Of Human Bondage

Of Human Bondage

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780375753152
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 01/01/2000
Series: Modern Library Classics Series
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 656
Sales rank: 1,252,747
Product dimensions: 5.21(w) x 8.00(h) x 1.31(d)
Age Range: 14 - 18 Years

About the Author

William Somerset Maugham (1874–1965) trained as a physician, and his fascination with the patients he tended in London's slums inspired his first novel, Liza of Lambeth. He then turned to writing plays, and his witty, urbane comedies met with immediate success. Although his works have since fallen into unjust neglect, he was among the most popular authors of the 1930s, writing novels, plays, short stories, essays, and travel books.

Read an Excerpt

The day broke grey and dull. The clouds hung heavily, and there was a rawness in the air that suggested snow. A woman servant came into a room in which a child was sleeping and drew the curtains. She glanced mechanically at the house opposite, a stucco house with a portico, and went to the child's bed.

'Wake up, Philip,' she said.

She pulled down the bed-clothes, took him in her arms, and carried him downstairs. He was only half awake.

'Your mother wants you,' she said.

She opened the door of a room on the floor below and took the child over to a bed in which a woman was lying. It was his mother. She stretched out her arms, and the child nestled by her side. He did not ask why he had been awakened. The woman kissed his eyes, and with thin, small hands felt the warm body through his white flannel nightgown. She pressed him closer to herself.

'Are you sleepy, darling?' she said.

Her voice was so weak that it seemed to come already from a great distance. The child did not answer, but smiled comfortably. He was very happy in the large, warm bed, with those soft arms about him. He tried to make himself smaller still as he cuddled against his mother, and he kissed her sleepily. In a moment he closed his eyes and was fast asleep. The doctor came forward and stood by the bedside.

'Oh, don't take him away yet,' she moaned.

The doctor, without answering, looked at her gravely. Knowing she would not be allowed to keep the child much longer, the woman kissed him again; and she passed her hand down his body till she came to his feet; she held the right foot in her hand and felt the five small toes; and then slowly passed her hand over the leftone. She gave a sob.

'What's the matter?' said the doctor. 'You're tired.'

She shook her head, unable to speak, and the tears rolled down her cheeks. The doctor bent down.

'Let me take him.'

She was too weak to resist his wish, and she gave the child up. The doctor handed him back to his nurse.

'You'd better put him back in his own bed.'

'Very well, sir.'

The little boy, still sleeping, was taken away. His mother sobbed now broken-heartedly.

'What will happen to him, poor child?'

The monthly nurse tried to quiet her, and presently, from exhaustion, the crying ceased. The doctor walked to a table on the other side of the room, upon which, under a towel, lay the body of a still-born child. He lifted the towel and looked. He was hidden from the bed by a screen, but the woman guessed what he was doing.

'Was it a girl or a boy?' she whispered to the nurse.

'Another boy.'

The woman did not answer. In a moment the child's nurse came back. She approached the bed.

'Master Philip never woke up,' she said.

There was a pause. Then the doctor felt his patient's pulse once more.

'I don't think there's anything I can do just now,' he said. 'I'll call again after breakfast.'

'I'll show you out, sir,' said the child's nurse.

They walked downstairs in silence. In the hall the doctor stopped.

'You've sent for Mrs Carey's brother-in-law, haven't you?'

'Yes, sir.'

'D'you know at what time he'll be here?'

'No, sir, I'm expecting a telegram.'

'What about the little boy? I should think he'd be better out of the way.'

'Miss Watkin said she'd take him, sir.'

'Who's she?'

'She's his godmother, sir. D'you think Mrs Carey will get over it, sir?'

The doctor shook his head.

What People are Saying About This

Abraham Verghese

This is the book that first stirred my passion for medicine when I was just twelve.

Reading Group Guide

INTRODUCTION

Of Human Bondage is a bildungsroman made unique by W. Somerset Maugham's minute dissection of the limitations of individual freedom. The novel delineates the coming of age of Philip Carey, an orphan with a clubfoot. Raised by his aunt and uncle, a vicar, Philip grows up under the rules of their house and church. He is tormented at school but excels academically and even aspires to be an ordained minister. Just before graduation, he takes off for a year in Heidelberg, where he is plunged into a world of ideas and succumbs to religious skepticism. But he finds nothing to replace his religion or his identity as an English gentleman. Attempting to fill in the blanks and follow his true nature, Philip struggles by trial and error to establish a philosophy for himself. The novel relates the weight of each failure, each disappointment that Philip endures, in realistic detail. As a result, Maugham convincingly shows a sensitive young man's battle to eliminate the constraints imposed on him so that he may live freely, but at the conclusion of the novel, it is unclear whether Philip ever attains the freedom he desires—and whether Maugham's title, Of Human Bondage, suggests that humanity's natural state of being is one of freedom or rather one of perpetual restriction.

When Philip breaks from religion, he takes a bold first step toward transforming himself. Philip's inner nature, without any conscious effort on his part, asserts itself: "He was surprised at himself because he ceased to believe so easily, and, not knowing that he felt as he did on account of the subtle workings of his inmost nature, he ascribed the certainty he had reached to his own cleverness" (p. 118). Philip loses his faith as a result of the buildup of years of repression imposed on him while living in his uncle's vicarage and while attending King's School. In both places, Philip's pious caretakers often treat him with indifferent cruelty. The reality that Philip experiences does not match the professed ideals of his religion. For example, Philip believes that Weeks, an American he meets in Heidelberg, is a kind man who leads a life of Christian purity, but knows that the Church of England considers any "unbeliever" to be "a wicked and a vicious man" (p. 115). Philip comes to his own conclusion: "It was evidently possible to be virtuous and unbelieving" (p. 115). When Philip renounces his religion, the narrator pauses to comment on youth's shedding of illusion: "It looks as if they were victims of a conspiracy; for the books they read, ideal by the necessity of selection, and the conversation of their elders, who look back upon the past through a rosy haze of forgetfulness, prepare them for an unreal life" (p. 121). But just because Philip sheds one unrealistic ideal does not guarantee that he won't fall for the next one. For we are told that "the strange thing is that each one who has gone through that bitter disillusionment adds to it in his turn, unconsciously, by the power within him which is stronger than himself" (p. 121). Philip frees himself from a religious upbringing that he realizes contradicts his reality. But what does he replace it with?

Philip's preoccupation with freeing his spirit leads him to read philosophy in order to find "some guide by which he could rule his conduct" (p. 257), but he ultimately decides to become his own philosopher. Reflecting on the varied experiences and ideas he discovered during his failed attempts to become a chartered accountant and then a painter, Philip comes to the conclusion that sin is "a prejudice from which the free man should rid himself" (p. 259), and that a "free man can do no wrong" (p. 260). His failed attempts at finding an occupation are not without their benefits. Once he enters medical school to begin his third attempt at a vocation, Philip has pieced together a philosophy, albeit an incomplete one. He doesn't believe in right or wrong, yearns to discover the intention of the soul, and is still trying to define a mode of conduct and the meaning of life. At this point in the novel, it is important to wonder whether Philip's fragmentary philosophy affects how he lives: whether it helps him free his inner nature or merely restricts it in a different way.

Philip's obsession with Mildred, a selfish, vulgar woman with few redeeming qualities, may at first seem odd given his desire for complete freedom. But his affair with her can be seen as an unconscious attempt to escape an idea and an expectation he finds confining: the attainment of happiness. Mildred takes advantage of Philip's generosity, yet he purposefully subjects himself to continued torture from her, despite his recognition of her shortcomings and the fact that he is often repulsed by her. Considering Philip's incomplete philosophy, failed attempts at work, and bad beginning as a medical student, his love affair at this point in the book may reflect his failure to find a way of life that is meaningful to him. When he begins his affair with Norah after Mildred leaves him for another man, Philip realizes how happy Norah makes him. Yet Philip leaves Norah and goes back to his misery with Mildred: "He would rather have misery with one than happiness with the other" (p. 338).

The desire for happiness is, finally, the last ideal that Philip casts aside in his pursuit of freedom. When he realizes that "his life had seemed horrible when it was measured by its happiness" and that "it might be measured by something else" (p. 525), he disowns his desire to be happy and in turn is happy. But what is this something else by which life might be measured? Perhaps it is his belief that the pattern one chooses to follow in life determines the meaning of one's life. In the end, when he decides to marry Sally, Philip chooses "the simplest pattern, that in which a man was born, worked, married, had children, and died" (p. 606-607). And with this decision to pursue the mundane—a departure from the typical bildungsroman in which the sensitive protagonist turns out to be an artist or otherwise realize his potential—we are told, "It might be that to surrender to happiness was to accept defeat, but it was a defeat better than many victories" (p. 607).


ABOUT W. SOMERSET MAUGHAM

William Somerset Maugham was born in Paris to British parents on January 25, 1874. There are many parallels between his life and that of his protagonist in Of Human Bondage. Like Philip Carey, Maugham lost both his parents at an early age and was sent to live with his uncle (a vicar) and aunt in England. As a boy at King's School in Canterbury, Maugham suffered from bullying and the insensitivity of others. A severe stutter hampered him socially, and he retreated into his studies. Rather than finishing school and continuing on to Oxford, Maugham rebelled against his guardian's wishes and, like Philip, spent time as an unregistered student at the University of Heidelberg in Germany. Returning to England, Maugham entered St. Thomas's medical school to appease his aunt and uncle, but he had already decided he would be a writer. He earned a medical degree but never practiced. His first novel, Liza of Lambeth, was published in 1897, the same year he graduated.

Maugham's writing career spanned sixty-five years, during which time he was quite prolific. Although he began as a novelist, his first popular success was as a dramatist. Maugham quit writing plays, however, when contemporary preferences in the genre changed, deciding to concentrate on novels and short stories instead. Among Maugham's many works, Of Human Bondage (1915), The Moon and Sixpence (1919), Cakes and Ale; or, The Skeleton in the Cupboard (1930), and The Razor's Edge (1944) are considered his greatest. Maugham died in France in 1965.


DISCUSSION QUESTIONS
  • When Mr. Perkins, the headmaster of King's School, tries to persuade Philip to go to Oxford, we are told that Philip "felt himself slipping. He was powerless against the weakness that seemed to well up in him" (p. 81). Is Philip's refusal to be ordained or to at least go to Oxford a weakness or a strength?
     
  • While Hayward believes in "the Whole, the Good, and the Beautiful" (p. 112), Weeks, defining himself as a Unitarian, says he "believes in almost everything that anybody else believes" (p. 114). How do these two outlooks compare with each other and with Philip's interpretation, at the end of the novel, of the Persian carpet design as a metaphor for the meaning of life?
     
  • After realizing that he no longer believes in God, why does Philip say to himself, "If there is a God after all and He punishes me because I honestly don't believe in Him I can't help it" (p. 119)?
     
  • When Philip starts to see how reality differs from his ideals, the narrator says that the young "must discover for themselves that all they have read and all they have been told are lies, lies, lies; and each discovery is another nail driven into the body on the cross of life" (p. 121). Why does Maugham use a religious image associated with Christ's suffering to describe the suffering of disillusionment?
     
  • When discussing Philip's initial disillusionment, the narrator says, "The strange thing is that each one who has gone through that bitter disillusionment adds to it in his turn, unconsciously, by the power within him which is stronger than himself" (p. 121). What is this power?
     
  • After Philip leaves Heidelberg, why does the narrator tell us that Philip "never knew that he had been happy there" (p. 130)?
     
  • Why does Philip subject himself with masochistic obstinacy to Mildred's cruelty?
     
  • Do Philip's life choices reflect Cronshaw's theory about pleasure being the only motive for human action?
     
  • Why is Philip happy when he casts aside his desire for happiness?
     
  • Why does Philip think of "the words of the dying God" (p. 604) as he forgives humanity's defects, Griffiths's treachery, and Mildred's cruelty?
     
  • Why does Maugham end the novel with Philip and Sally's engagement?
     
  • Does Philip ever rid himself of idealism?
     
  • At the end of the novel, are we meant to think that Philip has found the freedom he has been looking for?
  • FOR FURTHER REFLECTI0N

  • How much control do we have over whether or not we are happy?
     
  • Is it possible to live without ideals?
     
  • Can self-control be "as passionate and as active as the surrender to passion" (p. 437)?

RELATED TITLES

Theodore Dreiser, An American Tragedy (1925)
Drawn to the empty promises made to him by a malignant society, Clyde Griffiths, the doomed protagonist of this central work of naturalism, is driven to commit murder to further his ambitions.

Thomas Hardy, Far from the Madding Crowd (1874)
Headstrong Bathsheba Everdene vainly rebukes Gabriel Oak's love for her and involves herself instead with two suitors who bring her tragic misfortune.

Henry James, The American (1877)
When American millionaire Christopher Newman courts French aristocrat Claire de Cintré, he learns that he must win over her proud family, the de Bellegardes, as well.

D. H. Lawrence, Sons and Lovers (1913)
Paul Morel, a talented artist, is unsuccessful in love twice, and he struggles to be free of his mother's dominating influence.

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Of Human Bondage 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 118 reviews.
bookbusy More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
shmuelman More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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!!!
LisasGeode More than 1 year ago
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.
kittypaws More than 1 year ago
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.
Libejin More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This novel paints a picture of the human spirit through a very truthful and seductive eye. The characters are fantastically dynamic and vulnerable.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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!
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Macycarew More than 1 year ago
If Maugham had no friends, it's no wonder. This is a good book, really. It's dull for the first 200 or so pages, but then out of curiosity you find that you want to read and find out what happens to Philip. One odd thing though, Philip has something bad to say about EVERYBODY! Everyone he meets is somehow ugly in varying ways. He would meet someone and say things like...they had a pleasant ugly face. If this book is semi autobiographical....then Maugham was a jerk. This is an easy read about the human condition and the cost of love...but seriously you can skip the first 200 pages and not have really missed anything.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
LBJJL More than 1 year ago
This download has strange characters peppered throughout the text and "Digitized by Google" also appearing randomly.
GigglyPuff More than 1 year ago
This was the first book by Somerset Maugham I read, and it is a keeper!
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
jmchshannon on LibraryThing 10 months ago
That synopsis is so inadequate, but honestly I have no idea how to improve it. To state that this book is about love is a gross understatement. In addition, this book is not just a coming-of-age novel. I would say that the main theme is relationships - to friends, to family, to the opposite sex, to yourself. Equal parts philosophical and dramatic, Maugham requires the reader to reexamine his or her own relationships throughout one's life, bringing to life both painful and joyful memories. 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?
shefukul on LibraryThing 10 months ago
My favorite Maugham but only after Razor's Edge. The book is a semi-autobiography that I read a long time back. Difficult to write details. Maugham is an excellent story-teller and he almost says his through this one.
llasram on LibraryThing 10 months ago
I've re-read this book several times, and enjoyed it each. For most of the novel I feel a significant sympathy with Philip Carey. The ending strikes a jarringly false note, but it doesn't damage the novel too much. Plus: fun late 19th-century class distinctions!
Borg-mx5 on LibraryThing 10 months ago
One of my favoite books of all time. The twisted relationship between Philip and Mildred. This edition is an enriched edition with some background and history to expand on the understanding of the literature.
EmScape on LibraryThing 11 months ago
A good, solid book. Phillip is a very genuine character who lives and loves, exults and suffers, learns and grows. He has talents and faults and his life is nothing extraordinary, except that he is so compelling to read about.