W. Somerset Maugham, or Somerset Maugham, as he is usually referred to, was perhaps the most respected English author of the 20th century to achieve a major presence in films; not only were many of his novels, short stories, and plays adapted into movies, but Maugham had the distinction of being portrayed on screen twice by Herbert Marshall. William Somerset Maugham was born of English parents in Paris, France, in 1874, and lived in France -- speaking only French -- until he lost both of his parents when he was 11. As an orphan, he was brought back to England by an uncle and attended King's School in Canterbury. Maugham's boyhood was blighted by insecurities, including a stammer that forced him to withdraw from most social interaction -- this was a central motivation for Maugham to become an observer of life, and an author. He later studied in Heidelberg, Germany, with an emphasis on philosophy and literature, and it was during this period that he discovered the homosexual side of his personality, which became still a further source of anxiety and withdrawal. (The prosecution and imprisonment of Oscar Wilde -- then the leading literary light of his day -- for "indecent acts" was a contemporary event and had the effect of driving even the most upper-crust and successful gay men completely underground.)
Maugham studied medicine and became a surgeon, spending a year practicing as a physician in some of London's poorest neighborhoods. Already, however, his writing career was manifesting itself in a serious way -- Maugham's first novel, Liza of Lambeth, was published in 1897, when he was 23, and sold well enough to allow him to give up his medical practice. His subsequent books included The Making of a Saint, The Hero, Mrs. Craddock, The Merry-Go-Round, and The Bishop's Apron. In 1903, his first play, A Man of Honour, was unsuccessful, but four years after that, he found success on the London stage with Lady Frederick. Finally hitting his stride as a popular writer, more successful plays and novels like The Explorer , The Magician , Of Human Bondage, On a Chinese Screen, and The Gentleman in the Parlour would soon follow over the coming decades.