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“In 1955 Somerset Maugham at the age of 81 was asked in a newspaper interview if he liked the idea of having his biography written. No, he did not. It would be a pointless exercise, in his view. “The lives of modern writers are not interesting in themselves,” he said dismissively. “A life of myself is bound to be dull… [and] I don’t want to be associated with dullness.” In truth there was little danger of that. Disingenuous, as in this statement, maybe; dull, never. For much of his long life — he lived to be over 90 — Somerset Maugham was the most famous writer in the world, known everywhere for his superb short stories and for his novels, the best known, Of Human Bondage, becoming one of the most widely read works of fiction of the 20th century. His books were translated into almost every known tongue, sold in their millions and brought him celebrity and enormous wealth.
For nearly 40 years Maugham in his luxurious villa in the south of France was filmed and photographed and written about, until it seemed there was little the public were not at liberty to know about this legendary figure. And yet since his early youth there had always been other, secret facets to Maugham, important aspects of himself, of his career, that he had no intention whatever of revealing. In a very true sense he lived much of his life undercover: he was a homosexual when homosexual practice was against the law; in both world wars he worked for British intelligence, sometimes at considerable risk to his personal safety; and as a writer of fiction he spent much of his day in a private world of the imagination, peopled by characters often more real to him than men and women in the world outside.
He was further distanced by developing in childhood a stammer that made him agonisingly self-conscious; it inhibited him, and as an adult he formed the habit of having by his side an interpreter, a sociable, outgoing chap, usually also his lover, who would act as intermediary, make the initial contact and enable Maugham himself to keep more or less in the background. Yet with all his elaborate defences Maugham remained intensely vulnerable; he was a passionate, difficult man, capable of cruelty as well as of great kindness and charm, and despite all his worldly success he never found what he wanted. A wretchedly unhappy marriage wrecked years of his existence and the great love of his life remained unrequited.…”
"Every so often a biography appears of such authority and such power that it is much more than the chronicle of a human life. It is, like a great novel, a work of art... Selina Hastings's brilliant biography... is a macabre melodrama... a wretched tale of truly Balzacian horror. Such is Selina Hastings's skill that this horrible story is richly enjoyable." A.N. Wilson Reader's Digest
"It is one of the fascinating pleasures of this superb biography to see the veils being stripped away and the messy truth about Maugham's life and relationships exposed... Hastings recounts the mass of detail and the massive literary output with great sagacity and the sharpest of eyes ...." William Boyd Observer
"[Selina Hastings's] Life of Maugham is pitch-perfect: supple, confident and written with something of the same beady detachment (and enjoyable signature streak of malice) as the great tale-teller himself." Nicholas Shakespeare Daily Telegraph
"[Selina Hastings] depicts the author, spy and host with the cool playful elegance, imaginative sympathy and occasional barbs that one expects from this most accomplished biographer... Hastings writes with sage urbanity about love and with bubbling glee about sex... Yet her closing chapter leaves the reader in a state of stunned pity... so powerfully written, in places so shocking, as to give a series of jolts to the reader. Hastings's book cannot be bettered." Richard Davenport-Hines Sunday Telegraph
"[Maugham's life] is chronicled brilliantly by Selina Hastings, whose research, empathy and style cannot be faulted." Diana Athill Literary Review
"[Selina Hastings is] a biographer who is second to none... [the story] is told with a clear eye and the benefit of an incisive mind. But be warned: once picked up, this excellent biography is impossible to put down." Trevor Royle The Herald