Of Human Bondage

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For the film adaptations of this novel, see Of Human Bondage (film).
Of Human Bondage
OfHumanBondage.jpg
First edition
Author W. Somerset Maugham
Language English
Publisher George H. Doran Company
Publication date
1915

Of Human Bondage (1915) is a novel by W. Somerset Maugham. It is generally agreed to be his masterpiece and to be strongly autobiographical in nature, although Maugham stated, "This is a novel, not an autobiography, though much in it is autobiographical, more is pure invention."[1] Maugham, who had originally planned to call his novel Beauty from Ashes, finally settled on a title taken from a section of Spinoza's Ethics.[2] The Modern Library ranked Of Human Bondage No. 66 on its list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century.

Plot[edit]

The book begins with the death of Helen Carey, the mother of nine-year-old Philip Carey. Philip's father Henry had died a few months before, and the orphan Philip, born with a club foot, is sent to live with his Aunt Louisa and Uncle William Carey.

Early chapters relate Philip's experience at the vicarage. Louisa tries to be a mother to Philip, but his uncle takes a cold disposition towards him. Philip's uncle has a vast collection of books, and Philip enjoys reading to find ways to escape his mundane existence. Less than a year later, Philip is sent to a boarding school. His uncle and aunt wish for him to eventually attend Oxford. Philip's disability makes it difficult for him to fit in. Philip is informed that he could have earned a scholarship for Oxford, which both his uncle and school headmaster see as a wise course, but Philip insists on going to Germany.

In Germany, Philip lives at a boarding house with other foreigners. Philip enjoys his stay in Germany. Philip's guardians decide to take matters into their own hands and they convince him to move to take up an apprenticeship. He does not fare well there as his co-workers resent him because they believe he is a "gentleman". He goes on a business trip with one of his managers to Paris and is inspired by the trip to study art in France. In France, Philip attends art classes, makes new friends, like Fanny Price, a poor talentless art student who does not get along well with people. Fanny Price falls in love with Philip, but he is unaware and does not return her feelings.

Philip realises that he will never be a professional artist. He returns to his uncle's house, and eventually decides to go to England to pursue his late father's field. He struggles at medical school and comes across Mildred. He falls desperately in love with her, although she does not show any emotion for him. Mildred tells Philip she is getting married, leaving him heartbroken; he subsequently enters into an affair with Norah Nesbit, a kind and sensitive author of penny romance novels. Later, Mildred returns, pregnant, and confesses that the man for whom she had abandoned Philip had never married her.

Philip breaks off his relationship with Norah and supports Mildred financially though he can ill afford to do so. To Philip's dismay she falls in love with his good friend Harry Griffiths, and disappears. Philip runs into Mildred again when she is a single mother and, feeling sympathy for her, takes her in again, though he no longer loves her. When he rejects her advances, she becomes angry at him, destroying most of his belongings and leaves forever. In shame, and quickly running out of money, Philip leaves the house for good. Mildred exits from the plot, but fate is uncertain, unlike Bette Davis' character in the 1934 film by John Cromwell.

While working at a hospital, Philip befriends family man Thorpe Athelny. Athelny has lived in Toledo in Spain, enthusing about the country, and is translating the works of San Juan de la Cruz. Meanwhile, he invests in mines but is left nearly penniless because of events surrounding the Boer War. He wanders the streets aimlessly for a few days before the Athelnys take him in and find him a department store job, which he hates. His talent for drawing is discovered and he receives a promotion and raise in salary, but his time at the store is short lived. After his uncle William dies, Philip inherits enough money to allow him to finish his medical studies and he finally becomes a licensed doctor. Philip takes on a temporary placement at a hospital with Dr. South, an old, rancorous physician whose wife is dead and whose daughter has broken off contact with him. However, Dr. South takes a shine to Philip's humour and personable nature, eventually offering Philip a stake in his medical practice. Although flattered, Philip refuses.

He soon goes on a small summer vacation with the Athelnys at a village in the countryside. There he finds that one of Athelny's daughters, Sally, likes him. They have an affair, and when she thinks she is pregnant, Philip decides to accept Dr. South's offer, and to marry Sally instead. They meet in the National Gallery where, despite learning that it was a false alarm, Philip becomes engaged to Sally concluding that "the simplest pattern, that in which a man was born, worked, married, had children, and died, was likewise the most perfect."

Film versions[edit]

In other media[edit]

Books[edit]

  • In J. M. Coetzee's novel Youth, one of the narrator's landlords makes an oblique reference to Of Human Bondage, prompting a connection between the two texts.
  • In Philip K. Dick's science fiction novel Dr. Bloodmoney, the character Walt Dangerfield reads Of Human Bondage to humanity from his spaceship orbiting the Earth.
  • In Sadie Jones' novel The Outcast, the character Kit spends the first two weeks of the summer holidays reading Of Human Bondage while her older sister spends all her time arranging her hair and talking about frocks with her mother.
  • A similarly subtle connection to Of Human Bondage is made in V. S. Naipaul's novel Half a Life, when the narrator's father encounters Maugham at a temple in India.
  • The book was mentioned in J.D. Salinger's novel The Catcher in the Rye; the protagonist Holden Caulfield states that he read Of Human Bondage last summer.
  • The novel is contrasted with Sex in the Married Life in Gwendolyn Brooks' Maud Martha

Films[edit]

  • Of Human Bondage is mentioned in the film Seven. The character William Somerset, played by Morgan Freeman, is named after W. Somerset Maugham as he was screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker's favourite author.[3]
  • Of Human Bondage was mentioned as the book that brought Lieutenant Blandford and Hollis Meynell together in S. I. Kishor's Appointment with Love.

Plays[edit]

Short stories[edit]

  • In Gloria Sawai's short story "The Day I Sat with Jesus on the Sundeck and a Wind Came up and Blew my Kimono Open and He Saw My Breasts", Of Human Bondage is the example the narrator gives of "a great book" that "unsettles you and startles you into thought", immediately before beginning the narrative of her encounter with Jesus. Also in S.I. Kishor's "Appointment with Love", the protagonist corresponds from the war with a woman whose copy of the book he has found and read; he was touched by her notes in the margin and is about to meet her at Grand Central Station.

Television[edit]

  • Of Human Bondage was mentioned in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "The Freshman". A new friend mentions the title to Buffy, who, unfamiliar with the book, believes he is referring to pornography.
  • Of Human Bondage was mentioned as the book Boyd Crowder was reading in the TV series Justified (season 2, episode 4: "For Blood or Money").
  • One prisoner recommends the book to another in season 1, episode 1 of Rectify ("Always There"). The one who is unfamiliar with the book initially thinks it is pornographic.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Dated 28 August 1957, author's inscription in a first edition for Californian book collector, Ingle Barr.
  2. ^ Maugham encyclopedia. 
  3. ^ Montesano, Anthony (February 1996). Seven's Deadly Sins. Cinefantastique. p. 48. 

External links[edit]