Wednesday, 7 August 2013

The Writer's Point of View - W. Somerset Maugham

the cover of the writer's point of view, a lecture by w. somerset maugham in 1951
The Writer's Point of View 1951

The Writer's Point of View (London: The Cambridge University Press, 1951)

This post is about a very short book in which W. Somerset Maugham talks about reading and writing.

The Writer's Point of View: Reading and Writing

I mentioned this pamphlet in a previous post. It contains the lecture delivered by Maugham for the National Book League at the Kingsway Hall on 24 October 1951.

As Maugham himself states at the beginning, by then (in his seventy-seventh year) he has said what he has wanted to say. Many of the ideas have been expounded in his works. Faithful readers will spot them; for those who are less familiar with Maugham will find them of interest.

What makes this little pamphlet particular is that it was a lecture, which means that it was meant to be spoken to an audience in real time. Maugham's humour subsequently is adjusted to the occasion. It must have been a delightful lecture, with little jokes here and there, I imagined the frequent laughter that filled the hall. On the dust jacket it records that "Mr. Maugham delights his readers by practical and trenchant advice, delivered with that satiric twist which kept his vast audience in the Kingsway Hall rippling with laughter and impatient for him to continue."

In the first part, Maugham commented on the act of reading and the pleasure that one should derive from it, making references to some books that he admired and some that he did not. For those who are more familiar with his works as a whole, Maugham's breadth of reading is truly impressive. After he left King's School, he basically taught himself different subjects and devised his own educational programme (of course I am not including his training as a physician). He was a very impressive autodidact (remember/imagine the search for information before the internet, or even before Google!).

In the second part, he included some of the letters from the anxious mother that he printed in "Novelist or Bond Salesman," with some comments on them. He did claim that the letters were real and there is no reason not to believe him. Very briefly he highlighted the essential points important to him as a writer.

How I wish they had recorded the lecture!

The Writer's Point of View at
The Writer's Point of View at Amazon UK
The Writer's Point of View at Abebooks


  1. I am rather surprised that the lecture was apparently not recorded, considering that Kingsway Hall was well established recording venue at the time.

    1. There are a lot of sound files in The British Library. How I wish I had taken advantage of it! But then, one rarely does the right thing when one is in the right place. I almost spent a whole year in Canterbury, but then I chose somewhere else instead. How I want to hit my head against the wall every time I think about it! But then it wouldn't have meant anything to me at that time.

      Any chance for you to go to the BL? At the moment I can only wait patiently for the copyright to expire.

      I have been meaning to ask you something. Do you know about Maugham's involvement in the second issue of The Venture (1905)? I have the first one and it states clearly that he is one of the editors, but according to Mike, there is no indication at all Maugham is an editor in 1905. He ended up selling his copy!

      One more question, completely unrelated. When I was searching for editions of Of Human Bondage, there is one published by Signet as 100th Anniversary Edition in 2007. Do you know which 100th anniversary they are referring to? Signet is an imprint of New American Library, from what I found, and they were founded in 1948, so it can't be their own anniversary.

    2. My chances of going to BL are just about the same as my chances of going to the Moon.

      What I know about "The Venture" is what Stott tells us (D4). He clearly implies that Maugham and Housman edited both volumes, from 1903 and 1905. If Mike is right, which he probably is, this is yet another mistake in Stott.

      The Signet 100th Anniversary Edition does sound puzzling. It fits neither the publisher nor Maugham's life. I haven't the least idea what they meant.