Being already quite an old man, Somerset Maugham, having locked himself in the villa Mores, spent the evening burning his correspondence in the furnace. With the same request - to destroy his letters - he turned to his friends. Maugham did not want anyone to delve into his personal life, even if this "someone" was collecting data for a biography of a prose writer. In addition, the writer loved to say that his life was very ordinary and boring, and, therefore, could not be of interest. But then, of course, Maugham was deceitful. As an agent of the Secret Intelligence Service of Great Britain, he was sent to Russia in 1917 with an extremely ambitious mission - to prevent the exit of the state from the First World War. About why nothing came of this, says Daria Alexandrova.
In 1915, at the height of the First World War, the autobiographical novel of Maugham, The Burden of Human Passions, saw the light. The writer made the last changes in the breaks between shifts - Somerset went to the war as a volunteer, where he was entrusted to drive an ambulance. At the same time, his love story with the beautiful woman and the married lady Siri Velkom, who later became Mrs. Maugham, was actively developing. It was Siri who introduced Somerset to a man who intrigued him with an offer to try himself as an undercover agent and, in fact, a spy. This man's name was John Wallinger. As an officer in the UK Secret Intelligence Service, he recruited new agents to work in Switzerland.
The writer accepted the offer and left for Switzerland to perform a secret assignment. One of the main missions of Maugham was to coordinate other agents. At the same time, he invented a character named Eshenden, a spy whose adventures, according to the prose writer himself, were far more entertaining than his own.
In 1916, Maugham, whose personal life then attracted too much attention (Siri's divorce and the expulsion of his homosexual lover Gerald Haxton from the country), decided to leave the Secret Service. He believed that he would probably never repeat his spy experience again. But fate decreed otherwise.
Siri Maugham in the 30s
In May 1917, he married Siri, and a month later he was summoned for an interview to the New York office of the Secret Service by officer William Wiseman. He was assigned the most difficult task - to go to revolutionary Russia and try to prevent the state from leaving the war. The British feared that if peace was concluded between the Russians and the Germans, the latter would transfer all forces from the Eastern Front to the Western. “I had to go to Russia and make the Russians continue to fight,” Maugham wrote later. The United States and Great Britain allocated a total of 150 thousand dollars - this money was to go to support Kerensky and the Provisional Government.
Maugham had a very modest understanding of the political structure of Russia and the Russians in principle, and therefore, when he arrived in Petrograd in August 1917, he was very coolly received by the British ambassador George Buchanan. He believed that the writer is absolutely not suitable for such a mission. According to other sources, the ambassador was not aware of the real purpose of Maugham’s visit. The official cover was the collection of materials for the future book.
It was necessary to make acquaintance with Kerensky and get into his confidence. Maugham was helped by his old friend and former lover of Alexander Kropotkin - the daughter of the revolutionary Peter Kropotkin. She was well acquainted with Kerensky and introduced him to the writer. In addition, Alexander played the role of translator during their weekly lunches.
The portrait of Kerensky's hand, Maugham, does not look very attractive: “His appearance is painful. Everyone knows that he is unwell; he himself, not without some bravado, said that he did not have long to live. He has a large face, a strangely yellowish skin, when he is nervous, she turns green; facial features are not bad, eyes are big, very lively; but at the same time he is not a good man. He is dressed in a rather unusual way - he is wearing a protective-colored suit, and not quite a military one, and not civilian, inconspicuous and dull ... I didn’t understand why he was ascended to such unbelievable heights without any delay. His conversation did not testify not only about great enlightenment, but also about ordinary education. I did not feel in him a special charm. There was no feeling of special intellectual or physical power from him either. ”
Soldiers greet Kerensky
Maugham has the impression that he is a man rather indecisive, in every possible way avoiding responsibility, incapable and unwilling to take on the solution of difficult issues, burdened by the burden of power. However, once a week, the writer rolls up luxurious lunches at the Medved restaurant in Petrograd, where vodka flows like water and the best caviar is served for a snack. Kerensky (who, by the way, is practically impossible to drink) and his ministers are honored guests. Maugham assures Kerensky of supporting the West: they are ready to sponsor his government and even provide military forces, so long as Russia does not withdraw from the war. Kerensky does not give any definite answer, but instead embarks on lengthy arguments. He, as Maugham observed, was an outstanding demagogue.
In addition to working with Kerensky, Somerset was supposed to support the numerous Czech military organizations in Russia. They actively collaborated with British intelligence and were ready, if necessary, to take the side of the Provisional Government. Maugham also suggested hiring professional speakers, in fact, provocateurs who were supposed to deliver a “counter-attack” to pacifist propaganda. All these enterprises cost a lot of money. According to Maugham, it was necessary to allocate about half a million dollars a year. He notified Wiseman that additional and very large funds were needed to support the mission, and waited for an answer.
Great Hall of the restaurant "Bear"
On October 31, 1917, Kerensky handed Moeam a secret note that needed to be passed into the hands of British Prime Minister Lloyd George. The chairman of the Provisional Government begged to send weapons and ammunition, which the army desperately needed. All this, according to Kerensky, was necessary to continue the war with Germany and repel the Bolshevik attack, which was expected from day to day.
Maugham did not trust the transfer of information to the British ambassador, and therefore he immediately left Russia. He went to Norway, from there - to Scotland, and after the train straight to London. The meeting with Lloyd George was short. The minister read the message and returned the note to Maugham with the words "I can't do this." “But what can I tell Kerensky?” Asked Maugham. “Just tell me that I cannot do this” - he politely said goodbye to the writer and left.
It soon became known that the government of Kerensky was defeated, and he himself fled abroad. Maugham's mission was failed. However, he once remarked that if he had been sent to Russia six months earlier, everything could have turned out. Sometimes one person is able to radically change the course of history.