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Maugham, W Somerset

Entry updated 2 July 2021. Tagged: Author.

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(1874-1965) French-born physician (he never practised), playwright and author, in UK from late childhood, Robin Maugham's uncle. He remains best known for Of Human Bondage (1915), a rather grim Bildungsroman, partially autobiographical, for The Moon and Sixpence (1919), a fictional portrait of Paul Gauguin (1848-1903), and for Cakes and Ale (1930), a roman à clef whose main target was Hugh Walpole (1884-1941); none of Maugham's supernatural tales edge into sf. "The Choice of Amyntas" from Orientations (coll 1899) is a long parable whose eighteenth-century protagonist, cast out of England to make his living, finds a magic Underground palace occupied by four allegorical maidens, each of whom represents a life-choice [for Lifestyle Fantasy here, and Aleister Crowley and Homunculus below, see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below]. He selects Love; the three rejected maidens, War, Riches and Art, return disappointedly to the surface, where they significantly shape the nineteenth century. There are as well some supernatural fictions in Cosmopolitans: Very Short Stories (coll 1936) and The Mixture as Before (coll 1940).

The Magician (1908; exp 1909) – which if it had been written a century later could have been seen as deliberately and effectively Equipoisal between horror and sf – presents a savage and easily recognized portrait of Aleister Crowley as Oliver Haddo, a student of occultism (see Pseudoscience) who forces a young woman to marry him through his mesmeric power over her (see Hypnosis). Eventually he sacrifices her in order to create in his laboratory what in horror terms might be deemed an homunculus (see Supernatural Creatures), but in terms of Horror in SF is a grotesque artificial being (see Androids; Frankenstein Monster); Crowley himself accused Maugham of plagiarizing H G Wells's The Island of Dr Moreau (1896). [JC]

William Somerset Maugham

born Paris: 25 January 1874

died Nice, Alpes-Maritimes, France: 16 December 1965

works (highly selected)

  • The Magician (London: William Heinemann, 1908) [hb/]
    • The Magician (New York: Duffield and Company, 1909) [exp of the above: hb/uncredited]

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