From a tormented orphan with a clubfoot, Philip Carey grows into an impressionable young man with a voracious appetite for adventure and knowledge. His cravings take him to Paris at age eighteen to try his hand at art, then back to London to study medicine. But even so, nothing can sate his nagging hunger for experience. Then he falls obsessively in love, embarking on a disastrous relationship that will change his life forever.
Maugham said that he wanted to write a plain sort of book that could be read and understood by anyone. He's certainly succeeded here; the reader is completely wrapped up in these people's lives. Not a page-turner, but a compelling picture of its time. Recommended.
We meet Philip Carey as a young orphan and follow him from his schooling through his attempts to find a woman and a profession. Central to the novel is Philip's reluctance to choose the set path (in which a man marries, works, has children, and dies), and his yearning for new experiences.
Aside from the plot being interesting, Maugham is an exceptional writer. His abilities to put human thought patterns into words is wonderful. For example, I loved the passages where Philip first questions his belief in God. You can feel the gears turning in Philip's head--I almost felt like I was reliving internal conversations I'd had years ago.
Many times I had to put the book down for a moment to reflect, and sometimes even to laugh, feeling giddy at the beauty of his words.
I should not have loved this novel as much as I did; I dislike the time period, dislike weak male protagonists who can't make up their minds, dislike early 20th century realism unless written by Wharton and set among the glitterati. . .but in spite of myself I love this novel. I credit Maugham's brilliant pacing. I was made to limp along with Philip Carey through his awful boyhood and worse twenties, and either had to bear with poor Philip or throw the novel against the wall. Maugham put me so thoroughly in Phil's hapless skin that there were no other alternatives.
Everything that makes a work a great classic is here. The Everyman (anti?)hero delivers on every level. Big questions are tackled. The sense of deja vu is pervasive; one would have to be very young and naive indeed not to feel it. If the happy ending rings a bit untrue--lurching from most bitter Steinbeck to most idyllic Cather in 50 pages or less--the reader has endured so much with Philip that it comes as a profound relief.
Regardless, this book went above and beyond what I expected. Maugham never disappoints. I railed against the main character every time he went back to the terrible Mildred and I rejoiced when I felt he was making the right decisions. A glorious novel that feels much shorter than its 600 pages.
Phillip Carey, orphaned and saddled with a club-foot that will irrevocably shape his personality, begins life with diffident discomfort, but he is nonetheless convinced of his greatness. Over the years, Phillip travels, falls in and out of love, and searches for happiness. Maugham's plot is a leisurely affair, especially in its first half - this is in no way helped by the synopsis for this edition which succeeds in summarising 350 pages of the novel, and then implying that the book is a grand romance (it is most assuredly not). For the same reasons, the foreword should definitely be avoided until the book is finished.
Despite this, the novel picks up pace from about halfway through until the ending seems to come upon you quite suddenly. We're so accustomed to the current of Phillip's life that it's actually sad to leave him, especially on the cusp of another great chapter.
This illustrates Maugham's gift for characterisation. Every single person in this book is fleshed out with a real - and compassionate - eye. It's a rare treat these days to find a writer with such a gift for characterisation and Maugham sidesteps the cliches that most writers use as tools of convenience for minor characters. Though the people in Of Human Bondage will infuriate or disappoint at times, there is never a point where their actions seem inscrutable.
The prose is certainly solid and a cut above most contemporary writers, but Maugham - withstanding his dialogue - is not a great stylist. His prose is largely functional rather than breath-taking.
Likewise, Of Human Bondage is not an intellectual odyssey; the pages don't leave you pondering in the way that Thomas Mann does in The Magic Mountain - an ostensibly similar book that is in actuality very different. Maugham certainly attempts to, and Phillip's agonised reflections may be revelations to some, but for me the real gold comes back to those characters, and the compassionate, sophisticated eye that Maugham casts on them.
Ultimately - and appropriately - this novel is a supremely human experience. Maugham has a real gift for empathy and insight into people and it's on display on every page, as is his ultimate affection for them. Like real people, this means the book sometimes wanders or seems abstruse at times. It can be self-obsessed, or pompous, or foolish or naive. But it can also be creative, compassionate, heroic, loving, tragic, hilarious and irresistible. A genuine classic, and quite different from our current critical vogue.
Philip is very much a flawed main character. He is overly sensitive and boorish, snobbish and elitist. He struggles to form lasting relationships with others and constantly lets his clubfoot impact those relationships. Even worse, he has a delusional opinion of love that gets him constantly in trouble. And yet, the reader feels tremendous sympathy for Philip because we have all been in Philip's shoes at some point in time in our lives. Everyone has had experience being overly sensitive or boorish, snobbish or elitist. We have all had at least one bad, unhealthy love interest or friendship. We can relate to his struggles to grow up because we have all had to do so ourselves.
This sympathy for Philip is what makes this book timeless. Philip's experiences easily translate to the twenty-first century because they are decidedly human experiences - questioning faith, experiencing love, struggling to make ends meet. Because of this, the book is equally frustrating and beautiful because honestly, who wants to relive their painful youth? And yet, Maugham tells the experience of growing up so well that the reader is forced to relive their youth through Philip's experiences.
Because of the pain and angst Philip experiences throughout the book, it is not comfortable reading at times and therefore may not be for everyone. I know others who read this with me who expressed a desire to take Philip by the shoulders and shake some sense into him. I definitely shared those sentiments at time, and yet, the lack of sense is what made the book so enjoyable. Watching him grow and become a man is painful and frustrating, but so is actually doing it. As a reader of this book, remembering this fact is key to sympathizing with Philip and enjoying the book itself.
I would recommend this book to anyone who loves classics or character-driven books. Maugham makes the reader think, which is never a bad thing in my opinion. Like most classics, it is not an easy read but worth the struggle.
If you have read Of Human Bondage, I would love to know what you thought. Do you agree with my assessment or disagree? What were your impressions?
The story is nearly flawless. Some of the secondary characters can become a bit trying on one's patience, but the vivacity of the story itself makes up for any shortcoming. I would recommend this book to anyone who wishes to lose them self in Edwardian England. You're in for a wonderful time!
I just challenged myself to re-read Of Human Bondage, a dull, miserable, soul-deadening book, or so I remembered from my teens. What was I thinking? It's a great, page-turning story and a truly thoughtful work about a young man's pursuit of wisdom and happiness, hampered by physical and emotional disability. Philip Carey, born with a club foot and perhaps born with a congenital inability to believe himself loved, is often infuriating to the reader as he makes a series of questionable choices, including the Big One in the form of an odious woman with whom he falls in love. Many times during the narrative I wanted to yell out to the guy. Talk about emotional engagement! It's the opposite of dull.
As with the last Maugham book I read, The Moon and Sixpence, there are a lot of questionable stereotypes in evidence: racial, ethnic, religious, and especially sexual. From these two books, Maugham strikes me as a true misogynist. The "bad" women in these books are horrifying, and the "good" women come across as disconcertingly bovine. Yet...what a read. It has jumped into my Top Ten Best Books Ever.
I would love to go "hopping".
Philip Carey is a club-footed orphan who is sent to live with his cold uncle. He grows up under his uncle's control but dreams of the day he is free.
Like a lot of people, he doesn't know what he wants to do with his life and he goes from accountant, to art student, to medical student, to salesman and back to medical student and eventually to doctor. His career changes takes him from Germany to Paris and back and forth to London.
In London he meets Mildred. A trashy waitress with whom he becomes obsessed. She treats him horribly, uses him, then runs off to marry someone else.
Later, she comes back abandoned and pregnant and Philip is quick to support her and take care of the baby, using money he really doesn't have.
She eventually takes up with Philip's friend and he tries to forget about Mildred and go on with his life.
One day he finds Mildred selling herself on the street, looking ill and malnourished. He takes her and her baby in and offers them a place to live in exchange for Mildred keeping his house and cooking his meals.
Philip is no longer in love with her but feels protective of her. When Mildred realizes she doesn't have that hold over him anymore and he doesn't beg for her attentions anymore, she becomes enraged and destroys all of his belongings and disappears.
He is forced to move and eventually loses all his money in the stock market crash and becomes homeless.
This is when he quits medical school and gets a job in a shop.
After his uncle dies and leaves him an inheritance, he returns to medical school and things begin to look up.
I was frustrated with the character of Philip for being such an idiot. How could he allow this woman to treat him in such a way? It was like he had no pride.
Philip felt like he had no control over himself. He said that "life lived itself" and humans were just puppets in the universe being pulled this way and that.
He felt like a slave to his passions. I found him to be ridiculous but at the end, I realized that we all go through those things. We trust the wrong people, we think we want one thing out of life but realize it is something else all together we want. Our ideas and dreams change as we get older and learn more about the world and the people in it.
Of Human Bondage was supposed to be about Philip Carey being bound to his physical passions but it seems to me that it was more about different types of bondage; bonds to religion and faith, to class and money, to responsibilities and ones own insecurities and limitations.
Of Human Bondage revolves around a young man, Philip, born into an affluent family. Although he is a gentleman, he has a birth defect; a club foot. At the death of his mother, Philip goes to live with his overbearing uncle, a Vicar at a small country church. Through some trial and error, including attempts at other vocations, he begins to study medicine. Throughout the book Philip’s deformity, which causes him to limp noticeably, compounded by his naiveté, affects his confidence and social interactions.
The main conflict in the story occurs when Philip falls in love with Mildred, a girl who doesn’t care for him. Various things occur and the girl is eventually left penniless and turns to a life unbecoming to a lady. Because he continues to help Mildred when he shouldn’t, he also becomes destitute. Their relationship is a learning experience for Philip, and the things he is taught are not always pleasant. Other trials occur and eventually Philip finds himself on the path toward a satisfying life, but not the life he had once envisioned for himself.
Of Human Bondage is rated a 5. While it is considered Maugham’s greatest work, that’s not why I gave it that rating. I found it very enjoyable and interesting because it describes a world with societal norms that are long past. You may regard some of them as quaint, yet you will see the value in adherence to the rules of etiquette and decency in force at the time the story takes place. The tale contains pathos, drama, and a moral (if you care to infer one). We see Philip’s various missteps, yet we also observe his maturation, his growing sense of self, and his coming to terms with who and what he is. This book is a classic and highly recommended. Also, it’s British!
"Of Human Bondage" is like a summary excelsior of all of Maugham's major themes: life in Europe, the poverty line, artists struggling to come to terms with art, and of course the theme of broken or damaged love. There are shades of his other novels here too: Strickland, the artist extraordinaire from "The Moon and Sixpence" is mentioned in all but name.
It took me a long time to get into this book - almost too long. I struggled through the first couple of hundred pages, but once I was started and attuned to the book's style, I raced towards its conclusion. I now know the reason for this struggle - the other Maugham books I have so fallen in love with all included a narrator, a distanced observer whose life was of some interest, and who could impartially - or not - relay the events to the reader with his magnificent prose, and set things in their proper historical context. That is why I like "The Razor's Edge" so much, and why, if I had to chose somebody from fiction to be, I would want to be Maugham's narrator.
As I reread the novel I am immediately impressed by the importance of reading for the young Philip Carey. He turns to reading to escape the pain of losing his mother and father, of being different, of his inability to satisfy his uncle whose harshness rivals some of Dickens's famous hard-hearted characters. Philip seeks and finds solace in his reading and it is one of the characteristics that make him a sympathetic character for this reader. Just as David Copperfield and others before him have found reading a meaningful salve for the pains encountered in their lives - readers of this novel may find themselves.
It is written as a sort of bildungsroman, tracing the protagonist's education and travels to Germany, Paris, and London, while exploring both his intellectual and emotional growth. 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 an unappealing (to this reader) Cockney waitress named Mildred. In spite of all the bad choices and ensuing difficulties, Maugham's story is beautifully told and as a result I have been drawn back to it again and again over the years.
Phillip, the protagonist, goes through life agonizingly asking questions of himself and forming ideas about society, love, life's purpose (or lack of it), and his ever present physical handicap that influences him deeply on a psychological level. The range of his experiences is remarkably wide as he progresses through life, while exposing his often startling flaws as well as his good side. Events that happen make him reassess his ideas constantly. Until finally he reaches the understanding of a certain pattern of existence, the phases that one's life goes through, some totally unconnected, some in tune with each other. He also realizes that "the normal was the rarest thing in the world. Everyone had some defect of body or mind...". This kind of rumination is so characteristic of Maugham, and I love him for it. At the end, I breathed a sigh of relief for Phillip...
Set in the late 19th, early 20th century, Carey is born with a club foot and, orphaned at an early age, grows up with his uncle, an Anglican priest in a small village. While his wife is a kind and caring woman, the uncle himself is cold and self-centered, and the boy receives little love an no understanding. He suffers the cruelty of other children due to his deformity, but does find satisfaction in schoolwork. Unusually dependent on teh good opinion of others, Carey makes willful, rebelious decisions about his life that will, among other things, lead him to an artist’s life in paris and wanderings in Germany--eventually to medical school.
But the main focus of the story is his obsessive love for Mildred, a nasty piece of work--manipulative, cold, selfish, uncaring--who basically takes Carey for everything he has.
I first read this book when I was in my 20’s, and thought it was wonderful. Fifty years later, rereading, I’m not so sure. I have read somewhere that Maughan was a second-rank writer who had the good fortune to be considered among the best. I would agree with that. It’s not that I don’t believe in such obsessive, destructive love; it’s just that the story didn’t really illuminate anything for me. The writing was good but somehow fell short, perhaps too detached for the subject. I didn’t find Carey all that interesting as a character. Despite all the words, all the agony, all the experiences, he remained for me a shallow and unlikeable character who, yes, I suppose had learned something and that’s good, but in the end, who cares? I didn’t.
(well, being a Maugham lover, I am a little biased...)