The Secret Lives of Somerset Maugham by Selina Hastings
A Biography

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Synopsis

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.


From the Hardcover edition.
 

About Selina Hastings

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Selina Hastings worked at the Daily Telegraph before becoming the literary editor for Harpers & Queen. She is the author of Nancy Mitford: A Biography, Rosamond Lehmann, and Evelyn Waugh: A Biography, which won the Marsh Biography Award. A Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, she has been a judge of the Booker, Whitbread, British Academy, Ondaatje, and Duff Cooper prizes, and of the UK Biographers' Award.
 
Published May 19, 2010 by Random House. 640 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs. Non-fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for The Secret Lives of Somerset Maugham

The New York Times

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Selina Hastings’s biography sees the origins of Somerset Maugham’s habit of cruelty in his cruel childhood.

Jul 22 2010 | Read Full Review of The Secret Lives of Somerset ...

The Guardian

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Abroad, for Maugham, always held certain attractions: Hastings describes him, even at 16, as "highly sexed", and he enjoyed throughout his life all the freedoms that foreign travel afforded.

Sep 18 2009 | Read Full Review of The Secret Lives of Somerset ...

The Guardian

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Whether it is life at the Villa or accounts of Maugham's travels, we very quickly sense the spirit of a place – Kuala Lumpur, Capri, Samoa or Los Angeles, South Carolina in the war or Mayfair in the 1920s – and their allure or tedium come off the page with tremendous colour and vividness.

Sep 12 2009 | Read Full Review of The Secret Lives of Somerset ...

The Wall Street Journal

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Over the course of a literary career that spanned an astonishing eight decades, Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) wrote some of the 20th century's best-loved novels (e.g., "Of Human Bondage"), a cluster of hit plays in London's West End ("The Constant Wife"), ground-breaking travel books ("The Gentle...

Jun 04 2010 | Read Full Review of The Secret Lives of Somerset ...

New York Journal of Books

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One of the stranger pairings in literary history is surely Somerset Maugham and Dorothy Parker, thrown together in rural South Carolina during the summer of 1942 for what Parker later grumbled had been “three long, long, long weeks.” The two had briefly met in New York the previous year, and Park...

May 25 2010 | Read Full Review of The Secret Lives of Somerset ...

The Washington Times

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In 1946, he predicted a “dead period” of 20 to 30 years for a writer even if there was “anything of enduring value in his work.” His biographer now argues for a renewal of interest in Maugham and even predicts, “It is safe to say that he will again hold generations in thrall, that his place is as...

Jul 23 2010 | Read Full Review of The Secret Lives of Somerset ...

Los Angeles Times

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The story of William Somerset Maugham, the stammering young boy who became a doctor and then the world's most famous writer since Dickens, has often been told, but in this new biography, "The Secret Lives of Somerset Maugham," Selina Hastings draws upon previously unavailable material to create t...

May 30 2010 | Read Full Review of The Secret Lives of Somerset ...

The Telegraph

Somerset Maugham was a slum doctor, an Edwardian man of fashion, a playwright with a string of hits, a best-selling novelist, a secret agent in Russia, a world traveller, an art collector and philanthropist.

Sep 20 2009 | Read Full Review of The Secret Lives of Somerset ...

The Bookbag

Summary: A biography of the prolific novelist, short story writer and dramatist, who was at the height of his career perhaps the most successful and widely read author of his generation, yet had good reasons for keeping his private life secret.

Oct 09 2010 | Read Full Review of The Secret Lives of Somerset ...

Dallas News

Maugham's "secret lives" have been fully outted in a long string of books - in early biographies by Ted Morgan and Maugham's nephew Robin Maugham, most interestingly in Anthony Burgess' splendid but failed novel Earthly Powers, which teams a fictional Maugham with a fictional Pope John XXIII.

Aug 01 2010 | Read Full Review of The Secret Lives of Somerset ...

Review (Barnes & Noble)

That memoir, along with Maugham's acrimonious, well-publicized break with his daughter and her family, his notorious thralldom to Searle, and the ever-continuing speculation about what wicked things went on at his villa on the French Riviera, have left a miasma around Maugham's whole life.

Jun 02 2010 | Read Full Review of The Secret Lives of Somerset ...

The Daily Beast

Maugham, who preferred the job description “story-teller,” could be as withering about his own talents as about the foibles of others: “I know just where I stand, in the very front row of the second rate.” Yet many of these “second rate” works have proved more durable than those of literary light...

Jun 03 2010 | Read Full Review of The Secret Lives of Somerset ...

NJ.com

As Hastings writes at the end of this incisive biography, Maugham’s place in the literary pantheon is assured: “Somerset Maugham, the great teller of tales.” The Secret Lives of Somerset Maugham: A Biography Selina Hastings Random House, 640 pp., $35 Vince Cosgrove is a writer based in Berk...

May 23 2010 | Read Full Review of The Secret Lives of Somerset ...

Chicago Tribune

take, for example, his reaction to hearing that his wife Syrie, whom he had supported since their divorce in 1929, had died (1955): “Tra la la, no more alimony, tra la la.” Or this exchange between Frank Sinatra and himself: “Frank says, ‘Hiya, baby,’ and Maugham replies, ‘Very well, indeed,...

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London Review of Books

It’s likely that Maugham conceived his first serious passion for another boy at King’s, and Hastings speculates that the boy might have been called Ashenden, the name Maugham later used for the narrator of his spy stories and of Cakes and Ale.

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Bookmarks Magazine

Brad Gooch Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars "The story of William Somerset Maugham, the stammering young boy who became a doctor and then the world’s most famous writer since Dickens, has often been told, but in this new biography, The Secret Lives of Somerset Maugham, Selina Hastings draws up...

Nov 08 2009 | Read Full Review of The Secret Lives of Somerset ...

Spectator Book Club

A cultured man, he was well read in four languages, with interests and an experience of life far wider than that of most of his readers, yet he won and retained their allegiance through a masterly grasp of the basic skills of a writer of fiction — the ability to tell a good story and to describe ...

Sep 12 2009 | Read Full Review of The Secret Lives of Somerset ...

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