Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Secret Lives of Somerset Maugham: A Biography” as Want to Read:
The Secret Lives of Somerset Maugham: A Biography
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The Secret Lives of Somerset Maugham: A Biography

4.03  ·  Rating Details ·  270 Ratings  ·  52 Reviews
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 pe ...more
Hardcover, 640 pages
Published May 25th 2010 by Random House (first published 2009)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The Secret Lives of Somerset Maugham, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about The Secret Lives of Somerset Maugham

Wolf Hall by Hilary MantelWhy We Disagree about Climate Change by Mike HulmeToo Much Happiness by Alice MunroLove and Summer by William TrevorThe Glass Room by Simon Mawer
The Economist - Books of the Year 2009
24th out of 42 books — 6 voters
Confessions by Jean-Jacques RousseauWill in the World by Stephen GreenblattI Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya AngelouCharles Dickens by Claire TomalinMemoirs of a Dutiful Daughter by Simone de Beauvoir
Literary biographies
174th out of 339 books — 57 voters

More lists with this book...

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,014)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
Tim Pendry
This is how biography should be written and I unhesitatingly recommend it - to the extent that I will now be seeking out Selina Hastings' account of Evelyn Waugh (she has also written biographies of Nancy Mitford and Rosamond Lehmann).

The achievement is all the more remarkable because Maugham, perfectly in character, systematically destroyed his own private papers and encouraged his correspondents to do the same, so Hastings has had to construct his life out of a paucity of material, much of whi

Kindle edition 19,82????!!!! Are you kidding me???!!!
I need my "shock" koala!

No way I'll buy it for this price.
And I would like to read this book :(
Jun 24, 2010 Cynthia rated it really liked it
I’ve long been a Maugham fan so I looked forward to reading this book. I wasn’t disappointed. Hastings includes an amazing level of detail and a nice balance between points about his writing and facts about his personal life. Her source notes, bibliography, and index are about 75 pages and that’s without the notes. I find footnotes much more helpful than having to flip to the back. “The Secret Lives” reads like a novel though with lots of specificity. One of the best things was reading Maugham’s ...more
Jul 07, 2015 Barbara rated it really liked it
I thought this was an excellent biography. In addition to describing his personal life, it had a lot about his writing. It put each of his plays, novels and short stories into the context of his life, describing both plots and critical reception of them. There was quite a bit about his relationships with publishers and producers as well.

Much of the book detailed his marriage to Syrie Wellcome and his relationships with Gerald Haxton and Alan Searle, among others. He certainly didn't have a happy
Nov 24, 2012 Sandhya rated it liked it
Given that Maugham reveals so much of himself in his works and has given such a vivid description of his childhood, his views on art, love, marriage, life and sundry things, there's only so much more that a biography on him can reveal.

Selina Hastings' work therefore has nothing drastically new to say. But the book picks up with her description of Maugham's stunning professional ascent as a playwright after several years of struggle. She throws light on each of his works, the circumstances surro
Apr 07, 2010 Ali rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have actually only read about 5 Somerset Maugham novels - (I have 2 more on tbr) - but I bought this large biography, as I had read 2 other brilliant literary biography's's by Selina Hastings. This is also excellent, Selina Hastings manages to bring her subject faithfully to life, and I came to really love Williie Maugham. Some of the people he was constantly surrounded by were not quite so lovable. Maugham's extreme loathing of his wife Syrie - often seems out of all proportion, and yet I fou ...more
Sep 08, 2010 John rated it it was amazing
To put my cards on the table: I've never liked Maugham's fiction and I've never liked Maugham, or what I knew of him, so it's a very good question as to why I would read a 640-page biography of him. In truth, I didn't think I would make it through the first fifty pages, but the reviews made it tempting to at least give the book a try. I'm glad I did. Selina Hastings tart, clear, intelligent prose drove me on through misery, scandal, and a strong dose of depravity with a feeling of constant aston ...more
Dec 06, 2011 Sarah rated it liked it
On the whole, I thought this was a thorough and well-researched biography. Some of the source material the author used was quite obscure, which only goes to show how much effort went into the writing. Also, for the most part, she struck a good balance between appreciating why Maugham was important, but being aware of his flaws.

My biggest complaint would be that too much time was spent on salacious details and dissecting personal drama. I am not a fan of the tabloids, and don't enjoy seeing tablo
Jan 31, 2016 Shane rated it really liked it

Known as the “greatest writer of the 20th century” Somerset Maugham indeed had many lives, public and secret, and this book focuses on both aspects of this complex yet disciplined man.

A shy boy, orphaned by the age of 10, with a perennial stammer, Maugham spent his early years in France and was more French than English when he arrived in England to be the ward of his dull, pastor uncle and wife, to lead an unhappy life that was to be the grist for his most famous novel, Of Human Bondage. A brigh
Sep 27, 2014 Ron rated it it was amazing
An excellent, sometimes disturbing, examination of the life of one of my favorite writers! Long but the author's style makes it very comfortable to read. From Amazon: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 truth is revealed in a landmark biography by the award-winning writer Selina Hastings. Granted unprece ...more
Jan 26, 2014 AndreaL rated it it was amazing
Ever since I started reading Maugham's work, I became curious about his private life, about the kind of person he must have been, the life he lead, the people he loved and so on.I enjoyed reading this book -mostly because I like Maugham as a writer and I wanted to know as much as possible about his personal life.I recommend it, to others who are fond of his work:)
Sam Schulman
Jul 29, 2014 Sam Schulman rated it really liked it
Excellent and interesting biography of a writer whose ordinariness is fascinating. I've read other biographies of Maugham, and this is not only the best, but it taught me two things of which I was unaware. First, that Maugham had a secret heterosexual life. And second, that he was not a man of the 20s and 30s, but was really a Georgian writer, famous, rich and successful well before WWI. Arnold Bennett was jealous of him! Hastings also insists on the fact that he became famous as a playwright no ...more
Kim Cano
Apr 27, 2016 Kim Cano rated it it was amazing
When a biography about your favorite author starts with him burning all his correspondence before his death, it gets your attention. What I didn’t expect was what followed next: a life story that was even more interesting than the man’s books!
Maugham was intensely private and wildly successful. He had a goal to become a famous playwright even though he was a doctor, and he went to play after play, figuring out what worked, what didn’t, and what audiences enjoyed most. He tailored his stories acc
Aug 08, 2014 Cecky is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
I haven't read enough of this book yet to give my opinion. If anyone out there can help please comment on the following:
Can you tell me author and title of this book: Story begins with a young girl returning home in NYC, late afternoon, after her tennis lesson. Near her home (an apartment)she witnesses a man been attacked by a thug and with her tennis racket manages to hit the attacker and he flees. The elderly victem is hurt and she invites him up to her family's apartment where her mother me
Apr 15, 2013 Mary rated it liked it
The Razor's Edge is one of my favorite books, so I have always been curious about the author. I always thought that Maugham was more like the vain Elliott Templeton character in The Razor's Edge than the narrator and my reading of this biography confirms this view. I also read Of Human Bondage which is a much better novel than The Razor's Edge but the plot of The Razor's Edge appeals to me more than the depressing plot of the former.

I had no idea Maugham was a successful playwright or so well tr
Oct 27, 2009 Alistair rated it really liked it
most biographies of famous writers are blighted by the fact that the subject often did a lot of writing which is not very exciting . the other downside is that the biographer pads the story out with endless quotes from the letters and books . luckily Somerset Maugham , the richest and most successful writer in his heyday of between the wars , led a long and interesting life . he travelled extensively and seemed to know everybody .
he was also a spy for the uk Government .
he ended up living it up
Austen to Zafón
I've read Maugham's memoirs and his nephew Robin Maugham's (annoying & spiteful) bio of him, but Hastings had unprecedented access to materials that no one has before. The result is a thorough and sympathetic but clear picture of the man who was the best-selling British author of his time; celebrated, wealthy, and intensely private. When Maugham was in his twenties, Oscar Wilde was prosecuted and imprisoned for his homosexuality and that colored Maugham's whole life. Although many people clo ...more
Mary Verdick
Sep 10, 2010 Mary Verdick rated it it was amazing
Insightful Take on Famous Writer

W. Somerset Maugham (known as Willie to famiy and friends) was a world-famous English writer, who lost his mother at seven, his dad two years later. Sent to live with a cold, uncaring uncle, who didn't like children, he developed a stammer. Lost and lonely in boarding school, and not knowing what to do when he graduated, he entered medical school and became a doctor. But before he could start practicing he sold a few stories he'd written and his future career was
Ad Pruyssers
Feb 04, 2014 Ad Pruyssers rated it really liked it
Uitzonderlijk goed geschreven biografie over een boeiend leven van een groot schrijver. Wat de bronnen zijn is meestal onduidelijk. Er staan relatief weinig citaten in. Dit is zeer bevorderlijk voor de leesbaarheid maar je zou twijfels kunnen krijgen over de betrouwbaarheid. Wat heeft de schrijfster zelf ingevuld? Ik hoorde echter in een interview op youtube van een eerdere biograaf van Maugham - een Canadees - dat hij dit een erg goede biografie vond.
Bookmarks Magazine
Aug 22, 2010 Bookmarks Magazine rated it really liked it
Shelves: sept-oct-2010
Veteran biographer Selina Hastings scrupulously, and with great heart, reexamines the life of Somerset Maugham, one of the most talented and enigmatic writers of the 20th century. The author was given access to the available correspondence, as well as first look at a frank remembrance of her father by Maugham's daughter, Liza. Hastings takes full advantage of the opportunity, deftly handling the complexities of Maugham's character and the writer's careful navigation through the minefields of Vic ...more
Evanston Public  Library
Best known for his novels Of Human Bondage and The Razor’s Edge, W. Somerset Maugham was a controversial novelist and playwright. He made a fortune from the sales of his popular works. Although he was private, rigid, and could deal the most withering of slights, Maugham was surrounded throughout his life by an engaging coterie. His partner Gerald Haxton remained with him for 30 years, despite Maugham's tempestuous 12-year marriage to designer Syrie Wellcome. Maugham traveled the globe extensivel ...more
Dec 23, 2014 Alistair rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
This is an exemplary biography, perfectly balancing the work and the life. It's astonishing to learn that by mid-last century Maugham was the most popular writer in the world, and certainly one of the wealthiest. A noted short story author, he also penned wildly successful plays and books based on his extensive travels. In his personal life he essentially remained a captive of his era (born 1874). Unable to live an acknowledged gay life, he made a disastrous marriage, the consequences of which a ...more
Cindy Lofgren
Jan 07, 2016 Cindy Lofgren rated it liked it
Shelves: bio-auto
This was a long book. I was not a big follower of Maugham's works before I read this and found it fun and interesting to read. This book was recently recognized as one of the top biographies so I thought I would give it a go. Maugham lived quite a life with his travels, imagination and alternative lifestyle. I think I will read his Of Human Bondage but not quite sure about the others. I like that several of his books were considered "too crude" to publish. Maugham did pretty much what he wanted ...more
Clara Mazzi
Oct 18, 2015 Clara Mazzi rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Esaustivo, completo, schietto, questo libro è senza dubbio una buona fonte per saperne di più su Somerset Maugham. Ho poco apprezzato le trame delle varie pubblicazioni, che ricorrono spesso e mi sarebbe piaciuto di più un'analisi anche dei sentimenti di questo scrittore.
Chandrashekar Gangaraju
It was rich with lots of details but I felt that there was a lot of repetition and that the book could have been half the length without compromising the quality. There is a lot of information about his books and their plots which I did not feel was necessary.
Paul Lenehan
Sep 14, 2014 Paul Lenehan rated it liked it
Extraordinarily well researched and detailed, providing an in depth look at his work and personal relationships that informed them. However, the biography is occasionally too dense with the depth and quotations slowing down the narrative.
Mar 09, 2015 Deb rated it really liked it
As a person in an era I have a fascination for I was drawn to this biography even though I'm not a great fan of Somerset Maugham's work but Selina Hastings has done a fantastic job - thoroughly recommend.
Aug 26, 2012 Amanda rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography
Another excellent biography from Ms. Hastings, especially remarkable given the fact that Maugham was so famously secretive and destroyed most of his papers and correspondence.
And with good reason - I suspect he had rather a lot to hide. He was always at pains to try to avoid the scandal which his lifestyle attracted, while at the same time tolerating and facilitating the promiscuous pederasts whose company he seemed to enjoy. While he may be one of the 20th century's great writers, his personal
Dec 13, 2014 R.A. rated it really liked it
An amazing and fascinating man and a well written biography makes this a must read. I found the chapters about his involvement in World War I and World War II particularly interesting.
The first 1/3 or so I found rather slow going - not that I was expecting titillating "drama" from the get-go, but Maugham's childhood and early career really didn't grab me. His personal life started moving long after World War I, when he became a celebrity, though I thought the author kind of rushed through the ending - with only a few pages to go, we jump from the late 40's to the early 60's, almost as an epilogue. I was impressed by the research that went into the finished product; Hastings w ...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 33 34 next »
  • A Great Unrecorded History: A New Life of E. M. Forster
  • A Writer's Notebook
  • E. M. Forster: A Life
  • George Eliot
  • Camus, a Romance
  • Flannery: A Life of Flannery O'Connor
  • Daphne du Maurier
  • Edith Wharton
  • The Letters of Noel Coward
  • An English Affair: Sex, Class and Power in the Age of Profumo
  • The Life and Death of Mary Wollstonecraft
  • Black Sun: Aryan Cults, Esoteric Nazism, and the Politics of Identity
  • John Keats: A New Life
  • A Dark Muse: A History of the Occult
  • Wild Heart: A Life: Natalie Clifford Barney and the Decadence of Literary Paris
  • Romantic Moderns: English Writers, Artists and the Imagination from Virginia Woolf to John Piper
  • Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell
  • The Art Museum
Selina Shirley Hastings (born 5 March 1945) is a British journalist who became an author and biographer.

The elder daughter of Francis, 16th Earl of Huntingdon, by his second marriage, Hastings was educated at St. Hugh's College, Oxford, where she took an MA degree.

Hastings has written books including Sir Gawain and the Loathly Lady (1985), Nancy Mitford (1986), The Singing Ringing Tree (1988), The
More about Selina Shirley Hastings...

Share This Book

“If all else perish, there will remain8 a story-teller’s world from Singapore to the Marquesas that is exclusively and forever Maugham, a world of veranda and prahu which we enter, as we do that of Conan Doyle’s Baker Street, with a sense of happy and eternal homecoming.” 0 likes
“If you want to go to bed with me you can,” she said, “but I won’t marry you.” 0 likes
More quotes…