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20. W. Somerset Maugham's Ashenden Stories

David Malcolm

Subject Literature

Place Europe » United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
Northern Europe » Éire (Republic of Ireland)

Key-Topics fiction

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405145374.2008.00022.x


Somerset Maugham (1874–1965) wrote over 100 short stories in a long, multifaceted, successful and, ultimately, controversial career ( Archer 1993 : xi). Clare Hanson writes of him: “Perhaps no story teller besides O. Henry has been so reviled as Somerset Maugham. Yet he remains obstinately there, incapable of being dismissed by anyone interested in the forms and distinctions of the short story” (1985: 49). His detractors have included Edmund Wilson ( Loss 1996 : 237) and D.H. Lawrence ( Curtis and Whitehead 1987 : 176–7), although Angus Wilson ( Archer 1993 : 109–11), Evelyn Waugh ( Loss 1996 : 238), William Trevor ( Hanson 1985 : 29), and Graham Greene ( Curtis and Whitehead 1987 : 290–1) have warmly praised his work. Its technical conservatism is remarked on by critics ( Loss 1996 : 233–4), but his work has remained widely anthologized, and is, by any measure of commerce or canon, successful. Stanley Archer reckons that “Rain” made Maugham some one million US dollars, and was turned into a stage play and filmed three times ( Archer 1993 : 3). Within Maugham's large output, the stories published in Ashenden: or the British Agent (1928) are of particular interest. They are seen as important in the development of the genre of espionage fiction, influencing writers such as Eric Ambler, Greene, John le Carré, and Len Deighton ( Archer 1993 : 118; Ochiogrosso 1989 : 216). The protagonist ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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