W. Somerset Maugham, sketch
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeW. Somerset Maugham, sketch - Credit: Edward Drantler

William Somerset Maugham was born January, 25, 1874, in Paris, France, son of the solicitor to the British embassy. Maugham learned French as his native language.

When Maugham was sent to England after his parents died, to live with his uncle, he was teased for his bad English. He went on to become one of the highest paid authors of his generation.

He spent 5 years as a medical student, but abandoned the profession in pursuit of a writing career. This experience greatly informed his novel Of Human Bondage, published in 1915, which is generally considered to be his masterpiece. 

With the outbreak of WWI, Maugham volunteered for the Red Cross and was stationed in France for a period. Disguised as a reporter, Maugham served as an espionage agent for British Secret Intelligence Service in Russia in 1916-17.

Maugham travelled extensively in the 1920s and 30s throughout the Far East, and elsewhere. These exotic locations serve as the backdrop to many of his stories.

Maugham was a highly prolific writer — of novels, short stories, plays, and screenplays — and a great commercial success, but his plain prose style did not received the critical acclaim awarded to many of his contemporaries. The numerous film and television adaptations of his work, however, are testament to his story-telling excellence.

The 10 greatest novels ever written, according to W. Somerset Maugham, as listed in Great Novelists and Their Novels (1948), are as follows:

1.War and Peace,Leo Tolstoy.
2.Père Goriot,Honoré de Balzac.
3.Tom Jones,Henry Fielding.
4.Pride and Prejudice,Jane Austen.
5.The Red and the Black,Stendhal.
6.Wuthering Heights,Emily Brontë.
7.Madame Bovary,Gustave Flaubert.
8.David Copperfield,Charles Dickens.
9. The Brothers Karamazov,Fedor Dostoevsky.
10.Moby Dick,Herman Melville.

 

He died December 16, 1965.

"Well, you know, I have great suspicions of posterity. I'm quite prepared to be entirely forgotten five years after my death."