The Secret Lives of Somerset Maugham

Selina Hastings

The Secret Lives of Somerset Maugham

For nearly sixty years Somerset Maugham (1874–1965) was one of the most famous writers in the world, and yet his personal life was largely kept hidden. An enormously successful playwright and the author of over a hundred short stories and twenty-one novels – several of which, Of Human Bondage, Cakes and Ale and The Razor’s Edge, are now established classics – Maugham early became an expert at concealment. Predominantly homosexual, Maugham made a disastrous marriage to Syrie Wellcome, although deeply in love with the charming but dissolute Gerald Haxton. It was partly to escape his wife that Maugham undertook the extensive journeys in the Far East that inspired so many of his memorable short stories. A talented linguist, during both world wars Maugham worked for British Intelligence. In between he moved in literary and theatrical circles in London, New York and Hollywood and entertained lavishly at his luxurious villa in the south of France. Outwardly his life was richly rewarding, but privately he suffered anguish from an unrequited love affair and a shocking final betrayal. Selina Hastings has had access to Maugham’s extensive private correspondence as well as to important family testimony, which sheds a new light on this complex and extraordinary man. 4.4 out of 5 based on 10 reviews
The Secret Lives of Somerset Maugham

Omniscore:

Classification Non-fiction
Genre Biography, Literary Studies & Criticism
Format Hardback
Pages 624
RRP £25.00
Date of Publication September 2009
ISBN 978-0719565540
Publisher John Murray
 

For nearly sixty years Somerset Maugham (1874–1965) was one of the most famous writers in the world, and yet his personal life was largely kept hidden. An enormously successful playwright and the author of over a hundred short stories and twenty-one novels – several of which, Of Human Bondage, Cakes and Ale and The Razor’s Edge, are now established classics – Maugham early became an expert at concealment. Predominantly homosexual, Maugham made a disastrous marriage to Syrie Wellcome, although deeply in love with the charming but dissolute Gerald Haxton. It was partly to escape his wife that Maugham undertook the extensive journeys in the Far East that inspired so many of his memorable short stories. A talented linguist, during both world wars Maugham worked for British Intelligence. In between he moved in literary and theatrical circles in London, New York and Hollywood and entertained lavishly at his luxurious villa in the south of France. Outwardly his life was richly rewarding, but privately he suffered anguish from an unrequited love affair and a shocking final betrayal. Selina Hastings has had access to Maugham’s extensive private correspondence as well as to important family testimony, which sheds a new light on this complex and extraordinary man.

Reviews

The Observer

William Boyd

I read this biography with total fascination... Selina Hastings's great merit as a biographer is that not only does one sense that the scholarly groundwork has been thoroughly achieved but also that the places and people she describes are portrayed with such graphic clarity and assurance. She sets a scene or establishes a personality with great economy and intensity.

13/09/2009

Read Full Review


The Spectator

Juliet Townsend

Somerset Maugham’s reputation and popularity, sky high in his lifetime, went into decline after his death, as he himself foretold. It is now enjoying something of a renaissance, and Selina Hastings’ excellent biography, perceptive, well written and with a happy turn of phrase, should introduce many new readers to the work of this complicated, difficult, loveable, hateable, contradictory character, who, with all his faults, was a prince of story-tellers.

09/09/2009

Read Full Review


Standpoint

Allan Massie

Selina Hastings has done him proud. Her book is well written, continuously interesting, generous and fair. This is unusual among biographies today.

01/09/2009

Read Full Review


The Sunday Telegraph

Richard Davenport-Hines

She depicts the author, spy and host with the cool playful elegance, imaginative sympathy and occasional barbs that one expects from this most accomplished biographer. But beyond her account of a strenuous working life, she provides a searing emotional history of a man whose feelings have been misread as remote, false, shrivelled, calloused... Hastings’s book cannot be bettered.

20/09/2009

Read Full Review


The Daily Telegraph

Nicholas Shakespeare

Hastings efficiently unpacks his personas in her search for a consistent thread. Quite rightly, she wishes to rehabilitate him, not merely as a writer whose reputation has unjustly declined, championing such underrated novels as Mrs Craddock and The Narrow Corner, but as a realist rather than the cynic he is often judged to be... [She] does not cram in all that we know about Maugham and her book is the better for it. If there is a flaw, it is a fault of the genre that makes her feel bound to interrupt her narrative with summaries of Maugham’s plots.

05/09/2009

Read Full Review


The Financial Times

Jackie Wullschlager

Hastings convinces, entertains and rescues Maugham from the stereotype of flashy expatriate. She cannot, however, revive a literary reputation that had already plummeted before his death... What remains is a brilliant evocation of the Côte d’Azur in its heyday and fading glory, and a sense, too, that after half a century of intellectual predominance, literary biography – now reduced to such second-division subjects as Maugham – has itself had its day.

14/09/2009

Read Full Review


The Guardian

Ian Sansom

It's a heartbreaking story which has been told before. Why it should be told again now has, of course, much to do with our insatiable hunger for celebrity and scandal, and little to do with Maugham's continuing relevance, or popularity, or, indeed, readability. The life enthrals; the work has dulled. Hastings makes the necessary grand claim - "Somerset Maugham, the great teller of tales". But no tale Maugham ever told was greater than his life. Wherein lies the tragedy.

19/09/2009

Read Full Review


The Independent on Sunday

Sholto Byrnes

...on top of his trashed literary reputation, he is also generally considered to have been a selfish, cruel, degenerate and odious character... This is a completely one-sided, even wicked, portrait of the man, as Selina Hastings points out in her admirable new book. Yes, he was voraciously bisexual (not such a sin in our less judgmental times, one might think, but a disposition that carried great risk in his lifetime) and sometimes thoughtless, cutting and cruel. But this courageous, daring writer, whose realistic depictions of sex and the ease of the fall into degradation shocked contemporary reviewers, was capable of great friendship and patience.

27/09/2009

Read Full Review


The Literary Review

Diana Athill

All this is chronicled brilliantly by Selina Hastings, whose research, empathy and style cannot be faulted... Towards its end this book does begin to stagger under its own weight. It remains, however, an impressively perceptive and often moving account of an extraordinarily interesting man, and an astonishing reminder of the dizzy heights to which literary success could once carry a writer.

01/09/2009

Read Full Review


The Sunday Times

Robert Harris

Hers may be the most favourably disposed biographical approach to a generally acknowledged monster since David Irving wrote Hitler’s War. That does not mean it is a bad book: far from it (nor was Irving’s, for that matter). But the odd effect of her partiality towards Maugham is to make one dislike him even more, whereas Ted Morgan’s 1980 hatchet job had the opposite effect.

06/09/2009

Read Full Review


©2013 The Omnivore