Lady Frederick by W. Somerset Maugham - First Edition

cover of Lady Frederick by W. Somerset Maugham
Lady Frederick by W. Somerset Maugham
First Edition

Lady Frederick (London: Heinemann, 1912)

This post is about W. Somerset Maugham’s first successful play, Lady Frederick, which brought him the popularity and financial success that he had been working hard for for over ten years.

Lady Frederick - Turning Point for Maugham

Lady Frederick is the watershed of Maugham’s career as a writer. He had been struggling for upwards of ten years, writing from one subject to another, from novel to drama to travelogue to short stories, trying to find a niche in the literary scene that would sustain both his spiritual and physical needs.

As he said in his 80th birthday announcement that you can listen to in the previous post, he was earning before this an average of £100 per year. Lady Frederick was rejected together with others that Maugham had been submitting to theatre managers, but it so happened that a play at the Court Theatre was a total disaster that the manager was looking for something to hold up the space until the next scheduled play was ready. Lady Frederick was produced on 26 October 1907, a Saturday, after sitting in the drawer for four years, and ran for 15 months.

Luck does have a terrific part to play in so many lives!

Once played on stage it turned out to be a great success and Maugham the dramatist was made. The rest was history.

Lady Frederick - Storyline

Having read some later plays, I am obliged to say that Maugham has indeed matured over the years. The lines are still typically his, humorous with a sting underneath, but those in the later plays are put in a subtler manner, which turn out to be even more deadly.

There is a book on British drama published in 2002, by C. Innes, with a chapter devoted on Maugham. Though short, it is to the point and interesting. The critic highlights Maugham’s distinct style:
At the same time there is a dark side to even his lightest plays. This creates an internal conflict between their conventionally comic surface, and their attack on the type of society represented by the audience: a conflict that becomes increasingly sharp until it dominates his later work, eventually destroying the comedy. [1]

Lady Frederick, handsome, widowed, and independent, is deeply in debt, but that doesn’t prevent her from continuing to live extravagantly. Her brother Gerald is in the same predicament and he has fallen in love with Rose, the daughter of Admiral Carlisle. Lady Frederick, with her habitual charm, manages to seal the engagement, despite the initial objection of the admiral.

The heroine herself, on the other hand, is being pursued by Charles Mereston, a much younger man. Stratagems are practised by Charles’s mother to prevent him from proposing to Lady Frederick. Paradine Fouldes, an old lover of Lady Frederick and brother of Lady Mereston, has been called upon the scene (Monte Carlo) to assist too.

Another character, Captain Montgomerie, a money lender who has a claim on Lady Frederick, and several servants are added. At some point, all the eligible men have proposed to Lady Frederick, and eventually the play ends in marriage of the like-minded, an untypical Maugham ending.

Lady Frederick - First Edition

Lady Frederick was not published in book form until 1912. The publication date is recorded as in December 1911, though the copyright states 1912. The bindings are the usual variants: cherry red buckram and champagne wrappers. This time I have the hardcover.

There is also a US edition, by The Dramatic Publishing Co. in July 1912, with Heinemann sheets.

Later, there is a Doran edition in 1927. One day I will talk about the Doran edition, since I have a copy of it of one of the plays.

The first edition, as of many early Maugham plays, costs over US$100 at the moment. However, don’t give up searching. I got mine much less after spending time and energy.

You can read the ebook on the Free Ebook - Plays page.

[1] Innes, Christopher. Modern British Drama. The Twentieth Century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002. 253-4.

Lady Frederick at AbeBooks
Lady Frederick at


  1. Hello again. I'm really not one for reading plays, so I just bought, on vinyl record, a production of "Liza of Lambeth." It looks kind of old - don't know too much about it - but it's amazing what we can find out there.

    1. Hi Mike,
      That sounds interesting. What is it? It's a reading or a dramatization of Liza? Do you like it?

  2. It's a dramatization I'm pretty sure. I also have two novelizations of Maugham plays which I prefer over the plays themselves. They came out it America only - "Smith" in 1912, and "Land of Promise" in 1914. The former is attributed to Maugham and D. Grey. The latter has only Maugham's name on the binding, and from perusing it I see some of Maugham's style. But when you open it it's attributed to Maugham and D. Corbett. I don't care that Maugham collaborated on these. I think he had more to do with "Land of Promise" than with "Smith". He came here in 1910 or '11 for a play production in NYC (and actually stayed for a couple of days with some cousins he had in my hometown of Tenafly, New Jersey!). It could be that while here he made a deal with a publisher to put these two books out - I'm sure giving Maugham the proofs for editing before they went to print. Either way, I enjoy them.

    1. I haven't read these two.
      Amazing to think of him going around your own familiar places! Are there still Maughams (or Snells?) in your home town?

    2. I meant to ask you how did you come to collect Maugham's first editions? And how long have you been at it?

  3. I got into collecting Maugham firsts, mainly because of the rarity of his early novels. I started about 11 years ago, although 20 years ago I had a Maugham collection, but none were firsts. I go more for the oddball rarities, and in a few cases I purposely get a later edition because it's much nicer (The Explorer 1st American is FAR nicer than the Heineman true British 1st.) A 1st edition "Narrow Corner" doesn't thrill me as much as a 1st of his earlier works, and I've gotten surprises from online book stores whom I paid, for instance, $5.00 to for what was described simply as "used" when in fact it was a true 1st. I was moving around a bit a few years ago, and left my books to my younger brother, and when I went to collect them back noticed I was missing several - including my Liza 1st (second printing), and "...Blessed Virgin." I didn't have a fit though, because in a way it's fun to chase these books down. There's only two firsts I need to get to complete my collection - to MY satisfaction. They're possibly attainable in the near future. [I give up on a 1st of "The Hero" and BTW I was the one who released the hold on that one. :-)

    Around 11 years ago, I checked if there were Maughams in Tenafly still. There were, but they seem to have changed the spelling a bit - I forget exactly how it was changed. Maugham got married in Jersey City, NJ - about 10 miles away. He got married in the courtroom which may actually still be there - it's an old city.

  4. I agree, The Explorer (US first) is much nicer; well, that's the one I have.... The UK one is way out now. The cheapest, over US$500, is a rebound. I asked for the photo. The rest of the copies is double the price.

    Me too! I find that if you pay more attention, spend a lot of time searching, sometimes you find rare gem for nothing.

    Ouch! What a pity about the copies you lost!!! I would have been raging mad! It's hard to understand though, for those who are not collecting. It's just a book, crumpled and old at that.

    I was afraid that it was you (I mean _The Hero_), that's why I didn't say anything! I didn't want that to affect your decision! I hope another copy will resurface soon.

    What is the other one you are looking for? If you don't mind my asking. Or if you prefer, please send me a message. I am curious. From time to time I search around still, though I am hibernating at the moment. I am moving soon and not buying anything until I am definitely settled. I am thinking of the collected editions because of the prefaces. I am in quite a terrible place and the libraries simply don't have his books, at least the editions that I want to look at. It would be great if a publisher would put all the prefaces together, but Maugham is far from anybody's priority, at least not now.

  5. One of the elementary schools in Tenafly is called Maugham School, built about 1920. My children attended.

    1. Hi Amy,
      Yes! Indeed I wrote them to ask about the history of the school, since there wasn't much (at least last time I checked) about this on their website. But they told me they couldn't help me, that I would have to do my own research on the Internet, these are their words pretty much verbatim. I guess they themselves aren't much interested in their own history. I think it was established by one of Maugham's cousins.


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