Somerset Maugham sails for Pago Pago - HISTORY
Year
1916

Somerset Maugham sails for Pago Pago

On this day in 1916, W. Somerset Maugham departs on a voyage to Pago Pago. Characters he meets on the voyage, including a prostitute and a missionary, inspire the story “Miss Thompson,” which is published in his 1923 story collection, The Trebling of a Leaf. The story becomes the play Rain, which is filmed three times, once starring Gloria Swanson, once with Joan Crawford, and once with Rita Hayworth.

Somerset Maugham was born at the British embassy in Paris in 1874. Both his father and his grandfather were lawyers, and his brother later became Lord Chancellor of England. Maugham was unsuited to the law profession, however, due to his pronounced stammer and extreme shyness, exacerbated by the death of his parents when he was 10. Maugham chose medicine instead of law. His first novel, Liza of Lambeth, describes his experiences working in London’s slums. Maugham took up writing full time but did not turn out another successful novel for more than 10 years. He did, however, become an immensely popular playwright. By 1908, he had four successful plays running in London at once, which brought him great financial success.

During World War I, Maugham worked as a secret agent. He later wrote about his experiences in Ashendon (1928), a collection of short stories. His portrayal of a suave, sophisticated spy influenced his friend Ian Fleming, creator of James Bond. In 1915, Maugham published Of Human Bondage (1915), a semi-autobiographical account of a young medical student’s artistic awakening. In 1917, he married the mother of his 18-month-old daughter, but during their 10-year marriage he carried on a long affair with an American man, with whom he later shared an elaborate villa in the south of France.

In 1919, Maugham published The Moon and Sixpence, featuring an unconventional artist based on Paul Gauguin. He denied that the writer portrayed in his 1930 novel, Cakes and Ale, was based on Thomas Hardy, but many saw striking similarities between the two. His 1944 novel, The Razor’s Edge, about an American war veteran, was also successful. Maugham also continued to write plays, short stories, and critical essays. He died at the age of 91.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Amanda Knox convicted of murder in Italy

On this day in 2009, 22-year-old American exchange student Amanda Knox is convicted of murdering her British roommate, Meredith Kercher, in 2007 in Perugia, Italy. Knox received a 26-year prison sentence, while her 25-year-old Italian ex-boyfriend, Raffaelle Sollecito, who also ...read more

The mystery of the Mary Celeste

The Dei Gratia, a small British brig under Captain David Morehouse, spots the Mary Celeste, an American vessel, sailing erratically but at full sail near the Azores Islands in the Atlantic Ocean. The ship was seaworthy, its stores and supplies were untouched, but not a soul was ...read more

President Wilson travels to Europe

President Woodrow Wilson departs Washington, D.C., on the first European trip by a U.S. president. After nine days at sea aboard the S.S. George Washington, Wilson arrived at Brest, France, and traveled by land to Versailles, where he headed the American delegation to the peace ...read more

Bush orders U.S. troops to Somalia

President George H. Bush orders 28,000 U.S. troops to Somalia, a war-torn East African nation where rival warlords were preventing the distribution of humanitarian aid to thousands of starving Somalis. In a military mission he described as “God’s work,” Bush said that America ...read more

Hostage Terry Anderson freed in Lebanon

On this day in 1991, Islamic militants in Lebanon release kidnapped American journalist Terry Anderson after 2,454 days in captivity.As chief Middle East correspondent for the Associated Press, Anderson covered the long-running civil war in Lebanon (1975-1990). On March 16, 1985, ...read more

Viet Cong attack Tan Son Nhut airport

A Viet Cong unit penetrates the 13-mile defense perimeter around Saigon’s Tan Son Nhut airport and shells the field for over four hours. South Vietnamese and U.S. security guards finally drove off the attackers, killing 18 of them in the process. One U.S. RF-101 reconnaissance ...read more

Washington bids farewell to his officers

On this day in 1783, future President George Washington, then commanding general of the Continental Army, summons his military officers to Fraunces Tavern in New York City to inform them that he will be resigning his commission and returning to civilian life.Washington had led ...read more

Oliver Kelley organizes the Grange

Former Minnesota farmer Oliver Hudson Kelley founds the Grange, which became a powerful political force among western farmers.Though he grew up in Boston, Kelley decided in his early twenties that he wanted to become a farmer. In 1849, he booked passage on a steamboat for St. ...read more

Smog kills thousands in England

Heavy smog begins to hover over London, England, on this day in 1952. It persists for five days, leading to the deaths of at least 4,000 people.It was a Thursday afternoon when a high-pressure air mass stalled over the Thames River Valley. When cold air arrived suddenly from the ...read more

Engagement ends at Waynesboro

On this day in 1864, eight days of cavalry clashes in Georgia come to an end when Union General Judson Kilpatrick and Confederate General Joseph Wheeler skirmish for a final time at Waynesboro. Although the Rebels inflicted more than three times as many casualties as the Yankees, ...read more