W. Somerset Maugham

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The world in general doesn't know what to make of originality; it is startled out of its comfortable habits of thought, and its first reaction is one of anger.

William Somerset Maugham (25 January 187416 December 1965) was an English playwright, novelist, and short story writer; often published as simply W. Somerset Maugham.

See also:
The Razor's Edge (1984 film)

Quotes[edit]

If a nation values anything more than freedom, it will lose its freedom; and the irony of it is that if it is comfort or money that it values more, it will lose that too.
  • She gathered herself together. No one could describe the scorn of her expression or the contemptuous hatred she put into her answer.
    "You men! You filthy dirty pigs! You're all the same, all of you. Pigs! Pigs!"
    • "Sadie Thompson" in Altogether - Rain (1934)
  • The Riviera isn't only a sunny place for shady people.
    • Strictly Personal, p. 156 (Doubleday, Doran and co., inc., 1941)
  • He knew that women appreciated neither irony nor sarcasm, but simple jokes and funny stories. He was amply provided with both.
    • Then and Now : A Novel (1946), p. 136
  • Now the world in general doesn't know what to make of originality; it is startled out of its comfortable habits of thought, and its first reaction is one of anger.
    • Great Novelists and Their Novels (1948)
  • The trouble with our younger authors is that they are all in the sixties.
    • As quoted in "Sayings of the Week" in The Observer (14 October 1951)
  • It is unsafe to take your reader for more of a fool than he is.
    • Ten Novels and Their Authors (1954)
  • What makes old age hard to bear is not the failing of one's faculties, mental and physical, but the burden of one's memories.
    • Points of View (1959) Ch. 1
  • What has influenced my life more than any other single thing has been my stammer. Had I not stammered I would probably... have gone to Cambridge as my brothers did, perhaps have become a don and every now and then published a dreary book about French literature.
    • Newsweek, 23 May, 1960
  • Dying is a very dull, dreary affair. And my advice to you is to have nothing whatever to do with it.
  • To eat well in England, you should have a breakfast three times a day.
    • Quoted in Somerset Maugham (1980) by Ted Morgan
  • [Money] is the string with which a sardonic destiny directs the motions of its puppets.
    • Quoted in Somerset Maugham (1980) by Ted Morgan
  • My own belief is that there is hardly anyone whose sexual life, if it were broadcast, would not fill the world at large with surprise and horror.
    • Quoted in Somerset Maugham (1980) by Ted Morgan
  • A soul is a troublesome possession, and when man developed it he lost the Garden of Eden.

Of Human Bondage (1915)[edit]

You know, there are two good things in life, freedom of thought and freedom of action.
  • It is an illusion that youth is happy, an illusion of those who have lost it; but the young know they are wretched, for they are full of the truthless ideals which have been instilled into them, and each time they come in contact with the real they are bruised and wounded.
    • Ch. 29
  • Like all weak men he laid an exaggerated stress on not changing one's mind.
    • Ch. 39
  • Art... is merely the refuge which the ingenious have invented, when they were supplied with food and women, to escape the tediousness of life.
    • Ch. 42
  • I do not confer praise or blame: I accept. I am the measure of all things. I am the centre of the world.
    • Ch. 45
  • Men seek but one thing in life — their pleasure.
    • Ch. 45
  • People ask you for criticism, but they only want praise.
    • Ch. 50
  • There is nothing so degrading as the constant anxiety about one's means of livelihood...Money is like a sixth sense without which you cannot make a complete use of the other five.
    • Ch. 51
  • You will hear people say that poverty is the best spur to the artist. They have never felt the iron of it in their flesh. They do not know how mean it makes you. It exposes you to endless humiliation, it cuts your wings, it eats into your soul like a cancer. It is not wealth one asks for, but just enough to preserve one's dignity, to work unhampered, to be generous, frank, and independent.
    • Ch. 51
  • It is cruel to discover one's mediocrity only when it is too late.
    • Ch. 51
  • I daresay one profits more by the mistakes one makes off one's own bat than by doing the right thing on somebody's else advice.
    • Ch. 52
  • Follow your inclinations with due regard to the policeman round the corner.
    • Ch. 53
  • There was an immeasurable distance between the quick and the dead: they did not seem to belong to the same species; and it was strange to think that but a little while before they had spoken and moved and eaten and laughed.
    • Ch. 54
  • Of course it was cause and effect, but in the necessity with which follows the other lay all tragedy of life.
    • Ch. 65
  • Life wouldn't be worth living if I worried over the future as well as the present. When things are at their worst I find something always happens.
    • Ch. 66
  • When I read a book I seem to read it with my eyes only, but now and then I come across a passage, perhaps only a phrase, which has a meaning for me, and it becomes part of me.
    • Ch. 67
  • It's no use crying over spilt milk, because all of the forces of the universe were bent on spilling it.
    • Ch. 68
  • But when all was said the important thing was to love rather than to be loved.
    • Ch. 70
  • There's always one who loves and one who lets himself be loved.
    • Ch. 71
  • It's asking a great deal that things should appeal to your reason as well as your sense of the aesthetic.
    • Ch. 88
  • The rain fell alike upon the just and upon the unjust, and for nothing was there a why and a wherefore.
    • Ch. 106
  • D'you call life a bad job? Never! We've had our ups and downs, we've had our struggles, we've always been poor, but it's been worth it, ay, worth it a hundred times I say when I look round at my children.
    • Ch. 108
  • He had heard people speak contemptuously of money: he wondered if they had ever tried to do without it.
    • Ch. 116

The Moon and Sixpence (1919)[edit]

Page numbers used in this section are from the Penguin Classics edition (1993) ISBN 0140185976
  • I forget who it was that recommended men for their soul's good to do each day two things they disliked ... it is a precept that I have followed scrupulously; for every day I have got up and I have gone to bed.
    • Ch. 2
  • Impropriety is the soul of wit.
    • Ch. 4, p. 17
  • Conscience is the guardian in the individual of the rules which the community has evolved for its own preservation.
    • Ch. 14
  • She saw shrewdly that the world is quickly bored by the recital of misfortune, and willingly avoids the sight of distress.
    • Ch. 16, p. 61
  • It is not true that suffering ennobles the character; happiness does that sometimes, but suffering, for the most part, makes men petty and vindictive.
    • Ch. 17, p. 64
  • I don't think of the past. The only thing that matters is the everlasting present.
    • Ch. 21, p. 79
  • Life isn't long enough for love and art.
    • Ch. 21, p. 83 (estimated)
  • The writer is more concerned to know than to judge.
    • Ch. 41, p. 140
  • A woman can forgive a man for the harm he does her...but she can never forgive him for the sacrifices he makes on her account.
    • Ch. 41, p. 142
  • Sometimes people carry to such perfection the mask they have assumed that in due course they actually become the person they seem.
    • Ch. 42, p. 146 (estimated)

Great Novelists and Their Novels[edit]

  • Both these men are in love with Natasha, Count Rostov's younger daughter, and in her Tolstoy has created the most delightful girl in fiction. Nothing is so difficult as to portray a young girl who is at once charming and interesting. Generally the young girls of fiction are colorless (Amelia in Vanity Fair), priggish (Fanny in Mansfield Park), too clever by half (Constantia Durham in The Egoist), or little geese (Dora in David Copperfield), silly flirts or innocent beyound belief. It is understandable that they should be an awkward subject for the novelist to deal with, for at that tender age the personality is undeveloped. Similarly a painter can only make a face interesting when the vicissitudes of life, thought, love and suffering have given it character. In the portrait of a girl the best he can do is to represent the charm and beauty of youth. But Natasha is entirely natural. She is sweet, sensitive, and sympathetic, willful, childish, womanly already, idealistic, quick-tempered, warm-hearted, headstrong, capricious and in everything enchanting. Tolstoy created many women and they are wonderfully true to life, but never another who wins the affection of the reader as does Natasha.
    • Leo Tolstoy and War and Peace

Cakes and Ale: Or, The Skeleton in the Cupboard (1930)[edit]

  • It's no good trying to keep up old friendships. It's painful for both sides. The fact is, one grows out of people, and the only thing is to face it.
    • p. 14
  • Hypocrisy is the most difficult and nerve-racking vice that any man can pursue; it needs an unceasing vigilance and a rare detachment of spirit. It cannot, like adultery or gluttony, be practised at spare moments; it is a whole-time job.
    • p. 15.
  • Beauty is an ecstasy; it is as simple as hunger. There is really nothing to be said about it. It is like the perfume of a rose: you can smell it and that is all.
    • p. 140
  • …you know what the critics are. If you tell the truth they only say you're cynical and it does an author no good to get a reputation for cynicism.
    • p. 137
  • It's very hard to be a gentleman and a writer.
    • p. 157
  • …when you are young you take the kindness people show you as your right…
    • p. 166
  • The writer of prose can only step aside when the poet passes…
    • p. 184

The Summing Up (1938)[edit]

Page numbers in this section are from the first edition by Doubleday, Doran & Co.
  • I would sooner read a time-table or a catalogue than nothing at all. … They are much more entertaining than half the novels that are written.
    • p. 1
  • There is only one thing about which I am certain, and this is that there is very little about which one can be certain.
  • I have not been afraid of excess: excess on occasion is exhilarating. It prevents moderation from acquiring the deadening effect of a habit.
    • p. 48
  • …the future will one day be the present and will seem as unimportant as the present does now.
    • p. 51
  • …we learn resignation not by our own suffering, but by the suffering of others.
    • p. 64
  • You are not angry with people when you laugh at them. Humour teaches tolerance, and the humorist, with a smile and perhaps a sigh, is more likely to shrug his shoulders than to condemn.
    • p. 67
  • I do not believe they are right who say that the defects of famous men should be ignored. I think it is better that we should know them. Then, though we are conscious of having faults as glaring as theirs, we can believe that that is no hindrance to our achieving also something of their virtues.
    • p. 71
  • The artist produces for the liberation of his soul. It is his nature to create as it is the nature of water to run down the hill.
    • p. 185
  • Imagination grows by exercise, and contrary to common belief, is more powerful in the mature than in the young.
    • p. 164
  • … habits in writing as in life are only useful if they are broken as soon as they cease to be advantageous.
    • p. 182
  • The common idea that success spoils people by making them vain, egotistic and self-complacent is erroneous; on the contrary it makes them, for the most part, humble, tolerant and kind. Failure makes people bitter and cruel.'
    • p. 182
  • I'll give you my opinion of the human race in a nutshell... their heart's in the right place, but their head is a thoroughly inefficient organ.
    • p. 206
  • I have been forced to conclude from this that we know our friends by their defects rather than by their merits.
    • p. 214
  • It is salutary to train oneself to be no more affected by censure than by praise…
    • p. 223
  • The great critic … must be a philosopher, for from philosophy he will learn serenity, impartiality, and the transitoriness of human things.
    • p. 223
  • Tradition is a guide and not a jailer.
    • p. 223
  • There is no explanation for evil. It must be looked upon as a necessary part of the order of the universe. To ignore it is childish, to bewail it senseless.
    • p. 285
  • Old age has its pleasures, which, though different, are not less than the pleasures of youth.
    • p. 290
  • Old age is ready to undertake tasks that youth shirked because they would take too long.
    • p. 290
  • Perfection is a trifle dull. It is not the least of life's ironies that this, which we all aim at, is better not quite achieved.
    • p. 297
  • We are not the same persons this year as last ; nor are those we love. It is a happy chance if we, changing, continue to love a changed person.
    • p. 306
  • Every production of an artist should be the expression of an adventure of his soul.
    • p. 310

The Razor's Edge (1943)[edit]

Nothing in the world is permanent, and we're foolish when we ask anything to last, but surely we're still more foolish not to take delight in it while we have it. If change is of the essence of existence one would have thought it only sensible to make it the premise of our philosophy.
  • Passion is destructive; if it does not destroy, it dies.
  • Nothing in the world is permanent, and we're foolish when we ask anything to last, but surely we're still more foolish not to take delight in it while we have it. If change is of the essence of existence one would have thought it only sensible to make it the premise of our philosophy.
  • I thought I should be a fool to allow work to interfere with a delight in the passing moment that I might never enjoy again so fully.
  • He was the kind of man with whom one would have hesitated to pass a lonely evening, but with whom one might cheerfully have looked forward to spending six months.
  • It may be that if I lead the life I've planned for myself it may affect others; the effect may be no greater than the ripple caused by a stone thrown in a pond, but one ripple causes another.
  • Almost all the people who have had most effect on me I seem to have met by chance.
  • Don't you know? Because American women expect to find in their husbands a perfection that English women only hope to find in their butlers.
  • Things don't get any easier by putting them off.
  • He found himself now in the agreeable situation of being able to do what was best for others and at the same time what was convenient to himself.
  • There are men who are possessed by an urge so strong to do some particular thing that they can't help themselves, they've got to do it. They're prepared to sacrifice everything to satisfy their yearning.
  • Women are always glad to listen when you discourse upon love...
  • Passion doesn't count the cost. ... Passion is destructive.
  • In art honesty is not only the best but the only policy.
  • Religion is...a conspiracy of...priests to gain control over the people...
  • The sad Don Quixote of a worthless purpose.
  • A god that can be understood is not a god.

A Writer's Notebook (1946)[edit]

Page numbers used in this section are from the first general edition by Country Life Press (1949)
  • Considering how foolishly people act and how pleasantly they prattle, perhaps it would be better for the world if they talked more and did less.
    • "1892", p. 1
  • The love that lasts longest is the love that is never returned.
    • p. 13
  • Anyone can tell the truth, but only very few of us can make epigrams.
    • "1896", p. 17
  • Men have an extraordinarily erroneous opinion of their position in nature; and the error is ineradicable.
    • "1896", p. 20
  • Few misfortunes can befall a boy which bring worse consequences than to have a really affectionate mother.
    • "1896", p. 28
  • There is no object to life. To nature nothing matters but the continuation of the species.
    • p. 38
    • Maugham says something similar in The Summing up, Ch 22: "Love was only the dirty trick nature played on us to achieve the continuation of the species."
  • In the country the darkness of night is friendly and familiar, but in a city, with its blaze of lights, it is unnatural, hostile and menacing. It is like a monstrous vulture that hovers, biding its time.
    • p. 48
  • There are men whose sense of humour is so ill developed that they still bear a grudge against Copernicus because he dethroned them from the central position in the universe. They feel it a personal affront that they can no longer consider themselves the pivot upon which turns the whole of created things.
    • "1901", p. 66
  • What mean and cruel things men can do for the love of God.
    • "1901", p. 67
  • If forty million people say a foolish thing it does not become a wise one, but the wise man is foolish to give them the lie.
    • "1901", p. 76
    • Sometimes misquoted as "If fifty million people say a foolish thing, it is still a foolish thing."
    • Sometimes misattributed to Bertrand Russell or Anatole France
  • She plunged into a sea of platitudes, and with the powerful breast stroke of a channel swimmer made her confident way towards the white cliffs of the obvious.
    • p. 189
  • Things were easier for the old novelists who saw people all of a piece. Speaking generally, their heroes were good through and through, their villains wholly bad.
    • "1922", p. 196
  • It was not till quite late in life that I discovered how easy it is to say: "I don't know."
    • p. 258
  • I made up my mind long ago that life was too short to do anything for myself that I could pay others to do for me.
    • "1941", p. 336
  • Sentimentality is only sentiment that rubs you up the wrong way.
    • "1941"
  • At a dinner party one should eat wisely but not too well, and talk well but not too wisely.
    • Unidentified page

Short Stories[edit]

  • She had a pretty gift for quotation, which is a serviceable substitute for wit…
    • The Creative Impulse (1926)
  • "You bloody fool, you've killed the wrong man."
    • "The Hairless Mexican" (1927)
  • Now it is a funny thing about life; if you refuse to accept anything but the best you very often get it…
    • The Mixture As Before (1940) "The Treasure"
  • Marriage is a very good thing, but I think it's a mistake to make a habit out of it.
    • '"The Treasure"

Plays[edit]

  • After all, a man marries to have a home, but also because he doesn't want to be bothered with sex and all that sort of thing.
    • Arnold, in The Circle: A Comedy in Three Acts (1921), p. 58-59
  • You can't learn too soon that the most useful thing about a principle is that it can always be sacrificed to expediency.
    • The Circle
  • You can do anything in this world if you are prepared to take the consequences.
    • The Circle
  • When you have loved as she has loved, you grow old beautifully.
    • The Circle
  • It was such a lovely day I thought it was a pity to get up.
    • Our Betters (1923)
  • We have long passed the Victorian Era when asterisks were followed after a certain interval by a baby.
    • The Constant Wife (1927)
  • You know that the Tasmanians, who never committed adultery, are now extinct.
    • The Bread-Winner (1930)
  • I was astonished to see him in Baghdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarra.
    • "Death" in Sheppey, Act III (1933)


Misattributed[edit]

  • It seems that the creative faculty and the critical faculty cannot exist together in their highest perfection.
  • No gray hairs streak my soul, no grandfatherly fondness there! I shake the world with the might of my voice, and walk—handsome, twentytwoyearold.

Quotes about Maugham[edit]

  • Then there was Somerset Maugham, a grim figure; rat-eyed; dead man cheeked, unshaven; a criminal I should have said had I met him on a bus.
    • Virginia Woolf, Letter to Vanessa Bell, 2 November 1938, in The Letters of Virginia Woolf, ed. N. Nicolson and J. Trautmann (1975-80)

External links[edit]

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