W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) lived in Paris until he was ten. He was educated at King's School, Canterbury, and at Heidelberg University. He afterwards walked the wards of St. Thomas's Hospital with a view to practice in medicine, but the success of his first novel, Liza of Lambeth (1897), won him over to letters. Something of his hospital experience is reflected, however, in the first of his masterpieces, Of Human Bondage (1915), and with The Moon and Sixpence (1919) his reputation as a novelist was assured. His position as one of the most successful playwrights on the London stage was being consolidated simultaneously. His first play, A Man of Honour (1903), was followed by a procession of successes just before and after the First World War. (At one point only Bernard Shaw had more plays running at the same time in London.) His theatre career ended with Sheppey (1933). His fame as a short-story writer began with The Trembling of a Leaf, sub-titled Little Stories of the South Sea Islands, in 1921, after which he published more than ten collections. W. Somerset Maugham's general books are fewer in number. They include travel books, such as On a Chinese Screen (1922) and Don Fernando (1935), essays, criticism, and the self-revealing The Summing Up (1938) and A Writer's Notebook (1949). He became a Companion of Honour in 1954. Robert Calder is professor of English at the University of Saskatchewan.
W. Somerset Maugham's short stories are his most highly regarded work, and the structure of The Moon and Sixpence reveals his preference for episodes and anecdotes. Partly inspired by the life of Gauguin and partly by Maugham's own life, the novel depicts a great artist as a driven, surly outcast, literally a leper. The characters are essentially one-dimensional and some stereotypes are quaint at best, but Maugham's sophisticated voice, spiked with barbed philosophical insights, remains amusing. Reader Neil Hunt does a good job voicing each character. The 1919 best seller may have a nostalgic appeal for older audiences, but most collections can safely give it a miss.‘Michael Barrett, San Antonio P.L.
"[A] witty, compelling roman clef...that mock[s] the way the world makes saints of the sinners who are often its best artists." -The Boston Globe
"It is very difficult for a writer of my generation, if he is honest, to pretend indifference to the work of Somerset Maugham.... He was always so entirely there." -Gore Vidal