Partner Harry Philips, Gerald Haxton, Alan Searle, Wife Syrie Maugham
17 Great James Street, WC1N, London, UK
Maugham Court, Whitstable CT5 4RR, Regno Unito
The King's School, 25 The Precincts, Canterbury CT1 2ES, Regno Unito
Heidelberg University, Grabengasse 1, 69117 Heidelberg, Germania
St Thomas' Hospital, Westminster Bridge Rd, Lambeth, London SE1 7EH, Regno Unito
11 Vincent Square, Westminster, London SW1P 2LX, Regno Unito
Calle de Guzmán el Bueno, 84, 28003 Madrid, Spagna
3 Rue Victor Considérant, 75014 Paris, Francia
27 Cheyne Walk, Chelsea, London SW3 5HH, Regno Unito
23 Mount St, Mayfair, London W1K 2RP, Regno Unito
Shaw House, 6 Chesterfield St, Mayfair, London W1J 5JQ, Regno Unito
2 Wyndham Pl, Marylebone, London W1H 2PP, Regno Unito
The Langham, London, 1C Portland Pl, Regent St, W1B, UK
43 Bryanston Square, Marylebone, London W1H, Regno Unito
Villa La Mauresque, 52 Boulevard du Général de Gaulle, 06230 Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, Francia
Coliseum Theatre, Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman, City Centre, 50100 Kuala Lumpur, Wilayah Persekutuan Kuala Lumpur, Malesia
Canterbury Cathedral, 11 The Precincts, Canterbury CT1 2EH, Regno Unito
William Somerset Maugham, CH (25 January 1874 – 16 December 1965), better known as W. Somerset Maugham, was a British playwright, novelist and short story writer. He was among the most popular writers of his era and reputedly the highest-paid author during the 1930s.
After both his parents died before he was 10, Maugham was raised by a paternal uncle who was emotionally cold. In 1890, while a student at Heidelberg, he met and had a brief love-affair with John Ellingham Brooks. Not wanting to become a lawyer like other men in his family, Maugham eventually trained and qualified as a physician. The initial run of his first novel, Liza of Lambeth (1897), sold out so rapidly that Maugham gave up medicine to write full-time.
In 1895, three young Englishmen, who may have felt the need for a change of air after Oscar Wilde’s trial and sentencing in May and were certainly attracted by Capri’s reputation for sexual permissiveness – which had been enhanced in 1891 when sexual relations between men were legalised in Italy – arrived independently in the island – William Somerset Maugham, Edward Frederick Benson and John Ellingham Brooks. Brooks remained almost permanently in the island until his death in 1929; Maugham and Benson returned many times in later years.
Somerset Maugham was open about his homosexuality until Wilde’s conviction, which happened when Maugham was twenty-one. Bryan Connon describes the effects of the affair on Maugham: Like his gay contemporaries, he was forced to create a façade of overt masculinity, and be on the alert for police activity. He even grew a moustache because it was well known that Wilde liked his young lovers to be clean-shaven. [Perhaps more significantly, Wilde was himself clean-shaven.] Sporting facial hair was therefore tantamount to a disguise and a statement to the public that the wearer was not queer. As he grew older he became a chameleon personality whose characteristics depended on the company he was in. But he was always haunted by the fate of Oscar Wilde and fear of public disgrace, although he continued to take risks when sexual need overcame caution.
by George Platt Lynes
Coliseum Theatre, Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman, City Centre, 50100 Kuala Lumpur, Wilayah Persekutuan Kuala Lumpur, Malesia
Frederic Raphael, too, considers the long-term effects of the Wilde case on how Maugham lived his life as a homosexual man: The long shadow of Oscar Wilde lay across his life. Though he was to entertain many homosexuals at the Villa Mauresque [on Cap Ferrat, between Nice and Monte Carlo], which he bought in 1928, he never made any suggestion, however impersonal, that the brutal English laws against homosexual practices should be repealed or altered. Reformers solicited his help in vain. He had attended a dinner, during the days of Wilde’s disgrace, in obstinate honour of the most scintillating wit of his time, but he never broke his silence over the love that dared not speak its name.
Maugham had become weary of keeping up his end when summoned to endless dinners in Mayfair and to weekends at the country houses of the rich and powerful. He longed for a more Bohemian life in the city where he'd grown up and had always associated with the Eden of his early childhood. In February 1905 he went to Paris with the twenty-four-year-old Harry Philips—who'd been to Shrewsbury School and left Oxford after a term at Keble—as his secretary, companion and lover. Douglas Goldring called the young Philips: quite the most dazzling figure for charm, good looks, and brilliant wit that I had ever encountered? They rented a tiny fifth-floor flat, close to the lion de Belfort monument (now the Denfert-Rochereau Metro Station) and with a view of Montparnasse Cemetery. In July and August 1905 Somerset Maugham was back in Capri with Harry Philips. They stayed at the Villa Valentino, where James Talmage White’s son, Alberto, had just started a pensione, which he called ‘The White House’.
In 1913 Maugham was in Capri with his friend, the portrait-painter Gerald Kelly. The outbreak of war had no immediate effect on Capri. Italy was neutral, and foreigners, whatever their nationality, could come and go as they pleased. Maugham and Kelly saw no reason to change their plans for a summer holiday in the island, until one day a telegram arrived from Mrs Syrie Wellcome, a married woman with whom Maugham was having an affair, to say that she was in Rome and on her way to Capri. Brooks and Benson were horrified at the prospect of having a woman in the house, and Maugham wired back immediately telling her not to come, since he was about to leave. She ignored his message and arrived. A few days later all except Brooks returned to England.
During the First World War he served with the Red Cross and in the ambulance corps, before being recruited in 1916 into the British Secret Intelligence Service, for which he worked in Switzerland and Russia before the October Revolution of 1917. During and after the war, he travelled in India and Southeast Asia; these experiences were reflected in later short stories and novels.
By 1914, Maugham was famous, with 10 plays produced and 10 novels published. Too old to enlist when the First World War broke out, he served in France as a member of the British Red Cross's so-called "Literary Ambulance Drivers", a group of some 24 well-known writers, including the Americans John Dos Passos, E. E. Cummings, and Ernest Hemingway.
During this time he met Frederick Gerald Haxton, a young San Franciscan, who became his companion and lover until Haxton's death in 1944. Throughout this period, Maugham continued to write. He proofread Of Human Bondage at a location near Dunkirk during a lull in his ambulance duties.
Of Human Bondage (1915) initially was criticized in both England and the United States; the New York World described the romantic obsession of the protagonist Philip Carey as "the sentimental servitude of a poor fool". The influential American novelist and critic Theodore Dreiser rescued the novel, referring to it as a work of genius and comparing it to a Beethoven symphony. His review gave the book a lift, and it has never been out of print since.
Maugham indicates in his foreword that he derived the title from a passage in Baruch Spinoza's Ethics:
Of Human Bondage is considered to have many autobiographical elements. Maugham gave Philip Carey a club foot (rather than his stammer); the vicar of Blackstable appears derived from the vicar of Whitstable; and Carey is a medic. Maugham insisted the book was more invention than fact. The close relationship between fictional and non-fictional became Maugham's trademark, despite the legal requirement to state that "the characters in [this or that publication] are entirely imaginary". He wrote in 1938: "Fact and fiction are so intermingled in my work that now, looking back on it, I can hardly distinguish one from the other."
Maugham entered into a relationship with Syrie Wellcome, the wife of Henry Wellcome, an American-born English pharmaceutical magnate. They had a daughter named Mary Elizabeth Maugham (1915–1998). Henry Wellcome sued his wife for divorce, naming Maugham as co-respondent.
In 1916, Maugham travelled to the Pacific to research his novel The Moon and Sixpence, based on the life of Paul Gauguin. This was the first of his journeys through the late-Imperial world of the 1920s and 1930s which inspired his novels. He became known as a writer who portrayed the last days of colonialism in India, Southeast Asia, China and the Pacific, although the books on which this reputation rests represent only a fraction of his output. On this and all subsequent journeys, he was accompanied by Haxton, whom he regarded as indispensable to his success as a writer. Maugham was painfully shy, and Haxton the extrovert gathered human material which the author converted to fiction.
In May 1917, following the decree absolute, Syrie Wellcome and Maugham were married. Syrie Maugham became a noted interior decorator who in the 1920s popularized "the all-white room". Their daughter was familiarly called Liza and her surname was changed to Maugham.
The marriage was unhappy, and the couple separated. Maugham thereafter lived in the French Riviera with his partner Gerald Haxton until Haxton's death in 1944, after which he lived with Alan Searle until his own death in 1965.
Somerset Maugham spent most of his life in exile in the south of France, of course in part because he liked the place, but largely because his American lover Gerald Haxton had been declared an ‘undesirable alien’ in Britain. In 1915, on leave in London from active service in France, Haxton had been arrested and charged with ‘gross indecency’, but not convicted. When a hotel off the Strand was subjected to a routine military police raid in search of deserters, Haxton had been found in bed with a man called John Lindsell. Both men were represented, in the Old Bailey on 7 December 1915, by eminent lawyers, presumably found (with the help of his lawyer brother Freddie, destined to become Lord Chancellor) and paid by Somerset Maugham. According to subsequent rumour, Maugham himself had been arrested as well but used his influence to have his name removed from the details of the charge. In later years whenever Maugham travelled to London, he had to go on his own; Haxton, poor thing, was left to languish on the Riviera.
Maugham has been described as both bisexual and as homosexual. In addition to his 13-year marriage to Syrie Wellcome, he had affairs with other women in his youth. In later life Maugham was exclusively homosexual. Frequently quoted in this connection is Maugham's statement to his nephew Robin:
I tried to persuade myself that I was three-quarters normal and that only a quarter of me was queer—whereas really it was the other way around.— W. Somerset Maugham, (Maugham, Robin 1970), quoted in Hastings 2010, p. 39
Somerset Maugham spent most of his last years in the Villa Mauresque, Cap Ferrat. In early December 1965 he asked to see Romaine Brooks, who was living nearby in Nice. Fragile, wispy and opinionated, she was the same age as Maugham, but was to outlive him by five years. Romaine came to the Mauresque with some reluctance, for she knew of Maugham’s distressing condition. His stammering was such that she could not understand a word he uttered. Only when he saw her to her car and pointed his finger at her did she grasp what he was saying: ‘You need somebody to take care of you’, and then he directed his finger at Alan Searle, his secretary. It seemed as though he was bequeathing Alan to her. A few days later Maugham collapsed and was taken to the Anglo-American Hospital in Nice, where he died on 15 December, a few weeks short of his ninety-second birthday. His last words were: ‘Why, Alan, where have you been? I’ve been looking for you for months. I want to shake your hand for all you have done for me.’
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