Of Human Bondage

I really liked this 1915 novel. Somerset Maugham’s story of Philip Carey, a handicapped orphan, is indeed a masterpiece. It covers Carey’s life from the loss of his parents as a young boy until he settles down just before age thirty.

Written with both dialogue and narrative, we are treated to Carey’s inner thinking as he struggles to find himself in life, love and career. The principle obstacle is Mildred, a thin, anemic skinned waitress who Philip falls madly in love with. She feels no love for him but comes in and out of his life seeking financial help because he is a “gentleman” and she knows she has power over him. He succumbs every time and devotes countless amounts of money and aid to assist her in her needs.

He decides not to become a Vicar like his uncle, tries accounting and then sets out first for Heidelberg and then to Paris to become a painter. After failing at this he returns to London and goes to med school. However he runs out of money after supporting Mildred and losing his last resources in the stock market.  He wonders the streets of London close to starvation and feeling suicidal.‎ He finally lands work as a women’s clothing designer. 

His uncle finally dies and leaves him enough money to complete his medical studies. He is finally over Mildred and meets the Athelny family who invite him to weekly dinner as one of the family.  He eventually marries their daughter Sally; a happy ending I found somewhat surprising given all the preceding melodrama.

The story seems a bit prolonged and seems to waiver near the end. It was as if Maugham‎ wasn’t sure how to end it. Is Mildred going to come back one more time and Carey succumb to more self-induced misery or is he simply doomed to a life without finding a loving partner? Hence the somewhat surprising happy ending in my view.

A tour de force about a young man with a club foot finding his way in early 20th century Britain. If you happen to know your way around London you will ‎really enjoy the areas and streets mentioned in this book. Of Human Bondage is both a positive and negative experience in Maugham’s experience. I give it a 9.5 out of 10. At 600 pages, it could be shorter. I also found it hard at times to keep track of all Philip’s male friends coming and going.

Several movies have been made including the 1934 version starring Bette Davis as Mildred Rogers which you can find on YouTube. I am watching it right now and Bette Davis is alluring.

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