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  • 1/24/2004

William Somerset Maugham

(January 25,1874 -December 16,1965)

William Somerset Maugham was a British writer of novels, short stories, and plays. He was orphaned as a child and raised by an uncle. He studied medicine and practiced as an obstetrician. Maugham worked as a secret agent during World War I and incorporated his professional experiences in his work. He traveled widely before settling permanently in France. His plays seem rather dated but his novels and especially his short stories remain fresh and appealing. Maugham's writing possesses an unusual economy and clarity while remaining dry, witty, and somewhat cynical. His stellar collections of short stories include "The Trembling of a Leaf" (1921), "First Person Singular" (1931), "Ashenden: or The British Agent" (1928), "Ah King" (1933), and "Quartet" (1948). Maugham's short stories are excellent read aloud.
"Of Human Bondage" (1915), his masterpiece, is about a young medical student. "The Moon and Sixpence" (1919) and "Cakes and Ale" (1930) are thought to be based on the lives of Paul Gauguin and Thomas Hardy, respectively. "The Razor's Edge" (1944) concerns a young American veteran searching for a new life.
His comedic satires, "The Circle" (1921) and "Our Betters" (1923), are still well worth reading.

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