Of Human Bondage

Of Human Bondage

Hardcover(Reprint)

$26.95
View All Available Formats & Editions
Choose Expedited Shipping at checkout for guaranteed delivery by Wednesday, April 14

Overview

W. Somerset Maugham’s masterwork is the coming-of-age story of Philip Carey, a sensitive young man consumed by an unrequited and self-destructive love.

Born with a clubfoot, Philip is orphaned as a child and raised by unsympathetic relatives. Sent to a boarding school where he has difficulty fitting in, he grows up with an intense longing for love, art, and experience. After failing to become an artist in Paris, he begins medical studies in London, where he meets Mildred, a cold-hearted waitress with whom he falls into a powerful, tortured, life-altering love affair. This is the most autobiographical of Maugham’s works, with Philip’s malformed foot standing in for Maugham’s stutter, and the character’s painful romantic struggles inspired by the author’s own intense love affairs with both men and women. A brilliant and deeply moving portrayal of the price of passion and the universal desire for connection, Of Human Bondage stands as one of the most accomplished novels in English literature.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781101907689
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 10/06/2015
Series: Everyman's Library Contemporary Classics
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 712
Sales rank: 294,609
Product dimensions: 8.10(w) x 5.30(h) x 1.40(d)

About the Author

W. SOMERSET MAUGHAM was born in Paris in 1874. He trained as a doctor in London where he started writing his first novels. In 1926 he bought a house in Cap Ferrat, France, which was to become a meeting place for a number of writers, artists and politicians. He died in 1965.

SELINA HASTINGS is the author of acclaimed biographies of Somerset Maugham, Nancy Mitford, and Rosamond Lehmann, and her biography of Evelyn Waugh won the Marsh Biography Award.

Read an Excerpt

Excerpt from the Introduction by Selina Hastings

W
hen Of Human Bondage was published in 1915, Somerset Maugham, then in his early forties, was well established as one of the most popular writers of his generation. His novels sold well but it was his plays, performed regularly on both sides of the Atlantic, that had brought him fame and substantial wealth. His first commercial production, Lady Frederick, staged in 1907 at the Royal Court in London, had proved an instant success and ran for over a year. By the following year four of Maugham’s plays were running concurrently in the West End, a record which for a living playwright was to remain unbroken for a generation.
 
As a successful dramatist Maugham was much in demand, not only in theatrical circles but by fashionable London hostesses: everyone wanted to know him and in the relatively small society of the time almost everyone did. With a large income now at his disposal, Maugham bought an elegant five-storey house in Mayfair and began to enjoy himself as a man about town. Described as ‘one of London’s wittiest bachelors and most indefatigable dancers’, Maugham was deluged with invitations, appearing in white tie and tails at dances and first nights, two-stepping in fancy dress at the Chelsea Arts Ball, waltzing at a charity event at Covent Garden. The artist, Gerald Kelly, painted a portrait of him at this period entitled ‘The Jester’, in which the playwright is shown as the epitome of the Edwardian dandy: exquisitely turned out in grey morning dress and top hat, he poses, elegantly seated, in front of a Coromandel screen, one leg casually crossed, his right hand resting lightly on a slender gold-topped cane.
 
With Lady Frederick an established hit, Maugham’s career was furthered by a relationship now formed with the great American impresario, Charles Frohman. Frohman not only ruled over an extensive theatrical empire in London but by the early 1900s had developed a virtual monopoly on importing British drama to the United States. It was Frohman who first brought Maugham to New York and Frohman who constantly pressured him to produce new work. And Maugham was extraordinarily productive, full of ideas, rarely spending more than three or four weeks in the writing of a play. ‘I think the difficulty of playwriting has been much exaggerated,’ he wrote airily. ‘I had always half a dozen plays in my head, and when a theme presented itself to me it did so divided into scenes and acts, with each ‘‘curtain’’ staring me in the face, so that I should have had no difficulty in beginning a new play the day after I had finished [the last].’
 
By 1910 Maugham, aged thirty-six, had had eight plays staged, most of them on both sides of the Atlantic, with Frohman constantly at his heels, impatiently demanding new work. It was now, however, that Maugham felt his interest in the theatre wane. ‘After submitting myself for some years to the exigencies of the drama,’ he wrote, ‘I hankered after the wide liberty of the novel . . . I knew the book I had in mind would be a long one and I wanted to be undisturbed, so I refused the contracts that managers were eagerly offering me and temporarily retired from the stage.’
 
At this point in his career, Maugham had written only a handful of novels. His first, Liza of Lambeth, had been published in 1897 when he was only twenty-three, while his most recent, The Magician, based on the life of Aleister Crowley, had appeared in 1908. Now for the first time in his fiction Maugham was to draw extensively on his own experience, his theme closely based on his early years, of his young manhood and, crucially, of a degrading sexual obsession. The more he thought about it, the more absorbed he became, the compulsion to write stronger and more powerful than anything he had previously known. His memories were literally forcing themselves upon him – ‘choking’ was the word he used: ‘I had all that stuff choking me, occupying my thoughts by day & my dreams by night, and I wanted to be free of it.’ Accustomed to writing a novel in two to three months, Maugham when he began was entirely unprepared for the length and arduousness of the project on which he was about to embark. Starting work in the autumn of 1911, with an unprecedented advance of £500, Maugham promised his publisher, William Heinemann, he would deliver the manuscript the following spring. In fact the book took over two and half years to complete, not appearing until August 1915.
 
Of Human Bondage is the most closely autobiographical of all Maugham’s fiction. Few of Maugham’s friends knew anything much about his early life. He rarely spoke about his past and almost never, even to his intimates, about his childhood. Most were aware that his parents were dead, and that he had two surviving brothers, both lawyers, both with wives and families, but the rest was unknown territory. Now at last the story would be told, and with an unflinching courage and integrity. Born in Paris in 1874, Maugham was the youngest of four boys, his father, Robert Maugham, a successful lawyer, the legal adviser to the British Embassy. The family lived in an elegant apartment near the Champs Elysees where Maugham’s mother, a beauty whom he adored, entertained a large circle of friends, not only from diplomatic but from literary and artistic circles. With his older brothers away at school, Maugham enjoyed an idyllic early childhood, much doted upon and indulged. But by the age of ten the boy had lost both his parents and his happy childhood was over. It was quickly discovered there was little money left, and Maugham was dispatched to England to be brought up by an uncle, the Rev. Henry Maugham, vicar of Whitstable in Kent.
 
The vicar was not a bad man, but he was narrow-minded and self-centred, with not the faintest notion how to cope with a child. Maugham was sent as a boarder to the King’s School, Canterbury, where he was badly bullied: small for his age, he had never played cricket or football, knew nothing of current schoolboy customs or slang, and having been brought up speaking French, was still not entirely at ease with the English language. Most damaging of all, he had developed a stammer, which was a great joke to his classmates and an agony to him. Leaving school at sixteen, Maugham went to Heidelberg for a year to learn German, and on his return decided somewhat bizarrely to train as a doctor: he knew even then that he wanted to write; he also wanted to travel; and he thought that if the worst came to the worst, then at least as a qualified physician he could find a job as a ship’s doctor and so see the world.
 
And this is very nearly what happened. In October 1897, after five years as a medical student at St Thomas’s Hospital in London, Maugham, aged twenty-three, received his diploma, qualifying him to practise as surgeon and physician. A month earlier his first novel had been published, Liza of Lambeth, inspired by the appalling poverty of the Lambeth slums, which he had come to know well while doing his rounds. ‘I learned pretty well everything I know about human nature in the 5 years I spent at St Thomas’s Hospital,’ he was later to say. The book enjoyed a modest success, and Maugham believed he was now well launched on a literary career. Nothing if not industrious, he had finished a second novel even before the first had made its appearance, but the second work did far less well than Liza, and Maugham struggled to make ends meet. He engaged an agent, and just managed to scrape a living, but for ten years he remained chronically hard up, yet another struggling young writer hoping to break into the big time. It was at the end of this period that the success of Lady Frederick changed everything.
 
The novel on which Maugham began work in the autumn of 1911 was an entirely new departure. ‘No English writer is more transparently, more unblushingly autobiographic than Somerset Maugham,’ wrote the American scholar, Leslie A. Marchand, and nowhere is Maugham more self-revealing than in Of Human Bondage. Maugham, who usually cultivated a fastidious detachment, shows in this work a personal commitment that was unusual, sweeping the reader up in his own passionate intensity. Compelling and uncompromising, written with an unflagging energy and drive, the work could hardly be more different from any he had previously published. At 300,000 words it is by far the longest of his novels, the story closely following the events of Maugham’s early life, with at its centre the terrifying experience of a masochistic sexual obsession.
 
The story begins when the hero, Philip Carey, is orphaned at the age of ten and dispatched to live with an uncle, the vicar of Blackstable (Whitstable) in Kent. The vicar is a selfish, unloving man and the boy is miserably unhappy, even more so when sent off to boarding-school at the cathedral city of Tercanbury (Canterbury). Here Philip is mercilessly teased by his fellow pupils, not for a stammer but for a club-foot, which makes him wretchedly self-conscious. Leaving school at sixteen, he, like Maugham, goes first to Heidelberg, spends some months in Paris, and for five years trains as a doctor at a teaching hospital in London. It is during his time as a medical student that Philip falls victim to a powerful and humiliating sexual passion. One day he and a fellow student drop in at a tea-shop near the hospital; here they are waited on by a young woman who treats them both with an offensive indifference. Mildred is thin and anaemic, ‘with narrow hips and the chest of a boy . . . the faint green of her delicate skin gave an impression of unhealthiness.’ Piqued by her rudeness, Philip tries further to engage her attention but again Mildred snubs him. ‘ ‘‘Ill-mannered slut’’, said Philip. ‘‘I shan’t go there again.’’ ’ Yet he finds himself perversely attracted, excited by her obvious contempt, and from this moment Philip is doomed, possessed by a voracious carnal craving, a masochistic bondage so overwhelming that it very nearly destroys him.
 
In most particulars, the plot closely follows the author’s own experience. Maugham’s miserable boyhood with his uncle in Whitstable, his school days, his training at St Thomas’s Hospital, are accurately retailed in Philip’s story. Yet although Maugham was unhappy for much of his early years in England, this part of the narrative, if sometimes harrowing, is also imbued with an admirable wit and verve, the author using to great comic effect not only the vicar’s pomposity but his own adolescent naivety and conceit. The latter is particularly in evidence during a sequence when a Miss Wilkinson, a woman well past her first youth, comes to stay at the vicarage and sets out to seduce the young man of the house. Philip is at first puzzled, then thrilled, before quickly growing bored and embarrassed. The morning after Miss Wilkinson has finally lured him into bed, she encounters him alone at the breakfast table. ‘ ‘‘Ah, je t’aime. Je t’aime, Je t’aime,’’ she cried, with her extravagantly French accent. Philip wished she would speak English . . . he did not know why it slightly irritated him. At last he said: ‘‘Well, I think I’ll tootle along to the beach and have a dip.’’ ’ ‘Oh, you darling!’ Miss Wilkinson rapturously exclaims. ‘ ‘‘Go. I want to think of you mastering the salt sea waves, bathing your limbs in the broad ocean.’’ [Philip] got his hat and sauntered off. ‘‘What rot women talk!’’ he said to himself.’
 
As well as of his time as a medical student, Maugham makes good fictional use both of his year in Heidelberg in 1890–91 and later of the several months which he spent in Paris in 1905. It was in Heidelberg, for instance, that he encountered that flamboyant dilettante, John Ellingham Brooks. Brooks, who was briefly a lover of Maugham’s, made such a memorable impression with his vapid beauty and intellectual pretentiousness that he was later reincarnated not in one but in two fictional roles, as Hayward in Of Human Bondage and more pathetically as Thomas Wilson in the short story, ‘The Lotus Eater’. All his life Maugham went regularly to Paris, and when on one of his visits there he met the artist Gerald Kelly, who was not only to become a friend for life but over the years painted his portrait on no fewer than eighteen occasions. Kelly had a studio in Montparnasse, and he introduced Maugham to a group of friends, mainly artists and writers, who convened regularly at a small restaurant, Le Chat Blanc, spending hours drinking, smoking and talking over dinner. In the novel these sessions are vividly reproduced, with Kelly himself significantly contributing not only to the character of the genial Lawson but also, later in the story, to Griffiths, a bonhomous but deceitful colleague who carelessly betrays Philip in the most humiliating circumstances.
 
Although Of Human Bondage essentially derives from Maugham’s own experience, there is one brief section of the story which comes entirely from outside. Towards the end of the book Philip, by now penniless and reduced to near starvation, manages to find work in a shop in Oxford Street, where his job requires him to stand all day at the top of the staircase directing customers, at night sleeping in a squalid dormitory with the other male assistants. Needless to say, this was a world unfamiliar to the novelist, but he was able to commission a report from a young actor, Gilbert Clark, who when ‘resting’ would regularly find employment at the Piccadilly department store, Swan & Edgar. At Maugham’s request Clark wrote a 6,000-word description of his routine, for which he was paid the generous sum of 30 guineas. ‘I can’t tell you how pleased I am with what you have given me,’ Maugham told Clark, who later confirmed that ‘Willie used my stuff practically word for word.’

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.

    Customer Reviews