was deemed a popular writer, catering to low-brow tastes, “the best of the second-rate” as he was known. And Maugham too exploited the zeitgeist, focussing his plays on relationships between husbands and wives, and his stories and novels on characters and situations that had been relayed to him by others, or observed by him first-hand during his travels. You never told Maugham the story of your life, for you would soon appear in one of his books. And he gets full marks for being prolific: he could churn out a three-act play in four weeks. As age and memory loss advanced, his minders Alan and Robin forced him to write an autobiography that proved his undoing. Looking Back would have been better dubbed “Look Back in Anger” for Maugham broke the English Gentleman’s code by venting his anger on his ex-wife and on all those who had hurt him. His fans deserted him and members of his club failed to acknowledge him when he put in an appearance. Alan Searle profited from the royalties. Maugham died at the age of 91, demented, angry and violent—a sad end to a gifted man. This biography is a gripping read, for the narrative flows swiftly. This is a book about a literary life and not about the literary process of a famous writer. Many literary personalities of the last century make cameo appearances, among them: Noel Coward, Graham Greene, Nelson Doubleday, the Woolfs, Hugh Walpole, Edith Wharton, Henry James, D.H. Lawrence among others. It is therefore not just a story about Maugham but of the entire literary firmament that emerged before, between, and after the world wars. One wonders why Maugham was destined for such literary greatness. I find it in his mantra: “A writer’s work is more important than his happiness.” Maugham lived his mantra with single-minded purpose despite the many distractions that were placed in his path, and he reaped what he sowed, for better or worse.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Patrick Santana

    A pleasure to read, through and through. There’s so much in a life that we only get a glancing sense about when reading a writer’s works. This was the perfect companion for any Maugham fan. And also an eye-opening portrait of the private world of a rich gay man in his strange moment of the 20th century.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Sandhya

    Given that Maugham reveals so much of himself in his works and has given such a vivid description of his childhood, his views on art, love, marriage, life and sundry things, there's only so much more that a biography on him can reveal. Selina Hastings' work therefore has nothing drastically new to say. But the book picks up with her description of Maugham's stunning professional ascent as a playwright after several years of struggle. She throws light on each of his works, the circumstances surro Given that Maugham reveals so much of himself in his works and has given such a vivid description of his childhood, his views on art, love, marriage, life and sundry things, there's only so much more that a biography on him can reveal. Selina Hastings' work therefore has nothing drastically new to say. But the book picks up with her description of Maugham's stunning professional ascent as a playwright after several years of struggle. She throws light on each of his works, the circumstances surrounding them and the public and critical response they elicited. Selina describes the plot line of most of Maugham's major works with a brief analysis and is spot on most of the time. None of her reading is particularly brillaint or insightful, but it is clearly from someone who has enjoyed studying Maugham. She of course focusses amply on the author's private life which is what stayed under covers. Most of this is revealed through the letters that Maugham wrote, some of them being to his male lovers. The author, the biography says, distroyed all his private correspondences and even urged his friends to do the same. But his friends were no fools and opportunistically preserved the letters knowing they would fetch them handsome returns. Maugham was a biosexual, and appears to have had many affairs but thankfully Selina maintains a balance, never going overboard with salacious personal information. This despite the title of the book suggesting otherwise. This naturally lends the biography more credibility and if nothing more, it is an excellent chronicle of his life and work. Her authorial voice is fluid and elegant but also a wee bit too restrained, so that at times the biography tends to drag. Yet, Selina has one admirable quality. Much like Maugham, Selina is able to see things from multiple persepectives and understands the compulsions under which characters act. Though Maugham disliked his wife, Syrie, and hated acknowledging her, terming his marriage as a very insignificant detail in his life, Selina is able to view Syrie's predicament and takes an empathetic view of her situation. Maugham who enters the marriage never fully convinced about it soon realises his mistake. He becomes eager than ever to take up long travels with his male companion, Gerald, staying away from home for extended periods. Syrie by now is in love with Maugham and feels despondent and lonely. This results in ugly, loud scenes that unsettles and infuriates the author. The marriage ends in spite of resistance from Syrie and Maugham till the end resents having to shell out big amounts in allimony. This despite the fact that he was otherwise quite generous with money throughout his life. They have a girl child, Lisa and though Maugham is fond of her, he is never particularly close. Selina also suggets that the author might have preferred to have a son. Selina similarly also gives a rounded perspective of the two men in Maugham's life, Gerald Hastings and Alan Searle. more...http://sandyi.blogspot.in/2012/09/the...

  10. 4 out of 5

    Barbara

    I thought this was an excellent biography. In addition to describing his personal life, it had a lot about his writing. It put each of his plays, novels and short stories into the context of his life, describing both plots and critical reception of them. There was quite a bit about his relationships with publishers and producers as well. Much of the book detailed his marriage to Syrie Wellcome and his relationships with Gerald Haxton and Alan Searle, among others. He certainly didn't have a happy I thought this was an excellent biography. In addition to describing his personal life, it had a lot about his writing. It put each of his plays, novels and short stories into the context of his life, describing both plots and critical reception of them. There was quite a bit about his relationships with publishers and producers as well. Much of the book detailed his marriage to Syrie Wellcome and his relationships with Gerald Haxton and Alan Searle, among others. He certainly didn't have a happy personal life. I kept wondering how different his life might have been if his parents hadn't died when he was young, if his uncle and aunt had been warmer people, if his homosexuality had been accepted and free of stigma. I was fascinated by his wartime exploits (which I knew a little about from reading Ashenden) and his experiences as a traveller. Also quite interested to discover his importance as a dramatist. It was a surprise to read of his connection with Charles Frohman, who we last heard of during our group read about the Lusitania. His work ethic was quite impressive. Even when he was one of the wealthiest writers alive and could have retired, he set aside time each morning to work. It was difficult reading about his final years and the betrayal of Alan Searle and estrangement from his daughter. He didn't seem like much of a parent, and his treatment of his long-time lovers was hardly exemplary either. I don't think I would have liked him as a human being. And yet---his writing reveals him to have been a keen observer of people and their foibles. I've really enjoyed everything of his that I've read so far. Next on my Maugham list--The Painted Veil, Theatre, and The Summing Up.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    On the whole, I thought this was a thorough and well-researched biography. Some of the source material the author used was quite obscure, which only goes to show how much effort went into the writing. Also, for the most part, she struck a good balance between appreciating why Maugham was important, but being aware of his flaws. My biggest complaint would be that too much time was spent on salacious details and dissecting personal drama. I am not a fan of the tabloids, and don't enjoy seeing tablo On the whole, I thought this was a thorough and well-researched biography. Some of the source material the author used was quite obscure, which only goes to show how much effort went into the writing. Also, for the most part, she struck a good balance between appreciating why Maugham was important, but being aware of his flaws. My biggest complaint would be that too much time was spent on salacious details and dissecting personal drama. I am not a fan of the tabloids, and don't enjoy seeing tabloid-esque writing in a serious work. In particular, the section on the end of Maugham's life came off as far too lurid. I'm not saying that such things should be entirely ignored, but there is no need to linger on every unpleasant detail. Also, I feel like discussion of some of Maugham's writings got shortchanged in favor of melodrama.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan

    I work at Villa Mauresque and on finding out that the late great English writer was one of the former owners decided to read this book. The book is very well written. I would only wish for more photos of the house as there is a front view and afew by the pool. All has been changed but the stone steps leading down to the pool turn left and its the kitchen . When I walk along the pool edge my mind goes back to what it must have been like in the hayday when Fleming , Churchill , Wallis Simpson were I work at Villa Mauresque and on finding out that the late great English writer was one of the former owners decided to read this book. The book is very well written. I would only wish for more photos of the house as there is a front view and afew by the pool. All has been changed but the stone steps leading down to the pool turn left and its the kitchen . When I walk along the pool edge my mind goes back to what it must have been like in the hayday when Fleming , Churchill , Wallis Simpson were guests , I can almost hear them! Monets on the walls.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Nadia Zeemeeuw

    I was quite cautious about picking this book up. “Theatre” was my favorite book in my teens, I still could easily repeat the whole pieces of it by heart. Now I feel like to reread some other books written by Maugham. So frankly I was afraid to be disappointed with him after reading his biography. And I relieved to admit - I am still find Somerset Maugham an extraordinary person. The biography is well researched, written with respect and honesty. A little too long to my liking though and in parts I was quite cautious about picking this book up. “Theatre” was my favorite book in my teens, I still could easily repeat the whole pieces of it by heart. Now I feel like to reread some other books written by Maugham. So frankly I was afraid to be disappointed with him after reading his biography. And I relieved to admit - I am still find Somerset Maugham an extraordinary person. The biography is well researched, written with respect and honesty. A little too long to my liking though and in parts tedious but definitely worth to check it out if you would like to know more about Maugham.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Shawn Thrasher

    This quote from a campy Hollywood movie sums up both the life of Somerset Maugham and perhaps this book: "You know how bitchy f**s can be." (that's Valley of the Dolls in case you didn't know). Somerset Maugham was one bitchy f**. Maugham the writer was damn fine. I've enjoyed all of his novels to varying degrees of Goodreads stars, and think his short stories run the gamut from amazing to vaguely and uncomfortably racist. Maugham the man, at least the Hastings portrait of Maugham, was really This quote from a campy Hollywood movie sums up both the life of Somerset Maugham and perhaps this book: "You know how bitchy f**s can be." (that's Valley of the Dolls in case you didn't know). Somerset Maugham was one bitchy f**. Maugham the writer was damn fine. I've enjoyed all of his novels to varying degrees of Goodreads stars, and think his short stories run the gamut from amazing to vaguely and uncomfortably racist. Maugham the man, at least the Hastings portrait of Maugham, was really bitchy. He had a sharp, sharp tongue - like a Hollywood Squares middle square sort of tongue. I bet if Maugham were living today, he'd definitely be on the White Party circuit. He'd live in or near West Hollywood (I'm going to guess near rather than in, because he can have a tonier house in the Hollywood Hills). He would be impossibly tan. He would never eat anything, own lots of tank tops, and work out a lot. His Grindr profile would say "No fats, no femmes." Hastings gives us a front row seat to his life (prolific in writing, but messy). She also gives us a front two seat to what man's story of being gay in the first half of the 20th century, and how that could make anyone bitchy as all hell. Not always a pleasant existence - but not exactly unpleasant either. Most people - including Maugham's (much detested) wife seemed to understand and know that he was queer. When Gerald, his partner of many years, died, he received condolences from around the world. He had plenty of sex too. PLENTY OF SEX. He was an attractive man for most of his life; he was also rich. That equals getting laid. A lot. Maugham was a sexual beast. Yet, being gay back in the day was incredibly difficult. You were always under the threat of arrest and exposure and blackmail and scandal. Everything you did and said had to be guarded, kept in the dark, hidden away. Tough times. I did not come away from this book liking Somerset Maugham very much though, but I think Hastings did a smash up job of using Maugham's difficult and secret lives to explain why he was so unlikable. Her book was gossipy - but I don't feel like it was particularly cruel about it. I learned a lot about Maugham's life, how he wrote, why he wrote what he wrote, his inspirations. Much about his lovers and love affairs and his adventures (he was a spy during World War I).

  15. 5 out of 5

    Ali

    I have actually only read about 5 Somerset Maugham novels - (I have 2 more on tbr) - but I bought this large biography, as I had read 2 other brilliant literary biography's's by Selina Hastings. This is also excellent, Selina Hastings manages to bring her subject faithfully to life, and I came to really love Williie Maugham. Some of the people he was constantly surrounded by were not quite so lovable. Maugham's extreme loathing of his wife Syrie - often seems out of all proportion, and yet I fou I have actually only read about 5 Somerset Maugham novels - (I have 2 more on tbr) - but I bought this large biography, as I had read 2 other brilliant literary biography's's by Selina Hastings. This is also excellent, Selina Hastings manages to bring her subject faithfully to life, and I came to really love Williie Maugham. Some of the people he was constantly surrounded by were not quite so lovable. Maugham's extreme loathing of his wife Syrie - often seems out of all proportion, and yet I found myself able to sympathise with him a bit even over his terrible failure as a husband and father. His activities with British intelligence during the two wars is fascinating as was his extensive travels. Maugham rubbed shoulders with many famous names over his long life, and included in this biography are fascinating anecdotes, and excerts from letters that well demonstrate the circles in which he moved and the affection with which he was held by most. Alongside Maugham and his friends we meet, Noel Coward, The Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Hugh Walpole, and Winson Churchill. The book comes to a rather sad conclusion however, as Maugham in his nineties, his mind somewhat gone, was dreadfully betrayed by someone who had been close to him for years, this betrayal ruined Maugham's last few years, and destroyed his relationship with his only daughter.

  16. 4 out of 5

    David Waldron

    I have long admired the novels and short stories of Somerset Maugham. I think few people now realize that Maugham was one of the world's most successful and celebrated writers for much of the first half of the 20th century. This biography details the successes he enjoyed, first as a dramatist, and later as a writer of novels and short stories and even a screenwriter. It also details his celebrity. The book provides a gripping account of Maugham's personal life. This includes the childhood trauma I have long admired the novels and short stories of Somerset Maugham. I think few people now realize that Maugham was one of the world's most successful and celebrated writers for much of the first half of the 20th century. This biography details the successes he enjoyed, first as a dramatist, and later as a writer of novels and short stories and even a screenwriter. It also details his celebrity. The book provides a gripping account of Maugham's personal life. This includes the childhood traumas that profoundly influenced him, the trying years when he honed his skills and sought an audience, the pinnacle of his success and his encounters with the giants of the 20th century, and the sad bitterness of his final years. He lived an extraordinary life and it is well chronicled here--and the author doesn't flinch from the sordid elements of that life. Recommended for anyone with even a mild interest in Maugham's life.

  17. 4 out of 5

    AndreaL

    Ever since I started reading Maugham's work, I became curious about his private life, about the kind of person he must have been, the life he lead, the people he loved and so on.I enjoyed reading this book -mostly because I like Maugham as a writer and I wanted to know as much as possible about his personal life.I recommend it, to others who are fond of his work:) Ever since I started reading Maugham's work, I became curious about his private life, about the kind of person he must have been, the life he lead, the people he loved and so on.I enjoyed reading this book -mostly because I like Maugham as a writer and I wanted to know as much as possible about his personal life.I recommend it, to others who are fond of his work:)

  18. 4 out of 5

    Edward Hardie

    I’ve been reading biographies lately, but I bought this book after hearing a radio play based on Maugham’s life and thinking it couldn’t have been as bad as that. I’ve read the book now and if anything it was much worse, especially towards the end. To start with, I mistakenly thought that Maugham made his name through stories and novels like Of Human Bondage and Cakes and Ale. In fact, he made his name and serious money by writing stage plays. Over a period of thirty years he wrote twenty-seven a I’ve been reading biographies lately, but I bought this book after hearing a radio play based on Maugham’s life and thinking it couldn’t have been as bad as that. I’ve read the book now and if anything it was much worse, especially towards the end. To start with, I mistakenly thought that Maugham made his name through stories and novels like Of Human Bondage and Cakes and Ale. In fact, he made his name and serious money by writing stage plays. Over a period of thirty years he wrote twenty-seven and once had four playing at once. Although bi-sexual, he wanted to marry a woman called Sue Jones but ended up marrying another woman entirely. Known as Syrie, her real name was Gwendoline Maud, a daughter of Dr Barnardo, of children’s home fame. According to the author of this book, the marriage was doomed from the start. Here’s why. Syrie was sued for divorce by her first husband, who cited Maugham as co-respondent, not a term used now, but it meant that Syrie had been unfaithful to her first husband with Maugham. This was true, and Maugham may have felt an obligation towards her. But Hastings suggests a second reason why Maugham might have agreed to marry her. Syrie knew the names of several of his male partners and he wanted her to keep that information to herself. There is no suggestion that she used this as leverage, but the possibility might have worried him. And there was further legal action involving Syrie. She had genuine talent as an interior designer but was subject to law suits for passing off fake furniture as original. She also sold the writing desk he’d used for twenty years without consulting him first. Not a thoughtful move. Towards the end of his life, matters were complicated by an employee and ex-partner, Alan Searle, who did everything he could to drive a wedge between Maugham and his daughter Liza. This led to legal action when Maugham wrote in his memoir Looking Back, that Liza was not his daughter but the daughter of Syrie’s first husband so that he could disinherit her and adopt Searle in her place. Hastings goes into considerable detail about the manipulation Searle engaged in to bring this about and it isn’t pleasant reading. Fortunately, justice prevailed and the case was thrown out. Searle’s motive was clear. Despite many reassurances from Maugham, he believed that Liza would inherit everything and he would be left destitute. Yet when Maugham was losing it at the end and Searle couldn’t cope, he actually turned to Syrie for help. You couldn’t make it up, but it happened. As for Maugham the writer, he could be very cutting about other authors when the mood took him. One of the clearest examples is in Cakes and Ale, where the character Alroy Kear is an undisguised take-off of another novelist. Hugh Walpole was successful at the time but went to unusual lengths to ensure favourable reviews. Though it was obvious to all, Maugham continued to deny that the character in his book was actually Walpole. Maugham had little imagination so he traveled a lot, using the people he met as material. He was aware of this himself and is quoted on the subject by Hastings. ‘I have had small power of imagination. I have taken living people and put them into the situations, tragic or comic, that their characters suggested. I might well say that they invented their own stories. I have been incapable of those great, sustained flights that carry the author on broad pinions into a celestial sphere. My fancy, never very strong, has been hampered by my sense of probability.’ By the time I finished this biography I had learnt a lot but felt that the price of fame and fortune can be far too high.

  19. 4 out of 5

    VENKATRAMAN C K

    Somerset Maugham always fascinated me. Decades back in school we had his great story “The Ant and the Grasshopper “, the irony of life depicted in it escaped me but kept intriguing me. I read all his short stories couple of years back and then all his brilliant novels . Nobody wrote so insightfully about human nature. His characters were three dimensional and leapt at you out from the pages . Naturally, I was very interested in Maugham’s biography and this book by Ms Hastings is brilliant . Maugh Somerset Maugham always fascinated me. Decades back in school we had his great story “The Ant and the Grasshopper “, the irony of life depicted in it escaped me but kept intriguing me. I read all his short stories couple of years back and then all his brilliant novels . Nobody wrote so insightfully about human nature. His characters were three dimensional and leapt at you out from the pages . Naturally, I was very interested in Maugham’s biography and this book by Ms Hastings is brilliant . Maugham personality comes across as a yin and yang mixture .. he was arrogant as well as humble, a snob as well as a socialist , money minded as well as generous , a closet gay and married , lecherous as well as gallant , consorted with the rich and famous as well as the commoners, an atheist who kept seeking spirituality in Indian religion .A deeply lonely man who lived on his terms but bowed to conventions ... in short , a saint and a sinner!! It is indeed great to know the facts and stories behind his books and plays which were based on real people and incidents . Truly one of the greatest writers of English literature who was rewarded with riches and popularity on both sides of the Atlantic but not given honours by his fraternity or Govt because of his sexual orientation . His work will never go out of relevance since human nature has not changed since dawn of civilisation .

  20. 4 out of 5

    J David

    The Secret Lives of Somerset Maugham: A Biography by Selina Hastings is a compelling and comprehensive review of Maugham and his works. I learned to my surprise that Maugham first made it big as a dramatist. I never heard of his plays before and they aren't staged today but they are what made him very rich. They were often mounted in the West End and in Broadway. His was a very unhappy childhood as he lost his mother very young and was farmed out to a clerical uncle in remote England who was any The Secret Lives of Somerset Maugham: A Biography by Selina Hastings is a compelling and comprehensive review of Maugham and his works. I learned to my surprise that Maugham first made it big as a dramatist. I never heard of his plays before and they aren't staged today but they are what made him very rich. They were often mounted in the West End and in Broadway. His was a very unhappy childhood as he lost his mother very young and was farmed out to a clerical uncle in remote England who was anything but fun. It was a lonely childhood, but his adulthood was in many ways not much better. He was unhappy, made a terrible marriage, began writing fiction and became a success at it.His fiction is best known for his short stories which are indeed wonderful. He reportedly made $1 million from his short story RAIN which is truly a masterpiece that I have read several times. He felt forced to conceal his homosexual life which only led to unhappiness. He lived to a ripe old age and his final years were awful. The book will incite you to read more of his extensive works. The book is definitely worth a detour.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Lewis Woolston

    By far my favorite writer, Maugham's live has always fascinated me, this admirable biography fills in all the gaps in my knowledge and then some. I knew that large chunks of his masterpiece "Of Human Bondage" were biographical but it wasn't until i read this book that i realised how much Maugham used his own life. I knew that Maugham was Homosexual or at least Bisexual and this book goes into great detail about his casual flings and long term relationships. The love between Maugham and Gerald Ha By far my favorite writer, Maugham's live has always fascinated me, this admirable biography fills in all the gaps in my knowledge and then some. I knew that large chunks of his masterpiece "Of Human Bondage" were biographical but it wasn't until i read this book that i realised how much Maugham used his own life. I knew that Maugham was Homosexual or at least Bisexual and this book goes into great detail about his casual flings and long term relationships. The love between Maugham and Gerald Haxton is covered great detail as is Maugham's grief at Haxton's death. The saddest and most poignant note was Maugham's grief for his beloved Mother, a loss he never got over, and the resulting loneliness and emotional neediness from which he suffered throughout his life. Also terrible is the accounts of the supposedly loving family and friends who plotted and schemed for their advantage especially as his death grew closer. All in all a thorough and well written biography of one of the greatest writers in the English language.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Sull

    Despite SM's scary, probably demented, final years, this was overall an excellent read. Well written, well organized (chronologically), & nicely balanced retelling of this strange, immensely popular story-teller's astonishing life. The book definitely details a lost world, though; SM was born in 1874 & died 1965, his life paralleling the long downward slide of the once-worldwide British Empire, a favorite backdrop for his later writing. But into SM's lifespan, after a sad beginning of a childhoo Despite SM's scary, probably demented, final years, this was overall an excellent read. Well written, well organized (chronologically), & nicely balanced retelling of this strange, immensely popular story-teller's astonishing life. The book definitely details a lost world, though; SM was born in 1874 & died 1965, his life paralleling the long downward slide of the once-worldwide British Empire, a favorite backdrop for his later writing. But into SM's lifespan, after a sad beginning of a childhood, he managed to packed many adventures in amongst at least 4 careers: medical doctor, playwright, wartime intelligence operative, & novelist. Engrossing.

  23. 4 out of 5

    David Silva

    A big fan of Maugham's short stories, I have read several biographies. I enjoyed this one even though it seemed a bit of a rehash of other author's work. I have two complaints. First, I would have liked to read a little more detail about Maugham's advanced years. It seemed like he wrote his last book and was senile with little leading up to it. My other concern was that she basically gives away entire plots of some of his more popular novels. Cakes and Ale and Of Human Bondage. I plan to read th A big fan of Maugham's short stories, I have read several biographies. I enjoyed this one even though it seemed a bit of a rehash of other author's work. I have two complaints. First, I would have liked to read a little more detail about Maugham's advanced years. It seemed like he wrote his last book and was senile with little leading up to it. My other concern was that she basically gives away entire plots of some of his more popular novels. Cakes and Ale and Of Human Bondage. I plan to read those next and will try to forget this authors details of the plots. Oh and I thought Maugham's second secretary/lover Alan Searle did not get a very fair appraisal. The analysis of his behavior seemed a little bit mean spirited. Overall a good read, especially regarding Maugham's successful younger years.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Kathrin Peters

    I agree with all readers who have already said that this is a model biography. It is thoroughly researched but never at the expense of readability. Apart from a sensitive analysis of Maugham himself (warts and all), it provides interesting glimpses of a wide range of supporting characters. And to help understanding, it weaves in crucial background information on world history in the late 19th and early/mid 20th century.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Sergey Selyutin

    Well-written and carefully researched, this biography shows (or at least tries to show) the real warts-and-all Maugham. I found the man's obsession with sex with young boys disturbing in the extreme (and Selina Hastings does her best not to disclose the actual age of the boys). Still, I love Maugham's books and going to read all his short-stories and novels written after 1916. Well-written and carefully researched, this biography shows (or at least tries to show) the real warts-and-all Maugham. I found the man's obsession with sex with young boys disturbing in the extreme (and Selina Hastings does her best not to disclose the actual age of the boys). Still, I love Maugham's books and going to read all his short-stories and novels written after 1916.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Adrian Danescu

    By far, one of the most thrilling biographies I have ever read!

  27. 5 out of 5

    Erin

    It tooks me weeks but I did it.....review to come.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Rhonda

    A well told biography about the great story teller.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Robin Bulmer

    An excellent companion when re-reading his books, particularly his short stories and travel books. I found this book a very good read and on occasions could not put it down. I had collected and read most of his books when I was younger and am now re reading them in my old age.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Austen to Zafón

    I've read Maugham's memoirs and his nephew Robin Maugham's (annoying & spiteful) bio of him, but Hastings had unprecedented access to materials that no one has before. The result is a thorough and sympathetic but clear picture of the man who was the best-selling British author of his time; celebrated, wealthy, and intensely private. When Maugham was in his twenties, Oscar Wilde was prosecuted and imprisoned for his homosexuality and that colored Maugham's whole life. Although many people close t I've read Maugham's memoirs and his nephew Robin Maugham's (annoying & spiteful) bio of him, but Hastings had unprecedented access to materials that no one has before. The result is a thorough and sympathetic but clear picture of the man who was the best-selling British author of his time; celebrated, wealthy, and intensely private. When Maugham was in his twenties, Oscar Wilde was prosecuted and imprisoned for his homosexuality and that colored Maugham's whole life. Although many people close t him knew he was gay, he kept a low profile and when he was older, he burned most of his correspondence and asked friends to do the same. Of course, many didn't and the result is that Hastings can tell us quite a lot about his sexual life. But that isn't what interested me about this biography. When I was in college in the 80's, studying for an English degree, Maugham was never mentioned. In fact, I think he's still left out of the English canon of literature. I had read several of his novels in grade school because they were on my grandfather's shelf and I read anything I could get my hands on, and he continues to be one of my favorite authors. I was so surprised that such a popular (in his time) and high quality writer was ignored that I wrote an essay defending him for my university's English department newsletter. It wasn't because he was gay. It wasn't because he was often classed as a misogynist (which I don't think he was). It wasn't because his prose or topics were dated. Many of the so-called dead white male authors in the canon meet one or more of these criteria. I think this biography finally answered the question for me. For most of his life, he was hailed as a success. His plays and stories were best-sellers and made lots of money. He was highly social and had many friends. But toward the end of his life, Maugham was surrounded by people who wanted his money and his approbation, and many manipulated him for those things. He began to lash out, sometimes indiscriminately, through his fiction and in other ways. At some point, public opinion turned against him. And I think that distaste, and in some cases misunderstanding, persisted. Thankfully, he seems to be enjoying a small resurgence of popularity. I hope many people read his books. My favorites are The Razor's Edge, Of Human Bondage, and the Ashenden stories. A few things I learned were new to me. First, I knew that his long-time companion Gerald Haxton was mad, bad and dangerous to know, but I don't think I quite understood just what a flawed and mean person he was. Same with Alan Searle. What an a**hole! And Syrie, Maugham's wife; I knew the bad side of her (who wouldn't with his fiction and non-fiction portrayals of her in his books!), but Hastings is fair and balanced in her portrayal of Syrie and I understood and sympathized with her more. All in all, it was a quick read for me, even at 640 pages, and I plan to buy my own copy to add to my two shelves of Maugham books.

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