Of Human Bondage (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)

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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:
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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: 9781593082383
  • Publisher: Barnes & Noble
  • Publication date: 2/1/2007
  • Series: Barnes & Noble Classics Series
  • Pages: 720
  • Sales rank: 94,040
  • Product dimensions: 5.19 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 1.80 (d)

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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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 111 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 111 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 4, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Of Human Bondage-Intellectually Provacative

    I won't lie. I was bored the first 300 pages. But the next 400 pages made up for it. Maugham built the basis for the plot and the characters slowly in this semi-autobiographical theme fest. Great for book clubs who want to discuss coming of age, changing thoughts on relegion and philosophy, human nature, one-sided love and the pursuit of happiness. Maugham managed to create tension every time Milred, the horrible object of young Philip Cary's obsession, enters a scene. Likewise, one dreads the financial demise of Phillip with equal tension. As a bookclub member for over 15 years, it is nice to find a book with real meat in it.

    9 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 17, 2004

    A Great Read

    It's been almost two weeks since I finished reading this book and it's still in my mind. If you have lived any at all, this beautiful book will stir you. I read a friend's copy and now I have to get my own. I would get a hardcover if it were available. It is that good.

    9 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 5, 2003

    Incredible!

    The prose is absolutely marvelous. Nothing to jar your concentration. It deals with trials and tribulations of an orphan called Carey who is born with a club foot. The author is very clever and in fact quite ruthless in showing whole complex character of Carey. He is ashamed of his deformity, he is naïve, sentimental, foolish and in the end even harbors murderous feeling for his Uncle to get his money. The point is that a human being need not act according to his character always but can react differently to situations to suit his own interest. Maugham uses powerful prose to describe the death of Carey¿s uncle, a real tear-jerker. Highly stimulating. Now this is a big novel and the start of the novel is somewhat Dickenish , but it is successful to hold your interest from the first page. This is in contract to Victor Hugo¿s Les Miserables and even compares favorably with M M Kaye¿s Far Pavillions ( a big book) which resorts to the boring description of the Anglo-Afghan war Yawn!. A must read and indeed can come only from a complex character like Maugham himself You can also try Razor¿s Edge, but it is nothing compared to this one. A true classy classic.

    8 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 16, 2011

    Absolutely stunning

    A towering novel. It is amazing that someone can write with such clarity and insight into human psychology. Remarkable use of the English language. The book is very well formatted with only a few misspellings.

    6 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 19, 2005

    Fantastic Read!

    I just finished this almost 700 page novel and I had a hard time putting down! It really is Maugham's masterpiece. I enjoyed almost every page not just for the story itself but for the tidbits of philosophy that Maugham scatters throughout the work. I would definitely put this on my list of top ten reads of all time.

    6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 29, 2005

    It is my holly book!

    I have never been attached to a book like this one. I have read it more than 4 times and keep reading some random pages of it every day. I take it with me everywhere I go. Philip Carey is everyone of us, with a one weakness that remains an obsession throughout first 30 years. Extremely representative of inner conflicts of human beings. I believe that what happens in the book happens to me i.e. events, thoughts, emotions, the 'poor things' for other humans and it is the 'autobiography' of someone living in Yemen, that's me! I long to have the same ending as I am now 32 at Philip's age before the last chapter! I finally understood Fanny Price and Mildred, and I found Cronshaw's rug and my life pattern inscripted within!!!

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 21, 2012

    Perhaps the finest example of combining plot and story with thou

    Perhaps the finest example of combining plot and story with thought-provoking issues that I’ve ever read. The writing is lovely, Philip Carey’s story compelling, and the issues of life are brought into the story in appealing and integrated ways. I read it in the Nook anthology 25 Favorite Novels II, and want to post my thoughts, but couldn't post them there for only one of the books. I read this because respected friend JH told me this might be her favorite book of all. I can surely see why since it rose quickly to among the best I’ve ever read, too. Orphaned almost immediately after the book begins, Philip Carey and his club foot are placed in the late 19th century home of his aunt and uncle, a vicar, who are childless. He is sent to school where his previously sensitive, but agreeable self is tested. Thus his transformation from gregarious to introspective loner commences. The decisions about directions he should take with an eye to the future, lead Philip to change course more than once, and paralleling his career changes in direction are his romantic relationships, which also follow a meandering course. Philip’s first thirty years or so are written brilliantly, with insight into his inner thoughts and actions, the support characters in his life interesting but largely without their inner lives told. The settings, Germany, Paris, London, and other British locales resonate in their nineteenth century form. Among the issues in Philip’s life are some alluded to above, the changes and choices, the way being disabled affects his growing up and life, and the difficulties of being a sensitive, sometimes too sensitive, introvert and having meaningful friendships. Other issues include the importance and role of art, especially visual art, in his life, the interplay between impulses and emotion vs. philosophies of life in determining actions, the costs and benefits of being good-hearted and loyal, the effect of having or not having family, and those are all topped off by the biggie: the meaning of life. There are more issues worth mentioning, but I will close here with the observation that the first two sentences above are true at the highest levels, and this is an amazing book for both its story and its issues. Top-notch.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 17, 2011

    Really interesting and insightful story.

    This is a story about one man's struggle to find his place in the world. I love the way the story is built and the increasing maturity of the main character. Many parts of this story parallel those of Maugham's own life. Parts of it drag, but others are beautifully rendered.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 17, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Just finished it!

    The book is good. Philip let Mildred make a fool out of him over and over and over again. And I told myself that if he ends up with her at the end of the book I will throw the book into the fire when I'm done. I won't spoil the story for anyone. But I will recommend reading it. It's really good.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 27, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Heart Somerset Maugham

    This was the first book by Somerset Maugham I read, and it is a keeper!

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 30, 2004

    Speechless

    Maugham's masterpiece is truly worth the read. I spent quite a while plowing through this work, convincing myself I must read on, and it was worth it. Although some parts were slow, the realization of this book's reality to life caused even the most tedious of tales to ring true. This book and this author knows what it means to be human and, therefore, imperfect and wonderful. It comes with no sappy ending, and no climactic bang peaks in the middle -- but if you read closely, Maugham's main character, Phillip, will tell you your life story as he tells his. I can still see the streets of Paris.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 29, 2003

    gut wrenchingly honest

    This novel paints a picture of the human spirit through a very truthful and seductive eye. The characters are fantastically dynamic and vulnerable.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 20, 2003

    An woNDERFUL bOOK!

    At first I thought a 600 page book would be monotonous and exhausting, but think again. I really understood what the main characters' were going through; it's probably an enlightment for many individuals who can't find the significance of life.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 30, 2001

    100 years later and it still means something...

    This book was written about 1915 about a kid growing up. As I read it, it was amazing how many things were written that I identified with and related to today. It was a great story with a lot of insights into humanity that can be ingested at one's own leisure. They are not force fed to you; the book does not hold your hand, but rather tells a story and allows one to take from what they will - wonderful!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 21, 2000

    One of the best books I've ever read

    This book is probably one of the best books I've ever read in my life, after Les Miserables and Atlas Shrugged. It's poignant and heart-rending, and beautiful all the same. The language is probably one of the best things about it, Maugham has a true gift for prose and he writes in a way that leaves you on the point of tears for poor Phillip. The fact that the novel is more or less autobiographical makes it all the more powerful, and adds to the story's beauty. Never before has someone written with such beauty of the pain and trials of being a prisoner of one's emotions, and to read this novel is to fall in love with the little boy who grows to be a man and fights with himself and with cruel society his whole life.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 31, 2011

    Lots of errors

    And symbols and weird stuff. Looked at the first 3 pages and deleted it. Buy the book for 99 cents. The free versions are all crappy.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 16, 2011

    Sort of recommended

    I am a girl from the "hood. I have some college education and figure myself not too wordly on language from the 19th century. I must admit that I don't know what they are talking about a lot of the time, but when the story goes toward dialog, it is a good story. I can't believe that Phillip can be so gullable to acquiesce to Mildred's every need at times and I just wanted to slap the crap out of him...but I know what he went through. I've been that pathetic in my life at times myself. I thank GOD that I am over it though (not to mention how much money it has cost me to get here though) I can understand his infatuation. This is a good story but it takes one a long time to get through it. I must admit that I've seen the movie starring Bette Davis and Lesley (whatever his name from Gone With the Wind) and I would love to see the movie again. I wanted to see what the director did with the story applied against the book story. I do remember that the movie has nothing to do with the characters that Phillip interacted with in the book though...that would have made a very boring movie I think. Ok, that's my take on it anyway.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 24, 2003

    Absolutely worth the read.

    What an incredible novel! I wish I was half as articulate as W. Somerset Maugham, so that I could adequately express how much I loved this book. As another reviewer previously stated, the first 300 pages or so are a little slow but I definitely think that as a whole, it's all worth it.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 23, 2001

    Excellent

    The first half of the novel seems a bit deliberate, but the reader only realizes that it is the slow events of the first half that lead to the experiences that Phillip encounters in the second half. The first half of the book took me about 2-3 months to read; the second half took me 6 days. It was simply hard to put down as Maugham's style clearly facilitates an easy feeling of sympathy for Philip. The philosophical discussions and reassessments that Philip has are very well thought out and expressed. It is simply a great book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 23, 2013

    its okay

    It could have been shorter with the same points gotten across. Still finished it...took about two months give or take to read.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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