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Edited by Somerset Maugham

Wyatt Mason: Bedtime stories for adults, 17 March 2005

Pieces for the Left Hand: 100 Anecdotes 
by J. Robert Lennon.
Granta, 213 pp., £10, March 2005, 1 86207 740 1
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... In 1945, Somerset Maugham contributed a list to Redbook magazine of what were, in his opinion, ‘the ten best novels in the world’. Maugham’s choices were neither surprising nor controversial (War and Peace, Madame Bovary, Moby-Dick) but in a note that accompanied his list, he suggested that ‘the wise reader’ will ‘get the greatest enjoyment out of reading them if he learns the useful art of skipping ...

Maughamisms

Elizabeth Mavor, 18 July 1985

A Traveller in Romance 
by W. Somerset Maugham, edited by John Whitehead.
Muller, Blond and White, 275 pp., £12.95, November 1984, 0 85634 184 3
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... collection of fugitive pieces, ‘am a Traveller in Romance.’ It does not seem an apt title for Somerset Maugham, for apart from a passing whim to end his days at Angkor Wat, he strikes one as very little tinged with romance. He describes himself as ‘more inclined to look forward than to look back’, as having ‘always lived so much in the ...

I only want the OM

Christopher Tayler: Somerset Maugham, 1 September 2005

Somerset MaughamA Life 
by Jeffrey Meyers.
Vintage, 411 pp., £12, April 2005, 1 4000 3052 8
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... In Cakes and Ale (1930), William Somerset Maugham has Willie Ashenden – his narrator and stand-in – explain that, in reputation-building terms, ‘longevity is genius.’ He comes out with this idea while discussing the case of his friend Edward Driffield, a Hardy-like figure who becomes the Grand Old Man of English Letters after seeing off late Victorian accusations of impropriety ...

No more alimony, tra la la

Miranda Carter: Somerset Maugham, 17 December 2009

The Secret Lives of Somerset Maugham 
by Selina Hastings.
John Murray, 614 pp., £25, September 2009, 978 0 7195 6554 0
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... In his lifetime, Somerset Maugham was the most successful writer in the Anglophone world. By the time he was 90, 80 million copies of his books had been sold, he was a media celebrity and a very rich man. He had also lived, as Selina Hastings says, ‘much of his life under cover’. He went to great lengths to erase evidence of his private life, systematically destroying his personal papers, asking friends to burn his letters, and instructing his executors to discourage would-be biographers ...

Diners-out

E.S. Turner, 3 July 1986

Augustus Hare: Victorian Gentleman 
by Malcolm Barnes.
Allen and Unwin, 240 pp., £20, May 1986, 9780049201002
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Midway on the Waves 
by James Lees-Milne.
Faber, 248 pp., £10.95, October 1985, 0 571 13723 7
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... After his first novel was published, Somerset Maugham was a frequent guest at Holmhurst, in Sussex, of that indiscreet memoirist, Augustus Hare, then in his sixties. At morning worship, with the servants, Maugham noticed that the wording of the prayers was unfamiliar. ‘I’ve crossed out all the passages in glorification of God,’ explained Hare ...

Diary

Susannah Clapp: On Angela Carter, 12 March 1992

... are classified differently, as, God help us, “serious writers” in comparison.’ She won the Somerset Maugham Award in 1968 (and described with some pleasure how she used the money to run away from her first husband: ‘I’m sure Somerset Maugham would have been very pleased’), but she never won the ...

Motoring

Frank Kermode: James Lees-Milne, 30 November 2000

Deep Romantic Chasm: Diaries 1979-81 
by James Lees-Milne, edited by Michael Bloch.
Murray, 276 pp., £22.50, October 2000, 0 7195 5608 2
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A Mingled Measure: Diaries 1953-72 
by James Lees-Milne.
Murray, 325 pp., £12.99, October 2000, 0 7195 5609 0
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Ancient as the Hills: Diaries 1973-74 
by James Lees-Milne.
Murray, 228 pp., £12.99, October 2000, 0 7195 6200 7
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... counties or important metropolitan districts: Diana Westmoreland, Sally Westminster, Caroline Somerset, Deborah Devonshire. Numerous acquaintances identified in the text by their quite ordinary first names turn out, in the footnotes, to be dukes or earls. Some, by a process of dynastic agglutination, actually have as many as four surnames. One can of ...

Madly Excited

John Bayley, 1 June 1989

The Life of Graham Greene. Vol. I: 1904-1939 
by Norman Sherry.
Cape, 783 pp., £16.95, April 1989, 0 224 02654 2
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... The complete arbitrariness available to the Classical stage is so cunningly naturalised that we hardly notice at first reading how the parts have been taken from the contrivance of stage dilemmas, with the categories and imperatives of Roman Catholic doctrine acting as the indispensable prison of artifice. Sheer implausibility is turned into realism, as ...

German Jew

Michael Irwin, 17 April 1980

The Missing Years 
by Walter Laqueur.
Weidenfeld, 281 pp., £5.95, March 1980, 0 297 77707 6
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Jack be nimble 
by Nigel Williams.
Secker, 213 pp., £5.50, March 1980, 0 436 57155 2
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Identity Papers 
by Anthony Cronin.
Co-op Books, 194 pp., £4.50, February 1980, 0 905441 23 0
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Narrow Rooms 
by James Purdy.
Black Sheep Books, 185 pp., £5.95, March 1980, 0 906538 60 2
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Six Moral Tales 
by Eric Rohmer, translated by Sabine d’Estrée.
Lorrimer, 252 pp., £4.95, February 1980, 0 85647 075 9
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... the imagination as Dr Lasson’s rather flat story-telling does not. Nigel Williams, who won the Somerset Maugham Award for Fiction in 1978, has produced a second novel, which shows plenty of talent but is rather a mess. Its hero, Jack Warliss, a writer of sorts, invents a series of aliases for himself as he struggles to find his true nature and to ...

Suiting yourself

Peter Campbell, 27 July 1989

I Modi. The Sixteen Pleasures: An Erotic Album of Renaissance Italy 
by Lynne Lawner.
Northwestern, 132 pp., $35.95, February 1989, 0 8101 0803 8
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The Dress of the Venetians 1495-1525 
by Stella Mary Newton.
Scolar, 196 pp., £28.50, December 1988, 0 85967 735 4
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Fashion Drawings in ‘Vogue’: René Bouët-Willamez and Fashion Drawings in ‘Vogue’: Carl Erickson 
by William Parker.
Joseph, 128 pp., £14.95, March 1989, 0 86350 198 2
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Women and Fashion 
by Caroline Evans and Minna Thornton.
Quartet, 184 pp., £15, March 1989, 0 7043 2691 4
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... Forties and Fifties, brought to mind a scene from a novel by Elizabeth Bowen, or a short story by Somerset Maugham, expanded to include Genet, The Story of O and comic books. Evans and Thornton spend some time analysing the feminist position on femininity, and here the disapproving tones of 15th-century Venetian officials find odd echoes: the Women’s ...

Pouting

Karl Miller: Smiley and Bingham, 9 May 2013

A Delicate Truth 
by John le Carré.
Viking, 310 pp., £18.99, April 2013, 978 0 670 92279 6
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The Man Who Was George Smiley: The Life of John Bingham 
by Michael Jago.
Biteback, 308 pp., £20, February 2013, 978 1 84954 513 6
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... the novel’s dislikes. The native baddies explain that the British don’t do rendition, and we are left to feel that Americans do. The progressive politics noticeable in the books evokes, at times, the politics of the courageous former Foreign Office diplomat, Carne Ross, to whom acknowledgment is made. Operation Wildlife is located on Gibraltar, and it ...

Man Who Burned

Adam Kuper: James Brooke, 12 December 2002

White Rajah: A Biography of Sir James Brooke 
by Nigel Barley.
Little, Brown, 262 pp., £16.99, October 2002, 0 316 85920 6
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... In 1921, a boat carrying Somerset Maugham upriver in Borneo capsized in eight-foot waves, and for half an hour the writer clung desperately to the wreckage. ‘At last, helped by some of the crew,’ a district officer reported, ‘Maugham managed to reach the bank utterly exhausted ...

Complaining about reviews

John Bayley, 23 May 1985

Mrs Henderson, and Other Stories 
by Francis Wyndham.
Cape, 160 pp., £8.50, April 1985, 0 224 02306 3
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... Did you notice that ‘authoress’? Well, there’s a giveaway, for a start. I mean, this is 1979 we’re living in, right? No wonder this bigoted ignoramus can’t understand that my emphasis on the theme of menstruation is merely a reworking of the Little Red Riding Hood myth in a postmodernist mode! What never ceases to amaze me is the way they all make ...

Bang-Bang, Kiss-Kiss

Christian Lorentzen: Bond, 3 December 2015

Spectre 
directed by Sam Mendes.
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The Man with the Golden Typewriter: Ian Fleming’s James Bond Letters 
edited by Fergus Fleming.
Bloomsbury, 391 pp., £25, October 2015, 978 1 4088 6547 7
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Ian Fleming: A Personal Memoir 
by Robert Harling.
Robson, 372 pp., £20, October 2015, 978 84 95493 65 1
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... also taunts Bond for not remembering the faces of the women he takes to bed – not the first time we’ve seen 007 slut-shamed. The crater is an allusion to the Japanese volcano that Spectre operated out of in You Only Live Twice, and despite the quasi-Freudian set-up of the jealous birth son having his revenge on the usurping adoptive brother, ...

Dry Eyes

John Bayley, 5 December 1991

Jump and Other Stories 
by Nadine Gordimer.
Bloomsbury, 257 pp., £13.99, October 1991, 0 7475 1020 2
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Wilderness Tips 
by Margaret Atwood.
Bloomsbury, 247 pp., £14.99, September 1991, 0 7475 1019 9
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... trouble is that a story can have nothing to add to such an event. Like Mérimée or Maupassant or Somerset Maugham, Nadine Gordimer seems most at home when no commentary is necessary: most of all when even an implicit ideology can be sidetracked. ‘A Find’ is about a man powerful and prosperous enough to have got through two designing wives, and who ...

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