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The Secret Lives of Somerset Maugham: A Biography
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The Secret Lives of Somerset Maugham: A Biography

3.96 of 5 stars 3.96  ·  rating details  ·  183 ratings  ·  39 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
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Published May 25th 2010 by Random House (first published 2009)
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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...more
Cynthia
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
Sandhya
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...more
Ali
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
John
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
Alexander Arsov
Selina Hastings

The Secret Lives of Somerset Maugham

John Murray, Paperback, 2010.

8vo. 614 pp.

First published in 2009.

Contents

1. A Blackstable Boyhood
2. At St Thomas's Hospital
3. A Writer by Instinct
4. Le Chat Blanc
5. England's Dramatist
6. Syrie
7. Code Name 'Sommerville'
8. Behind the Painted Veil
9. 'A World of Veranda and Prahu'
10. Separation
11. The Villa Mauresque
12. Master Hacky
13. The Teller of Tales
14. An Exercise in Propaganda
15. The Bronzino Boy
16. Betrayal

Acknowledgements
Notes [pp. 539-582]...more
Ron
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
AndreaL
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
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
Cecky
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...more
Mary
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...more
Alistair
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...more
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
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...more
Ad Pruyssers
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
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
Sarah
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...more
Cindy Lofgren
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
Paul Lenehan
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.
Amanda
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...more
John
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
Sarah Sammis
The Secret Lives of Somerset Maugham by Selina Hastings was one of my earliest wishlist books. I became curious about his life and career after reading Ashenden or the British Agent.

I was mostly interested in his role in politics and espionage. The book has some of that as well as his writing career. But most of the book seemed to be devoted to his sexuality. That's fine but that's not what makes me interested in him.

As Maugham's books were mostly semi-autobiographical I think I will go back to...more
Jose
I started reading this because I quite enjoyed the books "The Moon and sixpence" and "On Human Bondage" by Maugham. Very well written and exhaustively documented. I got quite far into it but, as it often happens in biographies, once the subject becomes well known and established , then it is just blah. In this case, Somerset M. really reached fame quite early and it was a windfall. I guess I really enjoy how people overcome struggles and the rest seems just like a "who is who" or an enumeration...more
Jonathan
I work at Villa Mauresque and on finding out that the late great English writer was one of the former owners decided to read this book. The book is very well written. I would only wish for more photos of the house as there is a front view and afew by the pool. All has been changed but the stone steps leading down to the pool turn left and its the kitchen .

When I walk along the pool edge my mind goes back to what it must have been like in the hayday when Fleming , Churchill , Wallis Simpson were...more
Joy
I'm more familiar with the name than the writings of Maugham. This was a well-documented and well-written biography of a talented writer who was homosexual, had a long but tormented marriage, was often estranged from his daughter, enjoyed secret intelligence work during both world wars. Fun quote: "The Riviera is a sunny place for sordid people." Good quote: "To bear failure with courage is the best proof of character anyone can give."
Mike
While exhaustive, this bio was a little unsatisfactory for me for one reason -- there is little view into the creative process of the writer. This, I suspect, is in large part due to this particular author's very deliberate and disciplined process...

A fine view of the writer and his part in the history of the first part of the twentieth century. Will definitely read "The Razor's Edge" now...
Phil
Maugham has always been a favorite author of mine since college. This biography is excellent with special attention to the details of his stories and novels and from whence the descriptions come. Maugham was a continuing seeker of tales from people's lives which he then made into art.
J
Your ability to appreciate the life of Somerset Maugham does not require familiarity with his work, merely a healthy level of curiosity regarding the lives of others.
Kathy
Maugham remains one of my favorite authors and this book, while not delving into his life as much as I desired it to, is still worth a look.
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