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The Secret Lives of Somerset Maugham: A Biography Hardcover – Deckle Edge, May 25, 2010

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 640 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; 1 edition (May 25, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400061415
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400061419
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.5 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #375,754 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. In Hastings's new biography, the facts of Maugham's life form a fascinating narrative because they are full of public incident and accomplishment, shadowed by privately known and whispered secrets, Hastings is the first biographer with permission to quote from Maugham's private papers, and from observations by his daughter, Liza, concerning the disastrous court case instigated by his homosexual companion, Alan Searle, when Maugham (1874–1965), in his dotage, threatened to disinherit Liza. The sordid details, fully disclosed for the first time, reveal the tragic ending to a life that had produced great wealth, exotic travel, and public acclaim. Although Maugham maintained that he was three quarters 'normal' and only a quarter 'queer,' '' Hastings demonstrates that Maugham's great love was his secretary and traveling companion, Gerald Haxton. She also documents the bitter relationship between a reluctantly married Maugham and his notorious wife, Syrie. In addition to his many homosexual love affairs, Hastings reveals Maugham's work as an espionage agent in two world wars. The biographer of Nancy Mitford and Evelyn Waugh, Hastings is a stylish and sensitive writer who addresses her subject's double life with insight and compassion. 32 pages of b&w photos. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From 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 Victorian and Edwardian social mores. The Secret Lives of Somerset Maugham is not only the rare biography that transcends the mere story of a life; it is also "one of [the year's] outstanding social and literary histories" (Cleveland Plain Dealer). Just don't read it before reading Maugham's works--spoilers abound here.

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Customer Reviews

Am reading it and enjoying it thoroughly.
Isabel Bee
A well written biography of a famous 20th Century literary personality.
I find footnotes much more helpful than having to flip to the back.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

45 of 48 people found the following review helpful By Cynthia on June 24, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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 own thoughts on happenings set against a friend's take on the same incident or perception. It gave a more complete personality study. It was fun to puzzle the relationship between facts and novel characters, speculating how they tied in. This isn't a homage nor is it an expose. Hastings hit a wonderful balance in that regard.

What a life Maugham led. He seems to have known all of English society and people in the arts as well as prominent Americans. Though he was an introvert he loved playing host to his friends but he was strict about blocking out time to write and read. He lost both his parents a few years apart when he was a preteen, he was born in France to a French mother and French was his first language, he stuttered, he had tuberculosis, he worked undercover for Britain in both wars, he spent most of World War II in the American south, he was openly gay around his friends, he spoke many European languages, he had one daughter from an unpleasant marriage, he made lots of money especially from his plays. I enjoyed reading about his travels with his lover through the years and how they worked together to gather expatriot's stories. Many of these stories ended up in his writings. Hastings also included pictures of Maugham and his friends notably one with H.G.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By The Christine on June 29, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This biography is thorough, well-written and despite its length and level of detail, leaves you even more curious about Mr. Maugham. It lends a great deal of insight to his actions, choices and the subjects about whom he wrote *without* extending too much bias, which is something from which many biographies suffer.

Maugham was without a doubt one of the most fascinating, dedicated and talented writers in recent history. What a joy to be able to learn about his life, understand the process he used to craft stories, to get a glimpse of so many of his personal letters and to get a taste of the many interesting (and famous in their own right) people and places he knew and loved.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Richard A. Jenkins on July 4, 2010
Format: Hardcover
The initial, British reviews suggested that Hastings' book would be lurid and salacious, while the US reviews suggested something more conventional. My own take is more along the lines of the latter. Hastings approaches her subject without the benefit of new material or any real first hand informants. Maugham burned most of his correspondence and instructed his correspondents to do likewise. Hastings does her best to work from Maugham's writings and the work of others.

The book is compelling throughout but several things knocked off a star for me. Hastings begs questions in places. She speaks of his longtime companion and secretary, Gerald Haxton, providing male companions that Maugham liked, except we never know who was his type. Presumably, it wasn't Haxton's type, which seems to have run toward extremes such as underaged boys and rough trade. She characterizes his later companion, Alan Searle as "not a golddigger" although he proceeds to enrich himself through changes to Maugham's will. Hastings seems to miss the obvious ambivalence in Maugham's relationship with his daughter (whose existence led to the loveless, difficult marriage to her mother) to whom he was dutiful but not affectionate. That relationship made it easy for Searle to gain the upper hand in Maugham's will. She seems unclear about Maugham at the end of life and it's unclear whether he was demented or simply frail. Hastings also descends into trying to impress the reader with her vocabulary in places, where simple description would have sufficed.

Shortcomings aside, the book stimulated my interest in reading more of Maugham's work. He was never popular with "serious" or academic critics, although he was admired by some of his contemporaries such as George Orwell.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Mary Verdick on August 30, 2010
Format: Hardcover
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 launched. Maugham wrote plays and tremendously successful novels such as "The Razor's Edge" and became one of the highest paid writers in the world. He married and fathered a child, but the marriage was a disaster, mainly because Willie was a secret homosexual. In those days in England, homosexuality was a crime so he had to keep his liaisons private. But he had many affairs with a series of young men, and one man in particular, Gerald Haxton, a handsome if unscrupulous rake, became his life-long love. Haxton was an alcoholic and couldn't be trusted, but Maugham forgave him time and again as they traveled the world together.

Maugham served admirably in British intelligence in both World Wars, and was on intimate terms with many of the prominent people of his day: Winston Churchill, Charlie Chaplin, and H. G. Wells to name a few. He could be kind and generous, although also unbelievably cruel at times, and on the surface seemed to have it all. But his inner conflicts and uncertainties often tore him apart and kept him from achieving true happiness. A sad but fascinating story.
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