22.06.09 Graeme Neill reporting in The Bookseller
John Murray will publish The Secret Lives of Somerset Maugham on 3rd September in hardback, priced £25. The title's author, Selina Hastings, has been working on the book for the past 10 years after being given access to Maugham's private letters.
When the playwright died in 1965, he specified in his will that his executors, the Royal Literary Fund, should forbid the publication of his correspondence. Roland Philipps, managing director of John Murray, said: "He left instructions that there should not be any authorised biographies because he was terrified of being outed as a homosexual. When he died it was still illegal. He wasn't the best father either and there was a lot of information about his life that he didn't want to come out."
Central to this was Maugham's relationship with his daughter, Liza. She sued him after Maugham sold a collection of paintings assigned to her by deed. Maugham publicly disowned her and suggested she was not his biological daughter. Philipps said: "His daughter grew up with a lot of anguish."
The book uses private testimony between Liza and a family friend, which is being published for the first time. Philipps said: "It was a series of long and harrowing conversations with a close friend about her childhood. There was a lot of material there as she carried a lot of baggage from her childhood. He was a terrible father."
Hastings chanced upon the archive of letters when she was researching another book. She uncovered a letter from Maugham and contacted the Royal Literary Fund to see whether she could quote from it. She was told that the fund was about to discuss whether it should rescind the policy. Philipps said: "Selina got in by chance before they did this."
Philipps said the private archive Hastings uncovered gives the book a greater insight into Maugham's life. He said: "In a lot of literary biographies, the subject is only interesting because of their writing. But with Maugham, there is a hugely complicated personality that goes alongside his writing."