Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Maugham's Bondage

Of Human BondageOf Human Bondage 
by W. Somerset Maugham



“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.”   ― W. Somerset Maugham, Of Human Bondage




W. Somerset Maugham was born on January 25, 1874. While I've enjoyed reading many of his novels and stories, Of Human Bondage stands alone among them as one of my favorite novels. Yet, strangely, I have difficulty understanding the mind and actions of Philip Carey, the hero (anti-hero?) of this novel.  If for nothing else, his habit of reading, referred to in the above quote, endeared him to this reader early in his story.

 Philip, like the author himself, is orphaned and brought up by his uncle. Harshly treated, he is burdened with liabilities, both physical, a clubfoot, and intellectual, a habit of making the least of his opportunities through bad choices and/or lack of talent.  The first half of the novel begins with the death of Philip's mother and his harsh treatment by his selfish and hypocritical uncle while undergoing the tortures of his classmates and masters at King's School in Tercanbury.  This early part of the novel is in a Victorian style somewhat reminiscent of Dickens's Great Expectations.

The novel is written as a sort of bildungsroman and, as it continues, it traces the protagonist's education and travels to Germany, Paris, and London, while exploring both his intellectual and emotional growth. In this it somewhat reminds me of Flaubert's novel, A Sentimental Education , which possibly influenced Maugham. As Philip matures he settles into a sort of life in London, but continues to make the wrong choices. In so doing he enters a destructive relationship with a self-centered, crude Cockney waitress named Mildred. In spite of all the bad choices and ensuing difficulties Philip eventually finds a woman who is right for him.  While Maugham exhibits a Schopenhaurian philosophic view of man in bondage to his will, the novel, with it's pleasant conclusion and lucid prose style, succeeds - just as Philip overcomes his passions.  Maugham's story is beautifully told and as a result I have been drawn back to it again and again over the years.

6 comments:

Ruth said...

This is definitely on my Wishlist - always keep my eye out for a used copy at bookstores or my library. The more positive reviews I read, the more I move it up on my list. : )

Brian Joseph said...

Great review James.

I have only seen the 1934 film version of this book. I remember being impressed by it.

Protagonists who make bad choices can be so interesting.

James said...

Ruth,

This is truly a great book and along with The Razor's Edge it is the best of Maugham's novels.

James said...

Brian,

Thanks for your comment. The film is very good but, as is true of most great books, the book is even richer and more rewarding.

Gently Mad said...

I read this book years ago and really liked it. I read another one of his and did not like it at all. Maugham seemed to have become enamored with Easter mysticism and created Christian straw man to support his loyalties.

I did like this insight that Human Bondage provided. Thanks for a good review. I saw you comments on other blogs and came over to visit your blog.

Feel free to visit mine as well: http://sharonhenning.blogspot.com

James said...

Sharon,

It sounds like you read The Razor's Edge where Maugham's protagonist, Larry Darrell, searches for the meaning of life. Of Human Bondage is written in a more naturalistic/dramatic manner where religion is represented by Philip Carey's uncle, a hypocritical and mean-spirited man. Some of Maugham's best writing is in his short stories, many of which were set in British Malaya and the Dutch East Indies.