Boston University’s Special Collections Announces Major Acquisition of W. Somerset Maugham Collection

in Arts, Humanities/Social Science, News Releases
April 23rd, 2002

Contact: Clementine Brown, 617-353-1309 | clemente@bu.edu

Contact: Clementine Brown, 617/ 353-1309

Boston, MA — Boston University’s Special Collections has acquired the Loren and Frances Rothschild-W. Somerset Maugham Collection, a private archive of unequaled depth and quality.

The Rothschild-Maugham Collection will be added to the major Maugham holdings already owned by the University, making Special Collections a major repository of one of the Twentieth Century’s great literary figures.

Loren Rothschild, founder and president of a private investment firm in Los Angeles, began collecting Maugham twenty-five years ago after reading Of Human Bondage. Rothschild is also a collector of Samuel Johnson and other Eighteenth Century writers. His wife, Frances Rothschild, is a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge, and has contributed to the collection particularly in the area of periodicals.

Dr. John Silber, Chancellor of Boston University, commenting on the Maugham acquisition, stated, “After the period of eclipse which often follows popular success, the stature of W. Somerset Maugham is once again being increasingly recognized. Boston University’s already substantial Maugham holdings have long been an important resource for Maugham scholars. Now, with the acquisition of the Rothschild-Maugham Collection, the importance of the Maugham holdings has been greatly magnified. Loren and Frances Rothschild built their Maugham archive with remarkable intelligence, taste, and tenacity. These qualities will be leveraged in future years by scholars who mine the magnificent materials of Boston University’s Maugham archives and publish works on this incomparable Twentieth Century master.”

Boston University had already amassed a vast collection of Maugham papers and memorabilia, much of it from the author’s famed retreat at Cap Ferrat in the South of France.

The Rothschild-Maugham Collection that has now come to the University contains hundreds of letters chronicling Maugham’s personal and intellectual life, as well as every significant first edition of the author’s novels, short stories, and other works, typically in pristine “collector” condition.

According to Dr. Howard Gotlieb, founder and Director of the Boston University Special Collections, the Maugham acquisition joins one of the major manuscript repositories in the world, containing the papers of H.G. Wells, George Bernard Shaw, Osbert Sitwell, Theodore Roosevelt, Robert Front, Martin Luther King, Jr., Fred Astaire and Bette Davis among others.

The correspondence is wide ranging and illuminating, from Maugham’s heart-rending letter to his wife Syrie detailing the reasons for their loveless marriage, to the 297 letters to his secretary and companion Alan Searle, as well as letters that Maugham wrote to his friend Ian Fleming. Maugham was in the British intelligence service during World War I, and his Ashenden short story collection represents a watershed in the development of the spy genre. In one letter to Fleming, he compliments the younger and less polished author on his handing of the gambling scenes in the James Bond novel Moonraker.

Among the items in the Rothschild collection are the original manuscripts The Gentleman in the Parlour and The Painted Veil. Thousands of additional manuscripts and typescripts, page proofs, and galleys from 1906 to 1953, and more than two hundred periodicals with the first publication of many of Maugham’s works. Also included are personal documents and ephemera, audiovisual material, photographs and art of the author, notably a bronze bust by Jacob Epstein that depicts Maugham as a worldly man of letters whose aloofness, according to the artist, gave him the appearance of “some old Roman patrician.”

Rothschild commented that he had gone “head to head” at auction with Boston University for Maugham material in the past, and that he came to believe the school was “the right place” for the Rothschild-Maugham Collection. In explaining why he chose Boston University, Loren Rothschild recently said: “First, I thought Howard Gotlieb had done a wonderful job in building a Special Collections library. Second, I knew the University had a significant Maugham holding.”

Interest in W. Somerset Maugham (1894-1965) among collectors has been soaring in recent years, according to rare books dealer Lee Biondi of Los Angeles, who acted as agent for Rothschild in the sale of the Rothschild-Maugham Collection. “Great Story-tellers like Dickens or Austen or Maugham, are always going to be read, always going to be in print,” said Biondi, who credits strong auction-house interest in Maugham to the author’s popularity with readers as a yarn-spinner who stands above literary critical fashions. Collectors “never have to worry about Maugham falling back off the charts,” he said.

According to Biondi, the Rothschild-Maugham Collection would have attracted extraordinary attention from bidders if it had been auctioned off. “Loren wanted to keep the collection intact,” said Biondi. “Boston University now becomes the major center for Maugham.”

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