secret somerset


In 1962, William Somerset Maugham’s nephew, Robin, his own literary efforts having not amounted to much, informed his wealthy and famous uncle that an American publisher, Victor Weybright, had offered him an advance of $50,000 to write Maugham’s biography. “Obviously I can’t afford to turn down such a good offer,” the younger Maugham explained. “As you know, although I earn enough from my writing to keep me going each year, I haven’t a penny of capital.” The letter’s affectionate tone notwithstanding, Maugham had no trouble grasping its import and responded by sending Robin a check equal to the one he would have received from Weybright. “I give you my word that I shall not write any other biography about you — ever,” Robin replied. “I’m really awfully shy about all this, but I’m also very ­grateful.” “Shy” is a peculiar adjective to use to describe blackmail, which was, as Selina Hastings makes clear in her biography, “The Secret Lives of Somerset Maugham,” Robin’s intention. Himself homosexual, Robin had been privy to Maugham’s erotic and emotional involvements with other men since he was a teenager, and might well have been the object of more than avuncular interest on Maugham’s part. (“I’m not saying I think there was incest,” ­Glenway Wescott recalled, “but Willie was infatuated with Robin.”)

more from David Leavitt at the NYT here.