Secret stories

The secret lives of Somerset MaughamOn a jag of thinking about who owns stories about real people’s lives, I’ve moved from fiction to biography. “Biography appeals to the base part of human nature” said Hermione Lee. I’m probably more base than most, because I love a good biography but I’ve never given much thought to how the subject might feel.

It seems while you’re alive you might think you own your story, but once you’re dead you know you don’t. You’d know it if you weren’t dead, that is.

Somerset Maugham fell into the trap of thinking he could control who knew what about his private life after his death as he had in his life, asking his friends to destroy any letters he had written to them. According to his biographer Selina Hastings, this guaranteed they sold for large amounts.

He made a huge bonfire of his personal papers and had a clause in his will embargoing those that survived, but the Royal Literary Fund rescinded the clause and gave Hastings access to his papers.

Maugham might have wanted his secret lives to stay secret, but the book called The secret lives of Somerset Maugham came out anyway.

Do your wishes count after you’re dead?

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