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Abstract

Since his death in 1965, the British writer W. Somerset Maugham has been the subject of numerous memoirs as well as four substantial biographies. Maugham’s long life intersected with many of the central concerns of global modernity in the late 19th and the first half of the 20th century: changing gender roles, the disintegration of colonial empires, a new identity politics of sexuality and changing media technologies. Maugham was notably reticent about his personal life, prohibiting the publication of his letters and asking friends to destroy them, and producing a number of autobiographical works that conceal much more than they reveal. At the same time, he cultivated the image and the lifestyle of a celebrity author. Maugham’s fiction – into which the author himself often intrudes as a named character or in thin disguise – remains widely read but the subject of little scholarly attention. This paper, making use of contemporary insights in auto/biography studies regarding the connection between life writing and the construction of selfhood, explores the paradox of a fictional oeuvre that, through a series of dense intertextual connections continually re-iterates and re-members the fragments of experience. In parallel to their attempts to conceal, Maugham’s fictional and non-fictional texts construct an intimate public persona for his readers, a persona that then takes on an extra-textual life.