Why did I love this book?
I first read Maugham’s 1916 semi-autobiographical novel in the sixth form. It describes late-Victorian adolescence and early manhood but, from my self-absorbed point of view as an Eighties teenager, it could have been written specially for me.
The one element that jarred was Mildred, the waitress with whom Philip Carey falls madly and inappropriately (because of their class difference) in love. Maugham makes her so ghastly, it’s hard to know what his hero sees in her.
Her character makes much more sense when you know (as I didn’t at the time) that the author was discreetly gay. Maugham’s own transgression was to fall for lovers not of the wrong social standing, but the wrong sex. Once you realise that, Philip’s anguished passion becomes much more believable.