William Somerset Maugham
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
William Somerset Maugham, (January 25 1874 – December 16 1965) was an English playwright, novelist, and short story writer. He was one of the most popular authors of his era, and reputedly the highest paid of his profession during the 1930s. See The Razor's Edge and the banned The Moon & Sixpence.
Commercial success with high book sales, successful theatre productions and a string of film adaptations, backed by astute stock market investments, allowed Maugham to live a very comfortable life. Small and weak as a boy, Maugham had been proud even then of his stamina, and as an adult he kept churning out the books, proud that he could. Yet, despite his triumphs, he never attracted the highest respect from the critics or his peers. Maugham himself attributed this to his lack of "lyrical quality", his small vocabulary and failure to make expert use of metaphor in his work.
Maugham wrote in a time when experimental modernist literature such as that of William Faulkner, Thomas Mann, James Joyce and Virginia Woolf was gaining increasing popularity and winning critical acclaim. In this context, his plain prose style was criticized as "such a tissue of clichés that one's wonder is finally aroused at the writer's ability to assemble so many and at his unfailing inability to put anything in an individual way". (Edmund Wilson, quoted in Vidal, 1990)
Maugham's homosexual leanings also shaped his fiction, in two ways. Since, in life, he tended to see attractive women as sexual rivals, he often gave the women of his fiction sexual needs and appetites, in a way quite unusual for authors of his time. Liza of Lambeth, Cakes and Ale and The Razor's Edge all featured women determined to service their strong sexual appetites, heedless of the result. Also, the fact that Maugham's own sexual appetites were highly disapproved of, or even criminal, in nearly all of the countries in which he travelled, made Maugham unusually tolerant of the vices of others. Readers and critics often complained that Maugham did not clearly enough condemn what was bad in the villains of his fiction and plays. Maugham replied in 1938: "It must be a fault in me that I am not gravely shocked at the sins of others unless they personally affect me."
Maugham's public view of his abilities remained modest; towards the end of his career he described himself as "in the very first row of the second-raters". In 1954, he was made a Companion of Honour.
Maugham had begun collecting theatrical paintings before the First World War and continued to the point where his collection was second only to that of the Garrick Club. In 1948 he announced that he would bequeath this collection to the Trustees of the National Theatre, and from 1951, some 14 years before his death, his paintings began their exhibition life. In 1994 they were placed on loan to the Theatre Museum in Covent Garden.
- Sadie Thompson (1928), a silent movie starring Gloria Swanson and Lionel Barrymore. Based on the short story Miss Thompson which was later retitled as Rain.
- The Letter (1929) starring Jeanne Eagels, O.P. Heggie, Reginald Owen and Herbert Marshall. Based on the play of the same name.
- Rain (1932), the first sound version of the story, starring Joan Crawford and Walter Huston.
- Of Human Bondage (1934) starring Leslie Howard and Bette Davis. Based on the book of the same name.
- The Painted Veil (1934) starring Greta Garbo and Herbert Marshall. Based on the novel of the same name.
- The Vessel of Wrath (1938) starring Charles Laughton; released in the USA as The Beachcomber. Based on the novella of the same name.
- The Letter (1940) starring Bette Davis, Herbert Marshall, James Stephenson, Frieda Inescort and Gale Sondergaard. Based on the play of the same name.
- The Moon and Sixpence (1942) starring George Sanders. Based on the novella of the same name.
- The Razor's Edge (1946) starring Tyrone Power and Gene Tierney. Based on the book of the same name.
- Of Human Bondage (1946) version starring Eleanor Parker.
- Quartet (1948) Maugham appears as himself in introductions. Based on some of his short stories.
- Trio (1950) Maugham appears as himself in introductions. Another collection based on short stories.
- Encore (1952) Maugham appears as himself in introductions. A third collection of Maugham short stories.
- Miss Sadie Thompson (1953), a semi-musical version, starring Rita Hayworth and José Ferrer.
- The Seventh Sin (1957) starring Eleanor Parker. Based on the novel The Painted Veil.
- The Beachcomber (1958). Based on the novella The Vessel of Wrath; not to be confused with the 1938 film.
- Julia, du bist zauberhaft (1962) starring Lilli Palmer and Charles Boyer. Based on the novel Theatre.
- Of Human Bondage (1964) version starring Laurence Harvey and Kim Novak.
- The Letter (1969) starring Eileen Atkins. Based on play of the same name. (Made for Television)
- The Letter (1982) starring Lee Remick, Jack Thompson (actor), and Ronald Pickup. Based on play of the same name. (Made for Television)
- The Razor's Edge (1984) starring Bill Murray. Based on the novel by the same name.
- Up at the Villa (2000) starring Kristin Scott Thomas and Sean Penn, directed by Philip Haas. Based on the novella of the same name.
- Being Julia (2004) starring Annette Bening. Based on the novel Theatre.
- The Painted Veil (2006) starring Naomi Watts and Edward Norton. Based on the novel of the same name.