Saturday, January 26, 2013

Forgotten Writers



We went to a book talk at a local bookstore (D.G. Wills) here where Robert Lorin Calder, a Canadian historian, regaled us with stories about Somerset Maugham, and stories about getting his biography published. WILLIE: THE LIFE OF W. SOMERSET MAUGHAM was published in 1989. Some of his most interesting anecdotes concerned Maugham's work for the secret service, which Maugham used in ASHENDEN. Professor Calder is now embarked on a study of how the many film and TV shows made from his work fared. There were as many as ninety although many are lost.

Mr. Willis has his own you tube channel where he has films of many of his past guests.  http://www.youtube.com/user/DGWillsBooks

Growing up, Maugham was one of my favorite writers. I think I read most of his major novels and loved his book on writing THE SUMMING UP. It is hard to believe a writer of his caliber is read no more but I fear he is not.

Any Maugham fans out here?

16 comments:

Scott Parker said...

I have a small collection--not read, to date--of his secret service character.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Ooh, never have read that.

Anonymous said...

ASHENDEN should be fairly easily available on the internet, I would guess. In my book selling days I often brought copies of the Pan edition home from England. It is definitely worth your while.

Otherwise, don't have my list handy but I've read a bunch of his plays and short stories and a few only of the novels. I have read some of the non fiction as well as books about him but his nephew Robin and Beverley Nichols, among others. I don't think there is any doubt he was a pretty awful person, certainly in his later years.

Wasn't there a television adaptation of some of the Ashenden stories?


Jeff M.

Anonymous said...

'by' not 'but'

Robin Maugham was an interesting writer as well, and had a very sad life. He was also gay, by the way.

Jeff M.

Charles Gramlich said...

He wasn't one of the authors that our school pushed when I was a kid so I didn't read him. I need to make up for that.

Walker Martin said...

I've been a fan of Maugham's fiction for quite awhile, especially his short fiction and novellas. Some of the novelets I've read and reread over the years. I recommend the two volume collection published by Doubleday, titled THE COMPLETE SHORT STORIES OF W.SOMERSET MAUGHAM.

One short story, "The Book Bag" starts off great as Maugham comments on how he travels with a big book bag full of books. Now of course, he might travel with an e-reader!

Deb said...

I love his short stories--including Rain and The Letter, which were both made into movies--cynical and often with a twist at the end. My favorite of his novels is Cakes and Ale, which some claim was based on the life of Thomas Hardy. Maugham was always considered a "popular" writer; I don't think he was ever taught in a popular way. A number of his stories were filmed together as (I think) "Quartet"--I seem to remember a scene with Glynnis John afraid to jump off a diving board, but it's been many years.

Maugham became infamous when, to avoid leaving his estate to his ex-wife and only daughter, he adopted his male lover.

Deb said...

I don't think he was ever taught in an academic way.

Walker Martin said...

Deb mentions QUARTET, the film which adapted four of Maugham stories. There also were TRIO and ENCORE, all which adapted more stories and are available on dvd.

pattinase (abbott) said...

He talked a lot about Rain and The Letter. Amazing to think that 90 works have been on screen in some way. The movie with Naomi Watts and Edward Norton-THE PAINTED VEIL-was terrific.

R.T. said...

I teach literature to undergraduates here in the U.S. south, and I must tell you that among English departments, Maugham's star (even if it ever shined) has very much dimmed (and gone out). Still, though he does not find space in the so-called canon of 20th century literature, he deserves not to be forgotten. When I was in high school, I remember reading Of Human Bondage, and that was a real eye-opener. I think I understood very little, but I was nevertheless fascinated, and I seem now to recall that the novel was somewhat salacious for a 15 year old. Perhaps now, have a century later, I ought to revisit that novel.

R.T. said...

CORRECTION: Half (not have) a century later.

Anonymous said...

I read THE PAINTED VEIL when that movie came out. I'm pretty sure the character in CAKES AND ALE was based on Hugh Walpole. Ashenden was the narrator of this book, reputedly Maugham's favorite among his novels.

Jeff M.

Ed Gorman said...

I still reread many of the short stories. The Moon and Sixpence is still enjoyable except for the parts where you'd like to pound the narrator's head on the table a few times. He sure thought women were silly and/or untrustworthy. I think it was Norman Mailer who called the hmi the greatest second rate writer of all time. That ay be true.

Deb said...

I stand corrected re Cakes and Ale. Not sure why I thought Maugham based it on Thomas Hardy. Perhaps I'm thinking of another book. I just remember something about Hardy's widow (his second wife) complaining about one of Maugham's books. I probably have it all wrong.

Deb said...

A-ha! Driffield is based on Thomas Hardy!

/This internets thing is pretty useful--it might just catch on.