Bonfires of the writer’s vanities | Letters

The novelist and playwright W Somerset Maugham went to some lengths to ensure control of his literary legacy

I was surprised that Blake Morrison’s fascinating piece on literary estates (Up in smoke: should an author’s dying wishes be obeyed?, Review, 10 March) omitted W Somerset Maugham. Ted Morgan’s biography includes this wonderful description of the author deciding what to preserve from a lifetime of writing: “He and his secretary, Alan Searle, held a series of ‘bonfire nights’ in the large stone fireplace in the drawing room of the Villa Mauresque in 1958. Piles of letters were thrown in, as well as some of Maugham’s manuscripts. Searle – horrified to see so much valuable material go up in smoke – tried to rescue choice items. Coming down to breakfast after a bonfire night, Maugham would rub his hands and tell Searle: ‘That was a good night’s work. Now we’ll burn everything you’ve hidden under the sofa’.” Still a very interesting piece of work. Congrats.
Norman Moore
London

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