The Full Wiki

W. Somerset Maugham: Wikis


Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

W. Somerset Maugham

W. Somerset Maugham
photographed by Carl Van Vechten in 1934
Born William Somerset Maugham
25 January 1874(1874-01-25)
Paris, France
Died 16 December 1965 (aged 91)
Nice, France
Occupation Playwright, Novelist, Short Story writer
Notable work(s) Of Human Bondage
The Letter
The Razor's Edge

William Somerset Maugham (pronounced 'mawm'), CH (25 January 1874 – 16 December 1965) was an English 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.[1]


Childhood and education

Maugham's father Robert Ormond Maugham was an English lawyer handling the legal affairs of the British embassy in Paris, France.[2] Since French law declared that all children born on French soil could be conscripted for military service, his father arranged for William to be born at the embassy, technically on British soil, saving him from conscription into any future French wars.[3] His grandfather, another Robert, had also been a prominent lawyer and cofounder of the English Law Society,[4] and it was taken for granted that William would follow in their footsteps. Events were to ensure this was not to be, but his elder brother Viscount Maugham did enjoy a distinguished legal career, and served as Lord Chancellor from 1938 to 1939.

Maugham's mother Edith Mary (née Snell) was consumptive, a condition for which her doctor prescribed childbirth. As a result, Maugham had three older brothers already enrolled in boarding school by the time he was three and he was effectively raised as an only child. Childbirth proved no cure for tuberculosis: Edith's sixth and final son died on 25 January 1882, one day after his birth, on Maugham's eighth birthday. Edith died six days later, on 31 January, at the age of 41.[5] The death of his mother left Maugham traumatized for life, and he kept his mother's photograph by his bedside until his own death[6] at the age of 91 in Nice, France. Two years after Maugham's mother's death, his father died of cancer. William was sent back to England to be cared for by his uncle, Henry MacDonald Maugham, the Vicar of Whitstable, in Kent. The move was catastrophic. Henry Maugham proved cold and emotionally cruel. The King's School, Canterbury, where William was a boarder during school terms, proved merely another version of purgatory, where he was teased for his bad English (French had been his first language) and his short stature, which he inherited from his father. It is at this time that Maugham developed the stammer that would stay with him all his life, although it was sporadic and subject to mood and circumstance.[7]

Maugham was miserable both at the vicarage and at school. As a result, he developed a talent for applying a wounding remark to those who displeased him. This ability is sometimes reflected in the characters that populate his writings. At sixteen, Maugham refused to continue at The King's School and his uncle allowed him to travel to Germany, where he studied literature, philosophy and German at Heidelberg University. It was during his year in Heidelberg that he met and had a sexual affair with John Ellingham Brooks, an Englishman ten years his senior.[8] On his return to England his uncle found Maugham a position in an accountant's office, but after a month Maugham gave it up and returned to Whitstable. His uncle was not pleased, and set about finding Maugham a new profession. Maugham's father and three older brothers were all distinguished lawyers and Maugham asked to be excused from the duty of following in their footsteps.

A career in the church was rejected because a stammering minister might make the family seem ridiculous. Likewise, the civil service was rejected — not out of consideration for Maugham's own feelings or interests, but because the recent law requiring civil servants to qualify by passing an examination made Maugham's uncle conclude that the civil service was no longer a career for gentlemen. The local doctor suggested the profession of medicine and Maugham's uncle reluctantly approved this. Maugham had been writing steadily since the age of 20 and fervently intended to become an author, but because Maugham was not of age, he could not confess this to his guardian. So he spent the next five years as a medical student at King's College London.


Early works

Some critics have assumed that the years Maugham spent studying medicine were a creative dead end, but Maugham himself felt quite the contrary. He was able to live in the lively city of London, to meet people of a "low" sort that he would never have met in one of the other professions, and to see them in a time of heightened anxiety and meaning in their lives. In maturity, he recalled the literary value of what he saw as a medical student: "I saw how men died. I saw how they bore pain. I saw what hope looked like, fear and relief..."

Maugham kept his own lodgings, took pleasure in furnishing them, filled many notebooks with literary ideas, and continued writing nightly while at the same time studying for his degree in medicine. In 1897, he presented his second book for consideration. (The first was a biography of opera composer Giacomo Meyerbeer written by the 16-year-old Maugham in Heidelberg.[9]) Liza of Lambeth, a tale of working-class adultery and its consequences, drew its details from Maugham's experiences as a medical student doing midwifery work in the London slum of Lambeth. The novel is of the school of social-realist "slum writers" such as George Gissing and Arthur Morrison. Frank as it is, Maugham still felt obliged to write near the opening of the novel: " is impossible always to give the exact unexpurgated words of Liza and the other personages of the story; the reader is therefore entreated with his thoughts to piece out the necessary imperfections of the dialogue."

Liza of Lambeth proved popular with both reviewers and the public, and the first print run sold out in a matter of weeks. This was enough to convince Maugham, who had qualified as a doctor, to drop medicine and embark on his sixty-five year career as a man of letters. Of his entry into the profession of writing he later said, "I took to it as a duck takes to water."

The writer's life allowed Maugham to travel and live in places such as Spain and Capri for the next decade, but his next ten works never came close to rivalling the success of Liza. This changed dramatically in 1907 with the phenomenal success of his play Lady Frederick; by the next year he had four plays running simultaneously in London, and Punch published a cartoon of Shakespeare biting his fingernails nervously as he looked at the billboards.

Popular success, 1914–1939

By 1914 Maugham was famous, with 10 plays produced and 10 novels published. Too old to enlist when World War I broke out, Maugham served in France as a member of the British Red Cross's so-called "Literary Ambulance Drivers", a group of some 23 well-known writers including John Dos Passos and E. E. Cummings. During this time he met Frederick Gerald Haxton, a young San Franciscan who became his companion and lover until Haxton's death in 1944 (Haxton appears as Tony Paxton in Maugham's 1917 play, Our Betters). Throughout this period Maugham continued to write; indeed, he proof-read Of Human Bondage at a location near Dunkirk during a lull in his ambulance duties.[10] However, Maugham is also known to have worked for British Intelligence in mainland Europe during the war, having been recruited by John Wallinger, and was one of the network of British agents who operated in Switzerland against the Berlin Committee, notably Virendranath Chattopadhyay. Maugham was later recruited by William Wiseman to work in Russia.[11][12]

Of Human Bondage (1915) initially received adverse criticism both in England and America, with the New York World describing the romantic obsession of the main protagonist Philip Carey as "the sentimental servitude of a poor fool". Influential critic and novelist Theodore Dreiser, however, rescued the novel, referring to it as a work of genius, and comparing it to a Beethoven symphony. This review gave the book the lift it needed and it has since never been out of print.[13]

The book appeared to be closely autobiographical (Maugham's stammer is transformed into Philip Carey's club foot, the vicar of Whitstable becomes the vicar of Blackstable, and Philip Carey is a doctor) although Maugham himself insisted it was more invention than fact. Nevertheless, 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". In 1938 he wrote: "Fact and fiction are so intermingled in my work that now, looking back on it, I can hardly distinguish one from the other."

Although Maugham's first and many other sexual relationships were with men, he also had sexual relationships with a number of women. Specifically his affair with Syrie Wellcome, daughter of orphanage founder Thomas John Barnardo and wife of American-born English pharmaceutical magnate Henry Wellcome, produced a daughter named Liza (born Mary Elizabeth Wellcome, 1915–1998).[14] Henry Wellcome then sued his wife for divorce, naming Maugham as co-respondent. In May 1917, following the decree absolute, Syrie and Maugham were married. Syrie became a noted interior decorator who popularized the all-white room in the 1920s.

Maugham returned to England from his ambulance unit duties to promote Of Human Bondage but once that was finalised, he became eager to assist the war effort once more. As he was unable to return to his ambulance unit, Syrie arranged for him to be introduced to a high ranking intelligence officer known only as "R", and in September 1915 he began work in Switzerland, secretly gathering and passing on intelligence while posing as himself — that is, as a writer.

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 those journeys through the late-Imperial world of the 1920s and 1930s which were to establish Maugham forever in the popular imagination as the chronicler of 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 himself was painfully shy, and Haxton the extrovert gathered human material that Maugham steadily turned into fiction.

In June, 1917 he was asked by Sir William Wiseman, an officer of the British Secret Intelligence Service (later named MI6), to undertake a special mission in Russia[15] to keep the Provisional Government in power and Russia in the war by countering German pacifist propaganda.[16] Two and a half months later the Bolsheviks took control. The job was probably always impossible, but Maugham subsequently claimed that if he had been able to get there six months earlier, he might have succeeded. Quiet and observant, Maugham had a good temperament for intelligence work; he believed he had inherited from his lawyer father a gift for cool judgement and the ability to be undeceived by facile appearances.

Never losing the chance to turn real life into a story, Maugham made his spying experiences into a collection of short stories about a gentlemanly, sophisticated, aloof spy, Ashenden, a volume that influenced the Ian Fleming James Bond series.[17] In 1922, Maugham dedicated On A Chinese Screen, a book of 58 ultra-short story sketches collected during his 1920 travels through China and Hong Kong, to Syrie, with the intention of later turning the sketches into a book.[18]

Dramatised from a story which first appeared in his collection The Casuarina Tree published in 1924, Maugham's play The Letter, starring Gladys Cooper, had its premiere in London in 1927. The play was later adapted for film in 1929 and again in 1940.

Syrie and Maugham divorced in 1927–8 after a tempestuous marriage complicated by Maugham's frequent travels abroad and strained by his relationship with Haxton.

In 1928, Maugham bought Villa Mauresque on 12 acres (49,000 m2) at Cap Ferrat on the French Riviera, which was his home for most of the rest of his life, and one of the great literary and social salons of the 1920s and 30s. His output continued to be prodigious, including plays, short stories, novels, essays and travel books. By 1940, when the collapse of France forced Maugham to leave the French Riviera and become a well-heeled refugee, he was already one of the most famous and wealthiest writers in the English-speaking world.

Grand old man of letters

Maugham, by now in his sixties, spent most of World War II in the United States, first in Hollywood (he worked on many scripts, and was one of the first authors to make significant money from film adaptations) and later in the South. While in the US he was asked by the British government to make patriotic speeches to induce the US to aid Britain, if not necessarily become an allied combatant. Gerald Haxton died in 1944, and Maugham moved back to England, then in 1946 to his villa in France, where he lived, interrupted by frequent and long travels, until his death.

The gap left by Haxton's death in 1944 was filled by Alan Searle. Maugham had first met Searle in 1928. Searle was a young man from the London slum area of Bermondsey and he had already been kept by older men. He proved a devoted if not a stimulating companion. Indeed one of Maugham's friends, describing the difference between Haxton and Searle, said simply: "Gerald was vintage, Alan was vin ordinaire."[19]

Maugham's love life was almost never smooth. He once confessed: "I have most loved people who cared little or nothing for me and when people have loved me I have been embarrassed... In order not to hurt their feelings, I have often acted a passion I did not feel."

In 1962 he sold a collection of paintings, some of which had been assigned to his daughter Liza by deed. She sued her father and won a judgment of £230,000. Maugham responded by publicly disowning her and claiming she was not his biological daughter; adopting Searle as his son and heir; and launching a bitter attack on the deceased Syrie in his 1962 volume of memoirs, Looking Back, in which Liza discovered she had been born before her parents' marriage. The memoirs lost him several friends and exposed him to much public ridicule. Liza and her husband Lord Glendevon contested the change in Maugham's will in the French courts, and it was overturned. Nevertheless, in 1965 Searle inherited £50,000, the contents of Villa Mauresque, and Maugham's manuscripts and copyrights for 30 years. Thereafter the copyrights passed to the Royal Literary Fund.

There is no grave for Maugham. His ashes were scattered near the Maugham Library, The King's School, Canterbury. Liza, Lady Glendevon, died aged 83 in 1998, survived by Somerset Maugham's four grandchildren (a son and a daughter by Liza's first marriage to Vincent Paravicini, and two more sons to Lord Glendevon). One of the next generation is autistic savant and musical prodigy Derek Paravicini.

The American film-maker, actor and businessman, Michael Maglaras, is currently at work on a documentary film on the life of Maugham, to be released in late 2010.


Commercial success with high book sales, successful theatre productions and a string of film adaptations, backed by astute stock market investments, allowed Maugham to live a very comfortable life. Small and weak as a boy, Maugham had been proud even then of his stamina, and as an adult he kept churning out the books, proud that he could. Yet, despite his triumphs, he never attracted the highest respect from the critics or his peers. Maugham himself attributed this to his lack of "lyrical quality", his small vocabulary and failure to make expert use of metaphor in his work. (In 1934 the American journalist and radio personality Alexander Woollcott offered to Maugham this bit of language advice: “The female implies, and from that the male infers.” Maugham: “I am not yet too old to learn.”[20])

Maugham wrote in a time when experimental modernist literature such as that of William Faulkner, Thomas Mann, James Joyce and Virginia Woolf was gaining increasing popularity and winning critical acclaim. In this context, his plain prose style was criticized as "such a tissue of clichés that one's wonder is finally aroused at the writer's ability to assemble so many and at his unfailing inability to put anything in an individual way".[21]

For a public man of Maugham's generation, being openly gay was impossible. Whether his own orientation disgusted him (as it did many at a time when homosexuality was widely considered indefensible as well as illegal) or whether he merely took a stance to cover himself, Maugham wrote disparagingly of the gay artist. In "Don Fernando", a non-fiction volume about his years living in Spain, Maugham pondered a (perhaps fanciful) suggestion that the painter El Greco was homosexual: "It cannot be denied that the homosexual has a narrower outlook on the world than the normal man. In certain respects the natural responses of the species are denied to him. Some at least of the broad and typical human emotions he can never experience. However subtly he sees life he cannot see it whole ... I cannot now help asking myself whether what I see in El Greco's work of tortured fantasy and sinister strangeness is not due to such a sexual abnormality as this".[22]

But Maugham's homosexual leanings did shape his fiction, in two ways. Since, in life, he tended to see attractive women as sexual rivals, he often gave the women of his fiction sexual needs and appetites, in a way quite unusual for authors of his time. Liza of Lambeth, Cakes and Ale and The Razor's Edge all featured women determined to service their strong sexual appetites, heedless of the result. Also, the fact that Maugham's own sexual appetites were highly disapproved of, or even criminal, in nearly all of the countries in which he travelled, made Maugham unusually tolerant of the vices of others. Readers and critics often complained that Maugham did not clearly enough condemn what was bad in the villains of his fiction and plays. Maugham replied in 1938: "It must be a fault in me that I am not gravely shocked at the sins of others unless they personally affect me."

Maugham's public view of his abilities remained modest; towards the end of his career he described himself as "in the very first row of the second-raters". In 1954, he was made a Companion of Honour.

Maugham had begun collecting theatrical paintings before the First World War and continued to the point where his collection was second only to that of the Garrick Club.[23] In 1948 he announced that he would bequeath this collection to the Trustees of the National Theatre, and from 1951, some 14 years before his death, his paintings began their exhibition life. In 1994 they were placed on loan to the Theatre Museum in Covent Garden.[24][25]

Significant works

Maugham's masterpiece is generally agreed to be Of Human Bondage, a semi-autobiographical novel that deals with the life of the main character Philip Carey, who like Maugham, was orphaned, and brought up by his pious uncle. Philip's clubfoot causes him endless self-consciousness and embarrassment, echoing Maugham's struggles with his stutter. Later successful novels were also based on real-life characters: The Moon and Sixpence fictionalizes the life of Paul Gauguin; and Cakes and Ale contains thinly veiled characterizations of authors Thomas Hardy and Hugh Walpole. Maugham's last major novel, The Razor's Edge, published in 1944, was a departure for him in many ways. While much of the novel takes place in Europe, its main characters are American, not British. The protagonist is a disillusioned veteran of World War I who abandons his wealthy friends and lifestyle, travelling to India seeking enlightenment. The story's themes of Eastern mysticism and war-weariness struck a chord with readers as World War II waned, and a movie adaptation quickly followed.

Among his short stories, some of the most memorable are those dealing with the lives of Western, mostly British, colonists in the Far East, and are typically concerned with the emotional toll exacted on the colonists by their isolation. Some of his more outstanding works in this genre include "Rain", "Footprints in the Jungle", and "The Outstation". "Rain", in particular, which charts the moral disintegration of a missionary attempting to convert the Pacific island prostitute Sadie Thompson, has kept its fame and been made into a movie several times. Maugham said that many of his short stories presented themselves to him in the stories he heard during his travels in the outposts of the Empire. He left behind a long string of angry former hosts, and a contemporary anti-Maugham writer retraced his footsteps and wrote a record of his journeys called "Gin And Bitters". Maugham's restrained prose allows him to explore the resulting tensions and passions without appearing melodramatic. His The Magician (1908) is based on British occultist Aleister Crowley.

Maugham was one of the most significant travel writers of the inter-war years, and can be compared with contemporaries such as Evelyn Waugh and Freya Stark. His best efforts in this line include The Gentleman in the Parlour, dealing with a journey through Burma, Siam, Cambodia and Vietnam, and On a Chinese Screen, a series of very brief vignettes which might almost be notes for short stories that were never written.

Influenced by the published journals of the French writer Jules Renard, which Maugham had often enjoyed for their conscientiousness, wisdom and wit, Maugham published selections from his own journals under the title A Writer's Notebook in 1949. Although these journal selections are, by nature, episodic and of varying quality, they range over more than 50 years of the writer's life and contain much that Maugham scholars and admirers find of interest.


In 1947, Maugham instituted the Somerset Maugham Award, awarded to the best British writer or writers under the age of thirty-five of a work of fiction published in the past year. Notable winners include V. S. Naipaul, Kingsley Amis, Martin Amis and Thom Gunn. On his death, Maugham donated his copyrights to the Royal Literary Fund.

One of very few later writers to praise his influence was Anthony Burgess, who included a complex fictional portrait of Maugham in the novel Earthly Powers. George Orwell also stated that Maugham was "the modern writer who has influenced me the most". The American writer Paul Theroux, in his short story collection The Consul's File, updated Maugham's colonial world in an outstation of expatriates in modern Malaysia. Holden Caulfield, in J. D. Salinger's 1951 The Catcher in the Rye, mentions that although he read Of Human Bondage the previous summer and liked it, he wouldn't want to call Maugham up on the phone.

Portraits of Maugham

There are many portraits of Somerset Maugham, including that by Graham Sutherland[26] in the Tate Gallery and several by Sir Gerald Kelly. Sutherland's portrait was included in Painting the Century 101 Portrait Masterpieces 1900-2000 at the National Portrait Gallery.


Film adaptations

Michael Maglaras has begun shooting a documentary film about Maugham in France...scheduled for release in 2011

References and notes

  1. ^ The Literature Network
  2. ^ Maugham, Somerset 1962.
  3. ^ Morgan, 1980, p. 4.
  4. ^ Maugham, Robin 1977.
  5. ^ Meyers, 2004, p. 11.
  6. ^ Morgan, 1980, pp. 8–9.
  7. ^ Morgan, 1980, p. 17.
  8. ^ Morgan, 1980, p. 24.
  9. ^ (Epstein 1991, p. 189)
  10. ^ Morgan, 1980, p. 188.
  11. ^ Popplewell 1995, p. 230.
  12. ^ Woods 2007, p. 55.
  13. ^ Morgan, 1980, pp. 197–8.
  14. ^ Her birth name is given as Mary Elizabeth Wellcome in the immigration and naturalization files of [ Ellis Island], wherein she is listed, along with her mother, then Syrie Wellcome, on the 21 July 1916 manifest of the HMS Baltic.
  15. ^ Morgan, 1980, p. 227.
  16. ^ Morgan, 1980, p. 226.
  17. ^ Morgan, 1980, p. 206.
  18. ^ Morgan, 1980, pp. 245, 264.
  19. ^ Morgan, 1980, p. 495.
  20. ^ Hoyt, Edwin P. (1968). Alexander Woollcott: The Man Who Came to Dinner. New York: Abelard-Schuman. p. 258.  
  21. ^ Edmund Wilson, quoted in Vidal, 1990, p. 10.
  22. ^ Don Fernando 1935, revised 1950, p. 141 of Mandarin edition of 1990.
  23. ^ Mander & Mitchenson, 1980.
  24. ^ National Theatre.
  25. ^ National Theatre.
  26. ^ Sutherland, Graham, Somerset MAUGHAM 1949. Oil on canvas, Tate Gallery.


  • Hastings, Selina, 2009 The Secret Lives of Somerset Maugham. London, John Murray. ISBN 9780719565540
  • Mander, Raymond & Mitchenson, Joe, 1955 The Artist and the Theatre. William Heinemann Ltd
  • Mander, Raymond & Mitchenson, Joe, 1980 Guide to the Maugham Collection of Theatrical Paintings. Heinemann & the National Theatre
  • Maugham, Robin, 1970, Escape from the Shadows. Wiedenfeld and Nicholson Publishers.
  • Maugham, Robin, 1977, Somerset and all the Maughams. Greenwood Press. ISBN 0-8371-8236-0
  • Maugham, Robin, 1977, Search for Nirvana. W.H. Allen.
  • Maugham, W. Somerset, 1938, The Summing Up. Garden City Publishing Company.
  • Maugham, W. Somerset, 1962, Looking Back. As serialised in Show, June, July & August.
  • Meyers, Jeffrey, 2004, Somerset Maugham: A life. Knopf. ISBN 978-0375414756
  • Morgan, Ted, 1980, Somerset Maugham Jonathan Cape. ISBN 0-224-01813-2
  • Morgan, Ted, 1984, Maugham Touchstone Books. ISBN 0-671-50581-5.
  • Vidal, Gore, 1 February 1990, The New York Review of Books.
  • Popplewell, Richard J. (1995), Intelligence and Imperial Defence: British Intelligence and the Defence of the Indian Empire 1904-1924., Routledge, ISBN 071464580X, <>.
  • Woods, B. F. (2007), Neutral Ground: A Political History of Espionage Fiction., Algora Publishing, ISBN 0-8758-6535-6.
  • Epstein, Joseph (1991), Partial Payments, W. W. Norton & Company, ISBN 9780393307160

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

If a nation values anything more than freedom, it will lose its freedom; and the irony of it is that if it is comfort or money that it values more, it will lose that too. ~ Strictly Personal

William Somerset Maugham (25 January 187416 December 1965) was an English playwright, novelist, and short story writer; often published as simply W. Somerset Maugham.



  • Do you know that conversation is one of the greatest pleasures in life? But it wants leisure.
    • The Trembling of a Leaf, ch. 3 (1921)
  • The tragedy of love is indifference.
    • The Trembling of a Leaf, ch. 4
  • She gathered herself together. No one could describe the scorn of her expression or the contemptuous hatred she out into her answer.
    "You men! You filthy dirty pigs! You're all the same, all of you. Pigs! Pigs!"
    • "Sadie Thompson" in Altogether - Rain (1934)
  • If a nation values anything more than freedom, it will lose its freedom; and the irony of it is that if it is comfort or money that it values more, it will lose that too.
  • He knew that women appreciated neither irony nor sarcasm, but simple jokes and funny stories. He was amply provided with both.
    • Then and Now : A Novel (1946), p. 136
  • Now the world in general doesn't know what to make of originality; it is startled out of its comfortable habits of thought, and its first reaction is one of anger.
    • Great Novelists and Their Novels (1948)
  • The trouble with our younger authors is that they are all in the sixties.
  • The Observer, `Sayings of the Week', 14 Oct 1951
  • It is unsafe to take your reader for more of a fool than he is.
    • Ten Novels and Their Authors (1954)
  • What makes old age hard to bear is not the failing of one's faculties, mental and physical, but the burden of one's memories.
    • Points of View (1959) Ch. 1
  • What has influenced my life more than any other single thing has been my stammer. Had I not stammered I would probably... have gone to Cambridge as my brothers did, perhaps have become a don and every now and then published a dreary book about French literature.
    • Newsweek, 23 May, 1960
  • Dying is a very dull, dreary affair. And my advice to you is to have nothing whatever to do with it.
  • To eat well in England, you should have a breakfast three times a day.
    • Quoted in Somerset Maugham (1980) by Ted Morgan
  • [Money] is the string with which a sardonic destiny directs the motions of its puppets.
    • Quoted in Somerset Maugham (1980) by Ted Morgan
  • My own belief is that there is hardly anyone whose sexual life, if it were broadcast, would not fill the world at large with surprise and horror.
    • Quoted in Somerset Maugham (1980) by Ted Morgan

Of Human Bondage (1915)

  • You know, there are two good things in life, freedom of thought and freedom of action.
    • Ch. 23
  • It is an illusion that youth is happy, an illusion of those who have lost it; but the young know they are wretched, for they are full of the truthless ideals which have been instilled into them, and each time they come in contact with the real they are bruised and wounded.
    • Ch. 29
  • Like all weak men he laid an exaggerated stress on not changing one's mind.
    • Ch. 39
  • Art... is merely the refuge which the ingenious have invented, when they were supplied with food and women, to escape the tediousness of life.
    • Ch. 42
  • I do not confer praise or blame: I accept. I am the measure of all things. I am the centre of the world.
    • Ch. 45
  • Men seek but one thing in life — their pleasure.
    • Ch. 45
  • People ask you for criticism, but they only want praise.
    • Ch. 50
  • There is nothing so degrading as the constant anxiety about one's means of livelihood...Money is like a sixth sense without which you cannot make a complete use of the other five.
    • Ch. 51
  • You will hear people say that poverty is the best spur to the artist. They have never felt the iron of it in their flesh. They do not know how mean it makes you. It exposes you to endless humiliation, it cuts your wings, it eats into your soul like a cancer. It is not wealth one asks for, but just enough to preserve one's dignity, to work unhampered, to be generous, frank, and independent.
    • Ch. 51
  • It is cruel to discover one's mediocrity only when it is too late.
    • Ch. 51
  • I daresay one profits more by the mistakes one makes off one's own bat than by doing the right thing on somebody's else advice.
    • Ch. 52
  • Follow your inclinations with due regard to the policeman round the corner.
    • Ch. 53
  • There was an immeasurable distance between the quick and the dead: they did not seem to belong to the same species; and it was strange to think that but a little while before they had spoken and moved and eaten and laughed.
    • Ch. 54
  • Of course it was cause and effect, but in the necessity with which follows the other lay all tragedy of life.
    • Ch. 65
  • Life wouldn't be worth living if I worried over the future as well as the present. When things are at their worst I find something always happens.
    • Ch. 66
  • When I read a book I seem to read it with my eyes only, but now and then I come across a passage, perhaps only a phrase, which has a meaning for me, and it becomes part of me.
    • Ch. 67
  • It's no use crying over spilt milk, because all of the forces of the universe were bent on spilling it.
    • Ch. 68
  • But when all was said the important thing was to love rather than to be loved.
    • Ch. 70
  • There's always one who loves and one who lets himself be loved.
    • Ch. 71
  • It's asking a great deal that things should appeal to your reason as well as your sense of the aesthetic.
    • Ch. 88
  • The rain fell alike upon the just and upon the unjust, and for nothing was there a why and a wherefore.
    • Ch. 106
  • D'you call life a bad job? Never! We've had our ups and downs, we've had our struggles, we've always been poor, but it's been worth it, ay, worth it a hundred times I say when I look round at my children.
    • Ch. 108
  • He had heard people speak contemptuously of money: he wondered if they had ever tried to do without it.
    • Ch. 116

The Moon and Sixpence (1919)

Page numbers used in this section are from the Penguin Classics edition (1993) ISBN 0140185976
  • I forget who it was that recommended men for their soul's good to do each day two things they disliked ... it is a precept that I have followed scrupulously; for every day I have got up and I have gone to bed.
    • Ch. 2
  • Impropriety is the soul of wit.
    • Ch. 4, p. 17
  • Conscience is the guardian in the individual of the rules which the community has evolved for its own preservation.
    • Ch. 14
  • She saw shrewdly that the world is quickly bored by the recital of misfortune, and willingly avoids the sight of distress.
    • Ch. 16, p. 61
  • It is not true that suffering ennobles the character; happiness does that sometimes, but suffering, for the most part, makes men petty and vindictive.
    • Ch. 17, p. 64
  • I don't think of the past. The only thing that matters is the everlasting present.
    • Ch. 21, p. 79
  • Life isn't long enough for love and art.
    • Ch. 21, p. 83 (estimated)
  • The writer is more concerned to know than to judge.
    • Ch. 41, p. 140
  • A woman can forgive a man for the harm he does her...but she can never forgive him for the sacrifices he makes on her account.
    • Ch. 41, p. 142
  • Sometimes people carry to such perfection the mask they have assumed that in due course they actually become the person they seem.
    • Ch. 42, p. 146 (estimated)

Cakes and Ale: Or, The Skeleton in the Cupboard (1930)

  • It's no good trying to keep up old friendships. It's painful for both sides. The fact is, one grows out of people, and the only thing is to face it.
    • p. 14
  • Beauty is an ecstasy; it is as simple as hunger. There is really nothing to be said about it. It is like the perfume of a rose: you can smell it and that is all.
    • p. 140
  • …you know what the critics are. If you tell the truth they only say you're cynical and it does an author no good to get a reputation for cynicism.
    • p. 137
  • It's very hard to be a gentleman and a writer.
    • p. 157
  • …when you are young you take the kindness people show you as your right…
    • p. 166
  • The writer of prose can only step aside when the poet passes…
    • p. 184

The Summing Up (1938)

Page numbers in this section are from the first edition by Doubleday, Doran & Co.
  • I would sooner read a time-table or a catalogue than nothing at all. … They are much more entertaining than half the novels that are written.
    • p. 1
  • I have not been afraid of excess: excess on occasion is exhilarating. It prevents moderation from acquiring the deadening effect of a habit.
    • p. 48
  • …the future will one day be the present and will seem as unimportant as the present does now.
    • p. 51
  • …we learn resignation not by our own suffering, but by the suffering of others.
    • p. 64
  • You are not angry with people when you laugh at them. Humour teaches tolerance, and the humorist, with a smile and perhaps a sigh, is more likely to shrug his shoulders than to condemn.
    • p. 67
  • I do not believe they are right who say that the defects of famous men should be ignored. I think it is better that we should know them. Then, though we are conscious of having faults as glaring as theirs, we can believe that that is no hindrance to our achieving also something of their virtues.
    • p. 71
  • The artist produces for the liberation of his soul. It is his nature to create as it is the nature of water to run down the hill.
    • p. 185
  • Imagination grows by exercise, and contrary to common belief, is more powerful in the mature than in the young.
    • p. 164
  • … habits in writing as in life are only useful if they are broken as soon as they cease to be advantageous.
    • p. 182
  • The common idea that success spoils people by making them vain, egotistic and self-complacent is erroneous; on the contrary it makes them, for the most part, humble, tolerant and kind. Failure makes people bitter and cruel.'
    • p. 182
  • I'll give you my opinion of the human race in a nutshell... their heart's in the right place, but their head is a thoroughly inefficient organ.
    • p. 206
  • I have been forced to conclude from this that we know our friends by their defects rather than by their merits.
    • p. 214
  • It is salutary to train oneself to be no more affected by censure than by praise…
    • p. 223
  • The great critic … must be a philosopher, for from philosophy he will learn serenity, impartiality, and the transitoriness of human things.
    • p. 223
  • Tradition is a guide and not a jailer.
    • p. 223
  • There is no explanation for evil. It must be looked upon as a necessary part of the order of the universe. To ignore it is childish, to bewail it senseless.
    • p. 285
  • Old age has its pleasures, which, though different, are not less than the pleasures of youth.
    • p. 290
  • Old age is ready to undertake tasks that youth shirked because they would take too long.
    • p. 290
  • Perfection is a trifle dull. It is not the least of life's ironies that this, which we all aim at, is better not quite achieved.
    • p. 297
  • We are not the same persons this year as last ; nor are those we love. It is a happy chance if we, changing, continue to love a changed person.
    • p. 306
  • Every production of an artist should be the expression of an adventure of his soul.
    • p. 310

The Razor's Edge (1943)

  • Passion is destructive; if it does not destroy, it dies.
  • I thought I should be a fool to allow work to interfere with a delight in the passing moment that I might never enjoy again so fully.
  • He was the kind of man with whom one would have hesitated to pass a lonely evening, but with whom one might cheerfully have looked forward to spending six months.
  • It may be that if I lead the life I've planned for myself it may affect others; the effect may be no greater than the ripple caused by a stone thrown in a pond, but one ripple causes another.
  • Almost all the people who have had most effect on me I seem to have met by chance.
  • A god that can be understood is no a god.
    • p. 283 ISBN 0-14-018523-2,

from 'The Razor's Edge' - the Doubleday, Doran & Co., Inc. edition, Copyright 1944

  • "...things don't get any easier by putting them off." - p.53
  • ...he found himself now in the agreeable situation of being able to do what was best for others and at the same time what was convenient to himself. - p.67
  • ...there are men who are possessed by an urge so strong to do some particular thing that they can't help themselves, they've got to do it. They're prepared to sacrifice everything to satisfy their yearning. - p.72
  • ...gave me a long look, as though she were trying to read my thoughts. - p.132
  • ...gave her head such a haughty toss that I wondered she didn't get a crick in the neck. - p.133
  • ...women are always glad to listen when you discourse upon love... - p.137
  • Passion doesn't count the cost. ... Passion is destructive. - p.138
  • " art honesty is not only the best but the only policy." - p.146
  • "...religion is...a conspiracy of...priests to gain control over the people..." - p.192
  • The sad Don Quixote of a worthless purpose. - p.198

A Writer's Notebook (1946)

Page numbers used in this section are from the first general edition by Country Life Press (1949)
  • Considering how foolishly people act and how pleasantly they prattle, perhaps it would be better for the world if they talked more and did less.
    • "1892", p. 1
  • The love that lasts longest is the love that is never returned.
    • p. 13
  • Anyone can tell the truth, but only very few of us can make epigrams.
    • "1896", p. 17
  • Men have an extraordinarily erroneous opinion of their position in nature; and the error is ineradicable.
    • "1896", p. 20
  • Few misfortunes can befall a boy which bring worse consequences than to have a really affectionate mother.
    • "1896", p. 28
  • There is no object to life. To nature nothing matters but the continuation of the species.
    • p. 38
    • Sometimes misquoted as "Love is only a dirty trick played on us to achieve continuation of the species."
  • In the country the darkness of night is friendly and familiar, but in a city, with its blaze of lights, it is unnatural, hostile and menacing. It is like a monstrous vulture that hovers, biding its time.
    • p. 48
  • There are men whose sense of humour is so ill developed that they still bear a grudge against Copernicus because he dethroned them from the central position in the universe. They feel it a personal affront that they can no longer consider themselves the pivot upon which turns the whole of created things.
    • "1901", p. 66
  • What mean and cruel things men can do for the love of God.
    • "1901", p. 67
  • If forty million people say a foolish thing it does not become a wise one, but the wise man is foolish to give them the lie.
    • "1901", p. 76
    • Sometimes misquoted as "If fifty million people say a foolish thing, it is still a foolish thing."
    • Sometimes misattributed to Bertrand Russell or Anatole France
  • She plunged into a sea of platitudes, and with the powerful breast stroke of a channel swimmer made her confident way towards the white cliffs of the obvious.
    • p. 189
  • Things were easier for the old novelists who saw people all of a piece. Speaking generally, their heroes were good through and through, their villains wholly bad.
    • "1922", p. 196
  • It was not till quite late in life that I discovered how easy it is to say: "I don't know."
    • p. 258
  • I made up my mind long ago that life was too short to do anything for myself that I could pay others to do for me.
    • "1941", p. 336
  • Sentimentality is only sentiment that rubs you up the wrong way.
    • "1941"
  • At a dinner party one should eat wisely but not too well, and talk well but not too wisely.
    • Unidentified page

Short Stories

  • She had a pretty gift for quotation, which is a serviceable substitute for wit…
    • The Creative Impulse (1926)
  • "You bloody fool, you've killed the wrong man."
    • "The Hairless Mexican" (1927)
  • Now it is a funny thing about life; if you refuse to accept anything but the best you very often get it…
    • The Mixture As Before (1940) "The Treasure"
  • Marriage is a very good thing, but I think it's a mistake to make a habit out of it.
    • '"The Treasure"


  • After all, a man marries to have a home, but also because he doesn't want to be bothered with sex and all that sort of thing.
    • Arnold, in The Circle: A Comedy in Three Acts (1921), p. 58-59
  • You can't learn too soon that the most useful thing about a principle is that it can always be sacrificed to expediency.
    • The Circle
  • You can do anything in this world if you are prepared to take the consequences.
    • The Circle
  • When you have loved as she has loved, you grow old beautifully.
    • The Circle
  • It was such a lovely day I thought it was a pity to get up.
    • Our Betters (1923)
  • We have long passed the Victorian Era when asterisks were followed after a certain interval by a baby.
    • The Constant Wife (1927)
  • You know that the Tasmanians, who never committed adultery, are now extinct.
    • The Bread-Winner (1930)
  • I was astonished to see him in Baghdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarra.
    • "Death" in Sheppey, Act III (1933)


  • It seems that the creative faculty and the critical faculty cannot exist together in their highest perfection.
  • No gray hairs streak my soul, no grandfatherly fondness there! I shake the world with the might of my voice, and walk—handsome, twentytwoyearold.
    • Vladimir Mayakovsky, The Cloud in Trousers
  • The crown of literature is poetry.
  • The essence of the beautiful is unity in variety.

See also

External links

Wikipedia has an article about:
Wikisource has original works written by or about:

Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address