Writers Lost and Found: Somerset Maugham

Partridge Singapore recognises that many writers who have been successful in the past unfortunately no longer receive proper attention. However, we believe that every successful writer is worth examining. With this in mind, today we begin a series called “Writers: Lost and Found”, with the aim of reviving interest in these authors and showing why they are worth reading and emulating.

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Of Human Bondage was made into a film, as with several other of Maugham’s works

The first writer that Partridge Singapore will start with is W. Somerset Maugham (pronounced “Mawm”), who wrote between 1890 and 1940. No doubt you may have heard of Maugham and even his most famous work, Of Human Bondage. For the first few decades of the 20th century, Maugham was one of the most famous writers in the English-speaking world, and made a good living off of his writing throughout his life.

Maugham is an excellent writer to read, for several reasons. He writes in a clear, smooth style that is also intelligent. Similar to Washington Irving, he sounds like a very well-educated person who is not trying to show off. His short stories – which number over a hundred — blend intrigue, humour, and occasionally murder and tragedy, and are relaxing to read. Maugham creates interesting, realistic characters who capture the reader’s interest.

The author also writes frequently about his countrymen in foreign lands, particularly the Far East and the South Seas. He is able to integrate exotic scenes with characters drawn from everyday life. India, with its vast and variegated regions, offers great opportunities for similar writing, and Indian authors may find it worthy to read Maugham and then write a story that takes place in a remote region of India – or indeed abroad.

As with many writers, Maugham has fallen from popularity because of shifting tastes in the academic literary establishment. The latter, starting after World War II, began valuing works exclusively based on deep themes rather than diction, characterisation, readability, or popularity. The result is that many entertaining writers (who earned a lot of money) have disappeared from the literary canon, while books such as Moby Dick – which was a commercial failure – are held in high esteem. This is not to say that Maugham does not address deep themes; he is just more direct than other writers and gives priority to storytelling.

To start reading Maugham, Partridge Singapore suggests beginning with his short stories, which was really the area where he shone most. Suggestions for getting started include:

The Vessel of Wrath

Footprints in the Jungle

The Outstation

A Marriage of Convenience

The Back of Beyond

The Letter

The Fall of Edward Barnard

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