Friday, 22 March 2013

W. Somerset Maugham: Anglo-American Agent in Revolutionary Russia


Jeffreys-Jones, Rhondri. "W. Somerset Maugham: Anglo-American Agent in Revolutionary Russia." American Quarterly 28 (1976): 90-106.

This article, at the outset, sounds very promising, with the intention to review Maugham's accomplishment as a spy. However, the reader is hit on the face by a blatant factual error in the very first sentence: "W. SOMERSET MAUGHAM (1874-1966)." I don't think there is any question as to the date of Maugham's death.

With a bruise on one eye promptly the reader gets hit on the other on the second page: "It is possible that Maugham chose to overstress those failures [in his secret intelligence activities] because of his masochism, a masochism which further accounted for his acceptance of the danger and claustrophobia involved in espionage" (91). With a raw steak on one eye I tried to take this as saying that someone is bilious or phlegmatic or constipated and secretly wondered what Maugham would have looked like in leather and cuffs. I can imagine how delighted some of Maugham's more sensationalist biographers would be with this quote.

I had to shift the raw steak onto the other eye when I read: "From a personal point of view, Maugham was probably glad to cooperate with the United States. He had a close and possibly homosexual relationship with an American named Haxton. Haxton had been harrassed by the British authorities. Perhaps thrown into an unduly recalcitrant mood, Maugham was to become acid about his secret service superiors in London" (92). Hmm...no comment...

Putting the pseudo-psychoanalysis aside, Jeffreys-Jones cited from Maugham's cablegrams and dairies from people he came in contact with during these secret activities, which could be of interest; though I saw from the reference that many of them came from Calder's W. Somerset Maugham and the Quest for Freedom, which I haven't read yet so I can't say how original Jeffreys-Jones' own interpretation is.

With my eyes still sore I can only report the conclusion, which is that Maugham's analyses and recommendations to the situation at that time were taken seriously, especially by the United States.

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