Have you ever had that feeling that sometimes when you first noticed a stranger, you are bound to see him again, perhaps a little while later? Many times as I wait at a traffic junction, I would pay particular notice to one of the pedastrians crossing the road, and then somewhere else later, I would see that same person again. A coincidence or what?
I’ve just finished reading The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham. I really enjoyed the book and wondered about the man who wrote it. Imagine travelling to the Far East in 1920s-30s. At that time, Tigers were still roaming in Singapore. This week in Times magazine, it did a review on his new biography by Selina Hastings. Coincidence?
William Somerset Maugham (1874 – 1965) was a famous dramatist who had four plays running concurrently in the West End at one time. Besides being a writer, he was also a doctor and a spy, all with generous measure of success. Like many authors of his time, his private life was often torturous. His mother died when he was eight and he had a cold upbringing from an unaffectionate uncle. He had a crippling stammer and a toxic marriage to a woman when he was 45. (Makes me reconsider the fact if I really want to write, and that I’m not acheiving success is probably due to my good life.)
WSM produced nine works of fiction and non-fiction. He was a master of short story – The Trembling of a Leaf (1921), The Casuarina Tree (1926) and Ah King (1933) – and a great deal of his work was based on his travel, especially to the Far East.
Not surprising to me was the fact that he was a homosexual, and his travelling was accompanied by his lover, secretary and companion of 30 years, Gerald Haxton. He had another significant homosexual relationship with a boy 30 years his junior. One wonders when he had time for his wife.
As described by the columnist, Neel Mukherjee, who wrote the Times’ article, Asia unlocked some deep well of creativity, with his sometimes shocking tales of white colonist planters exiled in steamy jungles. His later visit to Mexico and Central America failed to give him the same inspiration.
Mukherjee ended the piece by saying that if anyone reads Maugham now, they are more likely to be in Asia than in the West, which seems to have largely forgotten him. Perhaps true, but I would have thought the recent making and the book published based on the movie The Painted Veil would state otherwise.