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O'Mahony S.,Cork University Hospital Wilton Cork
Journal of Medical Biography | Year: 2014

William Somerset Maugham was one of the most successful and prolific authors of the twentieth century. He excelled in several genres, writing novels, plays, short stories, travel-books, memoir and criticism. His prose style was simple, witty; his world view weary and cynical. His childhood was marred by bereavement, losing both parents before the age of ten years. He spent a lonely adolescence under the guardianship of his uncle, an emotionally distant clergyman. He enrolled as a medical student at St Thomas's Hospital mainly to escape from his uncle and also to live in London. From his teens his sole ambition was to be a writer: medicine did not interest him. Despite his lack of vocation, his five years at medical school proved to be the key experience in his artistic development. He observed and learned about people; he saw poverty, squalor and death. His experience as an Obstetric Clerk in the slums of London inspired his first novel, Liza of Lambeth. He qualified but never practised. In old age he wrote 'I learned pretty well everything I know about human nature in the 5 years I spent at St Thomas's Hospital'. The example of Maugham suggests that medical education may have value other than the training of doctors-to-be. © The Author(s) 2013.

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