W. Somerset Maugham

I first became interested in the writer W. Somerset Maugham when I was researching my Master of Science thesis at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). My thesis included research on The Upanishads, for which I spent time in the Indian Himalayas interviewing Indian sadhus.

Click here to learn about Karim’s MIT Master of Science thesis.

I was intrigued, when I came across a novel by Maugham that quoted the Katha Upanishad within the title. The quote was this: “The path of salvation is as narrow as the razor’s edge.” The title of Maugham’s book was “The Razor’s Edge”. Maugham’s novel mentions The Upanishads as part of the quest for knowledge of the novel’s protagonist, Larry Durrell. As part of his research, Maugham traveled through India and even had meetings with the Ramana Maharshi in Tamil Nadu in 1938.

It intrigued and fascinated me that Maugham, the quintessential upper crust Englishman during The British Raj in India, should make an attempt to connect with my Indian culture at the very deepest and profound level, through the ancient Upanishads, which my own Hindu forefathers kept devotedly by their bedside. Subsequently, I read all that Maugham had ever written, including his Writer’s Notebook, a series of written sketches that Maugham nurtured into some of his best loved stories.

Click here to read Karim’s interview with Robert Calder, biographer of W. Somerset Maugham.

Some twenty years ago, I also read the biography of W. (William) Somerset Maugham entitled ‘Willie’ by Professor Robert Calder. I wrote to Professor Calder to thank him for his wonderfully researched biography, and Bob and I subsequently met, and we since became lifelong friends.

The writings of W. Somerset Maugham subsequently led me to reading Maugham’s own inspiration for the short story form, which he credited to the French short story writer Guy de Maupassant.

— Karim