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Biography, work, bibliography.

W(illiam) Somerset Maugham

Born 25th. January, 1874, in Paris, France; died 16th. December, 1965, in Nice.

British novelist and playwright.

Born in the British Embassy in Paris. He spoke French until he was orphaned at the age of eleven.

He went to King's School Canterbury, England.

He read philosophy and literature at Heidelberg, Germany. He is said to have had his first homosexual experience there with the aesthete John Ellingham Brooks.

Somerset Maugham did not speak of his own homosexuality. The Oscar Wilde trials would have affected him like similar men of the age.

He qualified as a surgeon at St Thomas's Hospital, London, and had a year's medical practice in the London slums.

On 26th. October, 1907 his comedy play Lady Frederick opened in London. By 1908 he had four of his plays running simultaneously in London.

In 1914 he first served with the Red Cross in France. He fell in love with Gerald Haxton (1892-1944), a twenty-two-year old from San Francisco who was serving in the same ambulance unit in Flanders. Somerset Maugham's character Tony Paxton in Our Betters (1917) represents Gerald Haxton.

Somerset Maugham was then a British secret agent in Geneva, followed by Petrograd (St Petersburg).

He married Syrie Wellcome and had a daughter. However, during the marriage he spent most of his time travelling abroad with Gerald Haxton. A defence of Syrie Maugham was made by Beverley Nichols in his short book A Case of Human Bondage in 1966.

Gerald Haxton was deported from Britain in 1919 as an undesirable alien. Somerset Maugham and Gerald Haxton went to live on the French Riviera in the villa 'Mauresque'. Somerset Maugham divorced his wife in 1928.

In 1929 he bought a villa on the Côte d'Azur and called it Villa Mauresque. He invited many people to the villa upto 1939, and then again for a number of years after the Second World War. Regular guests included the Gerald Kellys, the Alansons, the Alexander Freres, G. B. (Peter) Stern, the Kenneth Clarks, Garson Kanin and Ruth Gordon, Ian and Ann Fleming, Noël Coward, George Rylands, Beverley Nichols, Godfrey Winn, and Arthur Marshall. Other visitors included Winston Churchill, Lord Beaverbrook, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Cecil Beaton, Jean Cocteau, Marc Chagall, C. P. Snow, Frank Swinnerton, Evelyn Waugh, Diana Cooper, Rebecca West, Rudyard Kipling, Arnold Bennett, and Raymond Mortimer.

He visited Tahiti and the Far East.

He fled to the USA (1940-46) where he became interested in mysticism.

Gerald Haxton died in an alcoholics' ward in a hospital in New York in 1944. Somerset Maugham's character Rowley Flint in Up at the Villa (1941) represents Gerald Haxton.

Somerset Maugham returned to the Mauresque where he lived with Alan Searle.

When Noël Coward's A Song at Twilight was produced in 1966 Punch remarked of the play that 'the story resonates with the life of Somerset Maugham'. The character Sir Hugo Latymer is an elderly, acerbic and acidic novelist who has spent much of his time concealing his homosexual nature. The character Perry Sheldon in the same play is said to modelled on Gerald Haxton.

Noël Coward dedicated his play Point Valaine to Somerset Maugham in 1955, and its character Mortimer Quinn has much in common with Somerset Maugham.

In 1984 the BBC broadcast the radio play Weekend with Willie about Somerset Maugham with David March in the lead role.

The Writer's Digest, November, 1999, lists Somerset Maugham among the 100 Best Writers of the 20th Century. Web site: http://www.writersdigest.com

A picture of Somerset Maugham in 1907 when he was 33 is shown in James Gardiner's "Who's a Pretty Boy Then?, (1996), page 31.


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