Anthony CurtisSomerset MaughamWeidenfeld and Nicolson, Hardback, 1977.216 pp., numerous black-and-white photos.First published in 1977.AcknowledgmentsForeword1. From Embassy to Vicarage2. The Black Book and Ibsen3. In and Out of Medicine4. Golden Sovereigns5. Jester into Spy6. Eden and After7. Wisemans Agent8. East of Suez9. The Villa Mauresque10. His House in Order11. World War Two12. Vagrant MoodsNotes on SourcesBibliographyBibliography of Maughams Main WorksIndex=============================================Another superbly illustrated book about Somerset Maugham that contains an amazing amount and variety of photographs: portraits of Maugham or people whom he knew, places which he visited or were in any way relevant to him.
The famous caricature published in Punch in 1908 showing the gloomy Shakespeare in front of a wall with posters of Maughams four plays running simultaneously in four different theaters in London is also included here- so is an excellent sample from the many portraits Sir Gerald Kelly painted of his friend Somerset Maugham. Quite unlike its twin in terms of illustrations (W.
Somerset Maugham and his world by Frederic Raphael, Thames and Hudson, 1976), this book is very well written indeed.After reading The Pattern of Maugham (Hamish Hamilton, 1974) by Anthony Curtis, one should expect an excellent writing about Maugham in this book. And that is precisely what one gets. Within a very limited space Anthony Curtis manages to give a fairly comprehensive account on both Maughams life and work, the accent of course being on the former unlike The Pattern of Maugham which was focused almost exclusively on the latter.
In the few years between the two books, Mr Curtis admiration for Maugham seems to have been somewhat qualified but this might be due to the very limited space on his disposal here. His criticism is still sensible, perceptive and altogether devoid of viciousness. The same can well be said about the narrative of Maughams life that forms the backbone of the book.
It is written in lucid and witty style, without any unnecessary dwelling upon Maughams sexuality and marriage, the two topics his biographers love so much more than his other activities, let alone works. Although much less detailed than Morgan and Meyers of course, Anthony Curtis has most of the facts all right and both his style and his critical judgment are far superior than the two aforementioned. To my mind, this is the best combination of not so short biography of Maugham and shrewd analysis of his oeuvre as a whole. For more detailed, if a great deal more prejudiced as well, account on the former one is advised to peruse Maugham: A Biography by Ted Morgan and Somerset Maugham: A Life by Jeffrey Meyers- as for the latter, namely Maughams literary works, Anthony Curtis The Pattern of Maugham is by far the most comprehensive and balanced account one could find.One further note about the photos.
Despite their excellence, some comments about them seem a bit suspicious to me. One notable example is the photo on page 108 showing Maugham with woman on his hand, both in evening dress. The text states that the woman is his wife Syrie and the picture was taken shortly after their marriage.
But neither she looks like Mrs Maugham nor Maugham himself looks as young as he was shortly after his marriage, at least in comparison with other pictures from that period. Pity that the picture research for such a handsomely bound and finely written volume should be somewhat sloppy. As a compensation one gets the famous Punch caricature on a whole page.