William Somerset Maugham was a queer playwright and author known for his raw depictions of wartime and working-class life.
He served as an ambulance driver during World War Two and was a member of the British Secret Service. The W. S. Maugham Collection
consists of books written by William Somerset Maugham, as well as papers written by and pertaining to him.
William Somerset Maugham was born in Paris in 1874 to British parents. Although he spent his younger years in France and spoke
French as a first language, he was educated in English systems and lived in England after the age of ten. Maugham began writing
while in his teens and, as a young adult, met with considerable success as a professional novelist and playwright and was
applauded for his raw depictions of wartime and working-class life. At the same time as this professional success, however,
Maugham struggled with his attraction to other men and feared meeting a similar fate to Oscar Wilde, whose trial for homosexuality
was widely discussed in Maugham’s social circles.
During the First World War, Maugham served as a volunteer ambulance driver for the British Red Cross. He also courted a woman,
Syrie Wellcome, who gave birth in 1915 to what would be his only child. The couple married in 1917 despite Maugham’s ongoing
relationships with other men, including Frederick Gerald Haxton, who would be his secretary and romantic partner for nearly
thirty years. After the war, Maugham travelled to Geneva, Samoa, and Russia as an agent of the British Secret Service while
continuing to write and publish. He and Wellcome divorced in 1929, after which Maugham lived in France with Haxton until the
French surrendered to Nazi rule in 1940; the pair then moved to America, although they lived apart. In 1944, Haxton died of
tuberculosis, from which Maugham had also suffered in the past.
After the war, Maugham travelled regularly around Europe and was designated as a Companion of Honour by Queen Elizabeth the
Second. He published his final work, an autobiography, in 1962 and died in 1965 of complications from a fall. This finding
aid was developed by Paige Harris in 2023.
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