My Love Affair With Somerset Maugham

Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham

  -18   I discovered Somerset Maugham in my early twenties when I borrowed a copy Of Human Bondage from a friend ... which, to my shame, I never returned. (And for which, I belatedly apologise!)

The novel captivated me, with its beautifully crafted tale of thwarted artistic ambition and unrequited love (perhaps it struck a chord?), and sent me on a journey to read more of Maugham's works, including volumes of his short stories (during my reading-time poor mid-twenties).

It was hard for this wannabe-writer to comprehend an imagination such as Maugham's. His skill with characters, dialogue and narrative, was incredible. I was soon proclaiming Maugham to be my favourite author.

And then I read a biography of Somerset by his nephew, Robin Maugham, Somerset and all the Maughams, which revealed how Of Human Bondage was semi-autobiographical. The protagonist was a medical student who had a club foot and a limp; Somerset had studied medicine and had suffered from a stutter.

And his short stories, many of which he set in British Malaya, were also explained. Somerset had spent time at the rubber plantations in the colony. He based the stories on real people and real conversations! I suddenly felt cheated. It seemed my favourite author's skill as a writer was not based on his imagination, but on his reportage!

Perhaps that's what it takes to be a writer? The skill to be able to record and reflect everyday conversations and behaviour, to spin it into a fictional context, and to get the reader to suspend disbelief and engage in the story.

After Somerset Maugham, I fell deeply in love with the writing of Graham Greene, again starting with a book I "borrowed". And having consumed many of his novels, I read his biography and also recognised his life in his writing!

Oh well, as Maugham said, "There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are." Perhaps it's to have a keen eye and ear, a notebook and pen handy, and to have no shame in jotting down and repurposing everyday life!

© 2018 Robert Fairhead 

Robert Fairhead

Robert Fairhead

Sydney, NSW, Australia.
A middle-aged dad and dog owner, Robert is the Founding Editor and a writer for Tall And True and blogs at He enjoys reading, writing, playing the guitar, walking his dog, and watching Aussie Rules Footy with his son. Robert has worked as an electrician, sales and marketing rep, computer programmer, dog trainer and (wanna-be) writer. He also had a one-night stand as a stand-up comic.


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