Of Human Bondage – W. Somerset Maugham

Published March 21, 2014 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

Originally published in 1915, Of Human Bondage is a potent expression of the power of sexual obsession and of modern man’s yearning for freedom. This classic novel tells the story of Philip Carey, a sensitive boy born with a clubfoot who is orphaned and raised by a religious aunt and uncle. Philip yearns for adventure, and at eighteen leaves home, eventually pursuing a career as an artist in Paris. When he returns to London to study medicine, he meets the androgynous but alluring Mildred and begins a doomed love affair that will change the course of his life. There is no more powerful story of sexual infatuation, of human longing for connection and freedom. ‘Here is a novel of the utmost importance,’ wrote Theodore Dreiser on publication. ‘It is a beacon of light by which the wanderer may be guided. . . . One feels as though one were sitting before a splendid Shiraz of priceless texture and intricate weave, admiring, feeling, responding sensually to its colors and tones.’

What did I think?:

Of Human Bondage is generally considered W. Somerset Maugham’s masterpiece, published in 1915 and although I’ve only read two other works by this author, I have to agree. The novel opens with the death of a young woman, Helen Carey in childbirth where the infant also died. Helen also has a nine year old son, Philip who was born with a clubfoot and now an orphan is sent to live with his aunt and uncle, the latter of whom is a preacher. Philip is brought up by his relatives in a very moral, religious manner with ideas of him too entering the church as a profession and very little affection is given to the small boy who desperately craves it after losing his mother. On attending boarding school, his disability makes him stand out amongst the other boys, and he soon becomes a figure of ridicule, which causes him to become quite bitter and introverted, although he also becomes somewhat of a rebel, casting religion aside which is not surprising considering how it was pressed so fervently on him by his uncle in his childhood. His uncle has also got his heart set upon Philip acquiring a scholarship to go to Oxford but again Philip is rather stubborn in insisting that he would rather make his own way in life, and sets upon going to Germany to study.

It seems to be a bit of a recurring pattern that things don’t go quite right for Philip, and after taking upon an apprenticeship arranged by his uncle, decides he would rather go to Paris and become a famous artist – how hard can it be right? However, the most interesting period in Philip’s life happens when he meets a woman called Mildred who he falls head over heels in love with. At his time, he has returned from Paris realising he probably won’t make it in the art world, and has begun to study medicine which was a profession undertaken by his late father. Mildred leads Philip quite a merry little dance for years causing major problems, upheaval and heartbreak but it seems to be the sum of all these experiences that makes Philip grow up, accept responsibility for his actions and finally become a man.

I loved that when I was reading this novel, it didn’t feel like it had been written in 1915 – that is to say some parts felt somewhat contemporary. To be honest, I wasn’t sure I was going to like it at first but then pieces starting slotting into place, and I found myself caring a great deal about what would become of Philip Carey. He is a strange sort of hero, in some parts he is distinctly un-likeable but for me as a reader, seeing his flaws and learning of his journey from childhood into adulthood made him more human and therefore more believable. The classic and beautiful style of Maugham’s prose made this story a joy to indulge in, and even though the book was fairly long at no time did I find myself getting bored with it or checking how much longer it had to go! It’s a novel about growing up, about self-discovery, about heartbreak, and about how difficult life can be but how we can feel rewarded in the end. It is happily a book I will re-read in the future, I can imagine the character of Philip Carey sticking with me for a while and now I can’t wait to read more of this authors work.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

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4 comments on “Of Human Bondage – W. Somerset Maugham

  • I read the book and you’re right.
    It’s really a book about self-discovery! Some quote in the book are also unforgettable!
    The comparison of life to a carpet is also really beautiful! All in all,it was a great book and you’re review is correct about it. 🙂

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