Book #66-Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham

The (literal) weight of this bildungsroman (yes, I had to look this up, but it is apropos here) was at first intimidating, but once I settled in to it, I did not want to miss a word.  Considered autobiographical, Of Human Bondage, which captures the life of Philip Carey, touches on those questions that torture every man through his life.

Maugham captured man’s struggles with sexuality, religious doubt, individual purpose,  loneliness, and loss and did so with true authentic humanity.

A young English boy is orphaned and sent to live at his uncle’s vicarage.  The uncle and aunt are childless and not quite sure of child rearing.  The boy’s club foot and his relatives’ uneasiness add to his feelings of isolation.  He is sent to boarding school where he begins to search for his life’s direction and eventually travels to Germany and France.

Philip Carey, the novel’s protagonist is cast in both disdainful and honorable ways.  His physical handicap and loss of his parents at an early age have made him bitter and he relies on sarcasm to deal with others.  Intelligent, but unfocused, he travels to Germany where he learns some German and loses his religion.  While there he meets some young intellects and is enthralled with their conversations.  He later travels to Paris where he studies art and comes to understand the truth behind the term starving artist.  He returns to England where he learns more of life’s lessons and eventually settles into studying medicine.  He comes full circle at novel’s closing and seems to have a grasp on the essence of life.

Uncle William, the vicar, lived as a true miser, sharing newspapers with several neighbors so as not to pay a full price and seemingly unaware of the wants and needs of his wife and nephew.  His life seemed to serve only himself and in the end, he finally seemed to understand that his life was quite a lonely and self-serving one.

A fellow art student, Fanny Price, had determination, but not talent as an artist, yet she persevered.  Quite willing to help, she supported Philip’s efforts and hoped perhaps, for more than mere friendship.  She was the first to arrive at class each morning, wearing the same dirty brown skirt and survived on milk and bread for her meals.  After a harsh critique of her work and dire financial  straits, she finally succumbs to its reality with a tragic outcome.

The gal who is  inexplicably longed after in throngs, Mildred Rogers, captures Philip’s heart and soul.  The word that comes to mind for this character is, quite simply, tart.  She is brash, selfish and prone to violent outbursts of temper.  Philip ultimatelycomes to understand that love is blind when he allows to be subjected to humiliation after humiliation with Mildred.

There were so many interesting characters, but far too many to elaborate on.  Maugham had a keen eye for capturing what lurks inside each man and did so fabulously.  The discerning eye for the physical was also quite evident here with observations of corns on a woman’s bare feet in the grass and other distasteful bodily perceptions.

 

Quotes:

He had to be called two or three times before he would come to his dinner.  Insensibly he formed the most delightful habit in the world, the habit of reading; he did not know that thus he was providing himself with a refuge from all the distress of life; he did not know either that he was creating for himself an unreal world which would make the real world of every day a source of bitter disappointment.  

Hayward sought his acquaintance; but Philip had an unfortunate trait; from shyness or from some atavistic inheritance of the cave-dweller, he always disliked people on first acquaintance, and it was not till he became used to them that he got over his first impression.  

It is an illusion that youth is happy, an illusion of those who have lost it; but the young know they are wretched, for they are full of the truthless ideals which have been instilled into them, and each time they come in contact with the real they are bruised and wounded.  

He did not know why Frenchman always kissed ladies on the nuque.  He did not himself see anything so very attractive in the nape of the neck.  Of course it was much easier for Frenchmen to do these things; the language was such an aid; Philip could never help feeling that to say passionate things in English sounded a little absurd.  

You will find as you grow older that the first thing needful to make the world a tolerable place to live in is to recognize the inevitable selfishness of humanity.  

The only way to live is to forget that you’re going to die.  Death is unimportant.  The fear of it should never influence a single action of the wise man.  

It was one of the queer things of life that you saw a person every day for months and were so intimate with him that you could not imagine existence without him; then separation came and everything went on in the same way; and the companion who had seemed essential proved unnecessary.  Your life proceeded and you did not even miss him.

 

This was quite voluminous and tryly didn’t need to be, but then again if you’re trying to capture an entire life, I suppose 611 pages is not overdoing it and then again, there were so many wonderful quote-worthy lines.  Another flaw I noticed were the nearly identical sentences repeated several chapters apart.

Where would I begin with Mr. Maugham?  Unlike Holden Caulfield, I would want to call Maugham up on the phone.  I’d love to discuss his travels and ask how he honed his writing skills.

My rating for Of Human Bondage is a 9 out of 10.

To see the entire list, visit Modern Library’s 100 Best Novels.

Please share your own reviews or comments by using the link below.

Next up, Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness…

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3 Comments

Filed under Of Human Bondage

3 responses to “Book #66-Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham

  1. I am not too familiar with this book, but it sounds great!

  2. This was one of my very favorite books on the list. I loved it. Glad you liked it too.

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