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Willie: The Life of W. Somerset Maugham

Winner of the 1989 Governor General’s Literary Award for non-fiction

William Somerset Maugham went to a lot of trouble to ensure that no biography of himself could be written.

Ever in terror of disrespectful leaks, he left strict directives with his Literary Executor and organised ‘bonfire nights’ of letters and unpublished writings. It brought him a good deal of attention – most of it unfriendly.

As doctor, spy, homosexual, husband, father, nonagenarian and one of this century’s most admired and successful writers, he was, in any case, an extraordinary man.

By nature aloof, imperious and emotional, he was a curious mixture of kindness and cruelty, a writer frightened only of his own psyche.

Robert Calder provides a sympathetic portrait of the stammering and elusive individual behind the austere persona.

With the active co-operation of Maugham’s secretary and companion, Alan Searle, he identifies the writer’s central fear of being exposed as a homosexual, and discusses his disastrous marriage and later unedifying public squabbling with his family.

Few writers have suffered so acutely from their weaknesses at the end of their days.

Robert Calder pleads admirably and persuasively for a more compassionate understanding of an essentially kind individual, torn between the opposing forces of instinct and social conformity.

Praise for Willie: The Life of W. Somerset Maugham

‘Hugely informative, discerning, sensitive.’ – Scotsman

‘Scrupulous and affectionate.’ – Literary Review

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