Of Human Bondage (Barnes & Noble Classics Series) [NOOK Book]

Overview

Of Human Bondage, by W. Somerset Maugham, is part of the Barnes & Noble Classics series, which offers quality editions at affordable prices to the student and the general reader, including new scholarship, thoughtful design, and pages of carefully crafted extras. Here are some of the remarkable ...

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Of Human Bondage (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)

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Overview

Of Human Bondage, by W. Somerset Maugham, is part of the Barnes & Noble Classics series, which offers quality editions at affordable prices to the student and the general reader, including new scholarship, thoughtful design, and pages of carefully crafted extras. Here are some of the remarkable features of Barnes & Noble Classics:

  • New introductions commissioned from today's top writers and scholars
  • Biographies of the authors
  • Chronologies of contemporary historical, biographical, and cultural events
  • Footnotes and endnotes
  • Selective discussions of imitations, parodies, poems, books, plays, paintings, operas, statuary, and films inspired by the work
  • Comments by other famous authors
  • Study questions to challenge the reader's viewpoints and expectations
  • Bibliographies for further reading
  • Indices & Glossaries, when appropriate
All editions are beautifully designed and are printed to superior specifications; some include illustrations of historical interest. Barnes & Noble Classics pulls together a constellation of influences—biographical, historical, and literary—to enrich each reader's understanding of these enduring works.
 

One of the most widely read novels of the twentieth century, W. Somerset Maugham’s masterpiece Of Human Bondage gives a harrowing depiction of unrequited love. Philip Carey, a sensitive orphan born with a clubfoot, finds himself in desperate need of passion and inspiration. He abandons his studies to travel, first to Heidelberg, and then to Paris, where he nurses ambitions of becoming a great artist. Philip’s youthful idealism erodes, however, as he comes face-to-face with his own mediocrity and lack of impact on the world. After returning to London to study medicine, he becomes wildly infatuated with Mildred, a vulgar, tawdry waitress, and begins a doomed love affair that will change the course of his life.
 
First published in 1915, the semi-autobiographical Of Human Bondage combines the values left over from the Victorian era with the prevailing irony and despair of the early twentieth century. Unsentimental yet bursting with deep feeling, Of Human Bondage remains Maugham’s most complete statement of the importance of physical and spiritual liberty, a theme that resounds more loudly than ever today.
 

Carin Companick is a freelance writer and a specialist in the field of language proficiency assessment. She studied English literature at Haverford College and completed her graduate work in Victorian and modern literature at Columbia University. She lives and works in Princeton, New Jersey.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781411432840
  • Publisher: Barnes & Noble
  • Publication date: 6/1/2009
  • Series: Barnes & Noble Classics Series
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 720
  • Sales rank: 118,787
  • File size: 2 MB

Meet the Author

Carin Companick is a freelance writer and a specialist in the field of language proficiency assessment. She studied English literature at Haverford College and completed her graduate work in Victorian and modern literature at Columbia University. She lives and works in Princeton, New Jersey.

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Read an Excerpt

From Carin Companick’s Introduction to Of Human Bondage
 
Works such as Portrait of the Artist anticipated the ways that high modernism would disown traditional literary forms and concepts of representation after the war. They anticipated Ezra Pound’s famous injunction to “make it new.” But with Of Human Bondage, Maugham wanted above all to make it known. He was not interested in finding new ways of expressing meaning; he was interested in expressing meaning as plainly as he could. His aim, as he wrote in an essay years later, was “to allow nothing in my language to come between the reader and my meaning” (“Sixty-Five,” in A Traveller in Romance, p. 253; see “For Further Reading”). Wary of faddishness in literature, he had no interest in technical or stylistic innovation. “As a writer of fiction,” he said, “I go back, through innumerable generations, to the teller of tales round the fire in the cavern that sheltered neolithic man” (quoted in Swinnerton, “Somerset Maugham as a Writer,” p. 13). Certainly Maugham’s prose style honors that lineage. His sentences are modest and matter-of-fact; adjectives are used sparingly; fancy or unusual words are rarely chosen when shorter, simpler, everyday words will do. In the sturdy economy of Maugham’s prose, no word is there to look pretty or to indulge the logophile. “The most pleasing compliment I have ever received,” he wrote years later in the preface to a collection of critical essays about his writing, “came from a G.I. in the last war who . . . wrote to tell me that he had greatly enjoyed a book of mine that he had been reading because he had never had to look out a single word in the dictionary” (“Preface,” by Maugham, in The World of Somerset Maugham, p. 10). Modernist writers may have been Maugham’s contemporaries in time, but not in literary aim. And compared to their output, Of Human Bondage, with its traditional narrative progression, straightforward prose, and near-Edwardian realism, must have seemed the product of a bygone era.
To compound matters still further, most reviewers knew Maugham as a playwright, not a novelist. Though Of Human Bondage was Maugham’s ninth novel, he had for some years been pursuing a parallel career writing for the theatre. A series of drawing-room comedies beginning with the long-running Lady Frederick (1907) had brought him popularity and paychecks of a kind unknown to his peers. In 1908 four of his plays were running simultaneously on London’s West End stages, a feat no other dramatist could match. The status of Maugham the playwright was clear (and he had the glittery, A-list lifestyle to prove it), but reviewers were unprepared for this other Maugham who had withdrawn from playwriting long enough to produce a work so starkly unlike his plays.
While immediate reviews of the novel were mixed, most shared, for one reason or another, a patent detachment from the work. Gerald Gould, writing in England’s New Statesman in September 1915, described the novel as having many merits but also an “odd effect” coming from the man who had dazzled theatergoers with his smart dialogue and keen wit. Perplexed, Gould wrote himself into a tangle: “I am not sure [Maugham] has not written a highly original book. I am not even sure he has not written almost a great one.” Others found the novel less palatable. The writer of the unsigned review in the August 21, 1915, Athenaeum dismissed the novel as “a record of sordid realism” with a hero whose values are “so distorted as to have no interest beyond that which belongs to an essentially morbid personality.” In America, The Dial pronounced the novel “a most depressing impression of the futility of life.” But most reviewers were plain overwhelmed. In his January 25, 1925, New York Times piece, “After Ten Years of Of Human Bondage,” Marcus Aurelius Goodrich summed up the general attitude among both Britons and Americans in that summer of 1915 by quoting a “review” from the Pittsburgh Chronicle-Telegraph. In it, the writer confesses avoiding the novel as much as trying to take it all in:
 
The reason is that there are 648 pages of the story—300 pages too many for careful reading and candid review. But this much can be said: It opens with a funeral and ends with a wedding. As the author is one of the most successful of the younger dramatists . . . it may be taken for granted that his novel will repay the reading of it by those who have the time to do so (p. 137).
 
In fact, a great many people did have time to read the novel—at least eventually. Although Of Human Bondage did not appear on best-seller lists when it was published, demand for the book grew consistently in the years following. By 1925 Goodrich was calling it a classic. Many who have since written about Of Human Bondage have cited the role played by American writer Theodore Dreiser in the novel’s eventual recognition. In a Christmas 1915 review in the New Republic titled “As a Realist Sees It,” Dreiser took earlier reviewers to task, hailing Maugham’s “genius” and praising the work liberally. His opening sentence marks the tone of his entire piece:
 
Sometimes in retrospect of a great book the mind falters, confused by the multitude and yet the harmony of the detail, the strangeness of the frettings, the brooding, musing, intelligence that has foreseen, loved, created, elaborated, perfected, until, in this middle ground, which we call life, somewhere between nothing and nothing, hangs the perfect thing which we love and cannot understand, but which we are compelled to confess a work of art (W. Somerset Maugham: The Critical Heritage, pp. 130–131).           

As the story goes, Dreiser’s appraisal was pivotal; it effectively “rescued” Of Human Bondage by persuading other critics to look seriously at the novel and find its merits. It also seemed to spur the traditionally American appreciation of the novel.

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