William Somerset Maugham (January 25, 1874 – December 16, 1965) was a British playwright, novelist and short story writer. He was among the most popular writers of his era and reputedly the highest paid author during the 1930s. After losing both his parents by the age of 10, Maugham was raised by a paternal uncle who was emotionally cold. Not wanting to become a lawyer like other men in his family, Maugham eventually trained and qualified as a doctor. The first run of his first novel, Liza of Lambeth (1897), sold out so rapidly that Maugham gave up medicine to write full-time.
During the First World War, he served with the Red Cross and in the ambulance corps, before being recruited in 1916 into the British Secret Intelligence Service, for which he worked in Switzerland and Russia before the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. During and after the war, he traveled in India and Southeast Asia; all of these experiences were reflected in later short stories and novels.
Maugham's father, Robert Ormond Maugham, was a lawyer who handled the legal affairs of the British embassy in Paris. Since French law declared that all children born on French soil could be conscripted for military service, his father arranged for Maugham to be born at the embassy, technically on British soil. His grandfather, another Robert, had also been a prominent lawyer and co-founder of the English Law Society. It was taken for granted that Maugham and his brothers would follow in their footsteps.
His elder brother Viscount Maugham enjoyed a distinguished legal career and served as Lord Chancellor from 1938 to 1939. Maugham's mother, Edith Mary (née Snell), had tuberculosis (TB), a condition for which her doctor prescribed childbirth. She had Maugham several years after the last of his three older brothers; they were already enrolled in boarding school by the time he was three. Being the youngest, he was effectively raised as an only child. Edith's sixth and final son died on 25 January 1882, one day after his birth, on Maugham's eighth birthday. Edith died of TB six days later on 31 January at the age of 41. The early death of his mother left Maugham traumatized; he kept his mother's photograph by his bedside for the rest of his life. Two years after Edith's death, Maugham's father died in France of cancer.
By 1914, Maugham was famous, with 10 plays produced and 10 novels published. Too old to enlist when the First World War broke out, he served in France as a member of the British Red Cross's so-called "Literary Ambulance Drivers", a group of some 24 well-known writers, including the Americans John Dos Passos and E. E. Cummings. During this time, he met Frederick Gerald Haxton, a young San Franciscan, who became his companion and lover until Haxton's death in 1944.
Throughout this period, Maugham continued to write. He proofread Of Human Bondage at a location near Dunkirk during a lull in his ambulance duties. Of Human Bondage (1915) initially was criticized in both England and the United States; the New York World described the romantic obsession of the protagonist Philip Carey as "the sentimental servitude of a poor fool". The influential American novelist and critic Theodore Dreiser rescued the novel, referring to it as a work of genius and comparing it to a Beethoven symphony. His review gave the book a lift, and it has never been out of print since.