William Somerset Maugham CH (/mɔːm/ MAWM; 25 January 1874 – 16 December 1965) was an English 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.
Both Maugham’s parents died before he was 10, and he was raised by a paternal uncle who was emotionally cold. He did not want to become a lawyer like other men in his family, so he trained and qualified as a physician. The initial run of his first novel Liza of Lambeth (1897) sold out so rapidly that he 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 October Revolution of 1917. During and after the war, he travelled in India, Southeast Asia and the Pacific, and those experiences were reflected in later short stories and novels.
The writer’s life allowed Maugham to travel and to live in places such as Spain and Capri for the next decade, but his next ten works never came close to rivalling the success of Liza. This changed in 1907 with the success of his play Lady Frederick. By the next year, he had four plays running simultaneously in London, and Punch published a cartoon of Shakespeare biting his fingernails nervously as he looked at the billboards.