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Of Human Bondage

by W. Somerset Maugham

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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7,333120907 (4.07)1 / 456
From a tormented orphan with a clubfoot, Philip Carey grows into an impressionable young man with a voracious appetite for adventure and knowledge. His cravings take him to Paris at age eighteen to try his hand at art, then back to London to study medicine. But even so, nothing can sate his nagging hunger for experience. Then he falls obsessively in love, embarking on a disastrous relationship that will change his life forever.… (more)
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    Sylak: In many ways Jenny (Midnight Bell) reminds me of Mildred.
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    Of Human Bondage [1934 film] by John Cromwell (cao9415)

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» See also 456 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 118 (next | show all)
I wanted to like this book and I read almost 200 pages but finally had to quit. Ultimately I found it boring, I think because the author did not make the main character meaningful to me. I simply did not care what happened to him, and the narrative seemed little more than a chronicle of events. The details of living in that place and time were interesting but not so much as to merit such an investment in time. I actually enjoyed reading the intro by Gore Vidal more than the novel itself. ( )
  keithostertag | Apr 8, 2021 |
I recall liking the ending, but perhaps that's only because it ended. ( )
  octoberdad | Dec 16, 2020 |
A depressing book depicting the absurdity of life without God. It is well written and wonderfully conveys the emotion of such an absurd life, but it is quite nihilistic and is a wonderful tool to show how meaningless life is apart from Him. It is a book of the hour in 2020, a plague year. ( )
  Jon_Speed | Nov 17, 2020 |
The title of W. Somerset Maugham’s novel has always seemed fraught to me. It seems even more so now. I wondered early on if it might be titillating but then I realized it was written at the end of the Victorian era, so little chance of that. It might have been an easier read if it was that kind of bondage. But there are many forms of bondage and this novel deals with the bondage of economics and gender and institutions in society. The novel portrays English society but women and poor in many parts of the world would probably see themselves in the story. With the destruction of the middle class in my country, it seems like 95% of us are sliding towards the type of life and bondage described by Maugham. But we’re not in a book, so maybe there is even less hope for a happy ending than the slim chance you would give for this book to end well.

Maybe this wasn’t a great choice for a pandemic read.

I disliked this novel often while I read it. By that I mean I was uncomfortable for a large percentage of my reading time. I was uncomfortable that so many people had to live with that kind uncertainty and scarcity of prospects and quiet desperation in their lives. While the protagonist Philip, whose life and prospects that the novel follows, made me uncomfortable and anxious for his individual future, the other characters, both major and minor, that were women, made me even more uncomfortable. It was like reading Dickens but without the ability to overlay the more comfortable and comic versions of Fagan that appear in the musicals and Disneyfied movies with the much darker character of the written Fagan. Or reading Les Misérables without being able ignore the social issues and turn it into a simple Broadway love story. It seemed so real. And that’s the mark of a great writer. I not only was a spectator uncomfortable with what was being described but it was visceral in the sense that I was feeling that what Philip was going through mimicked how I might feel in the same situations. I was uncomfortable because I see that uncertainty and scarcity in my world and society now in a way that could swallow up my kids or nephews and nieces. Or even me. And because I see that the uncertainty and scarcity is still worse for women than for men 100 years on from the novels setting.

Is it normal for a man reading a book written by a man about men in a men’s world to be most bothered by the fate of the women who are undeveloped, secondary characters? Maybe not. But my activism for women’s reproductive rights makes me sensitive, especially as there are several episodes in this book where a single woman’s inability to control her fertility dooms her while the man can just disappear. Or when it dooms a family that was already struggling to feed itself to potential disaster, as comes through in this passage:

"The people who dwelt here lived from hand to mouth. Babies were unwelcome, the man received them with surly anger, the mother with despair; it was one more mouth to feed, and there was little enough wherewith to fed those already there. Philip often discerned the wish that the child might be born dead or might die quickly."

The books resident philosopher, Cronshaw, hit on another resonance with today’s world when he says “My ancestors have lived in a civilised state so long that the fear of the police has eaten into my bones.”

The whole of what Philip is doing throughout the novel gets summed up philosophically at one point when he thinks:

"The thing then was to discover what one was and one’s system of philosophy would devise itself. It seemed to Philip that there were three things to find out: man’s relation to the world he lives in, man’s relation with the men among whom he lives, and finally man’s relation to himself."

Maybe the best thing about the novel is centering a protagonist with a disability, giving us a view into how it feels to live with disability on top of all the challenges that life and society throw our way. Philip’s clubfoot disability is mild compared to more debilitating and less treatable disabilities but probably more stigmatized than the stutter that Maugham himself experienced and used as a model for Philip’s disability.

Moving on to the experience of reading the novel in this particular fine press edition, I’ll start with maybe my favorite quote in the novel,

"I see you’re fond of books. You can always tell by the way people handle them."

I definitely resonated with Philip as a reader and lover of books. Early in the novel, as Maugham is developing his character, he writes:

"Insensibly he formed the most delightful habit in the world, the habit of reading: he did not know that thus he was providing himself with a refuge from all the distress of life; he did not know either that he was creating for himself an unreal world which would make the real world of every day a source of bitter disappointment."

One of the most delightful things about reading this Limited Editions Club edition was the cloth used for the binding. It is so soft and sensual to the touch that it was a delight to pick up and hold each time I read. That’s especially astonishing in that the book is 82-years old. I did notice that the spine did not have that same tactile feel, as it has been exposed most of those years (my copy does not have the glassine wrapper to protect it somewhat) and worn much smoother. So I suspect a combination of the slipcase doing its job and that the book has probably not been handled much or read before may be a prime factor in how amazing the book cloth feels. In his Monthly Letter dated February 1938, Number 105, Macy states that the cloth is an English Linen that was especially imported for the edition and that he had never seen before. He calls it coarse linen but that is not a word I would use to describe the way it feels.

The book was designed by Carl Rollins at The Printing-Office of the Yale University Press. I really liked the fact that the book was separated into two volumes to make it more comfortable to read and handle with the care of a book lover. Again in his letter, Macy states that the 6” x 9 1/8” size chosen for the book “always gives tactile pleasure when held in the hands.” The book is indeed easy and comfortable to read and the contact with that cover linen extraordinary.

I get the impression Macy didn’t love Bembo and thinks that Rollins chose it simply because Yale University Press was one of the few American presses to have it at the time. I found it very readable and an elegant companion to the delightful illuminated Old Caslon capitals at the beginning of each chapter. And even more elegant with the lined texture of the custom-made rag paper from Special Worthy Paper Company.

Given the length of this novel, I doubt we will ever see a better edition than the LEC. There are too few presses doing lengthy texts like this. You might want to search a copy out.

[Excursus on slip-cases] I’ve always been baffled by the negative view of slipcases held by many bookish folk. I even talked to a binder who viewed them as destructive due to the friction of inserting and removing the book, even in the correctly sized ones that they made (They recommended clamshell boxes, which I agree are better from the perspective they were coming from). I love them, especially if they are labeled so I can store my books spine inward to prevent fading. But the main reason I love them is illustrated here perfectly. The damage they absorb protects the book. My slipcase is in pieces after 82 years of doing its job. But the books are practically perfect except for some fading and loss of softness to the spine. Well done. I hope to learn to make slipcases, or have one made, so I can give the books another century of protection. Hopefully I’ll even be able to salvage the slipcase label…

AVAILABILITY: 1500 copies printed at the Yale University Press in 1938. As of this writing, I saw 28 copies on-line from about $600 to $100.

This review with photos of the book can be viewed at www.thewholebookexperience.com
  jveezer | Oct 21, 2020 |
I used to think that studying a book in a class was a good way to destroy my enjoyment of the book. I wouldn't mind attending a class or two on this one, though.

It isn't complicated but it is long, and because it was written in the early 1900s it tends to fall into a gap between one style of writing and another. I don't count myself an expert in the different styles over the ages. That's where I'd love to get some assistance.

The story follows Philip Carey from his boyhood through the teens and into his early manhood. He is wrenched away from a loving mother when a small boy, and placed with his uncle and aunt. The two care for him but not demonstratively. He learns to adjust to their way of living, which tends to mean staying quiet. When he enters boarding school, he is confronted with ridicule because of his club foot. Throughout the book his foot plays a part in his estimation of his value. It is hard to forget and he tries more than one way to fix it.

As he reaches college age he becomes more resistant to his uncle's plans for him. He finds his own voice and uses it. When he obtains his majority he has access to a small annuity that he believes will be enough to set him on a path making money. But what path is it? He explores and finds difficulty in this area.

More than his difficulty in settling on a career is his difficulty in resisting a young woman he first meets in a restaurant. Mildred. The title of the book comes from a quotation of Spinoza's and refers to the bondage caused by our emotions. Certainly Philip is a prisoner of his emotions when it comes to Mildred.

Over time Philip grows in different ways. We meet his friends, we follow him on walks, we can suffer along with him or, at times, feel frustration.

The narrative style is omniscient, third-person. Most of the time the thoughts are Philip's. On occasion we enter someone else's head. I found it odd that the narrator often told us outright when Philip had it wrong, when he misunderstood a person, an idea. We don't get to draw that conclusion ourselves. In spite of the many instances of emotions and frustrations that we see in Philip, we don't really get into the guts of it. Instead we read "Philip was disgusted" or "He felt angry". Even as I wanted him to succeed I also had difficulty really getting him. I wanted something more, and I think that may be in part because of the time this was written.

I rather liked the ending. It wrapped up all the experiences and knowledge that Philip had gained over the years.

I have read that this is largely autobiographical. Knowing this, at times I felt Maugham was making excuses for himself, showing his best side. ( )
1 vote slojudy | Sep 8, 2020 |
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» Add other authors (46 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Maugham, W. Somersetprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Arbonès, JordiTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Barata, AntônioTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hastings, SelinaIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Juan, Enrique deTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kirkham, MichaelIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pantaleoni, LuisaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Peccinotti, HarriCover photographersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Peli, CarlaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Salvatore, AdaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Salvatorelli, FrancoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Schwabe, RandolphIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Smiley, JaneIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Whitney, Thomas P.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wollebæk, PerTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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The day broke grey and dull.
Insensibly he formed the most delightful habit in the world, the habit of reading: he did not know that thus he was providing himself with a refuge from all the distress of life; he did not know either that he was creating for himself an unreal world which would make the real world of every day a source of bitter disappointment.

... he was beginning to realize that he was the creature of a God who appreciated the discomfort of his worshippers.

He satisfied his conscience by the more comfortable method of expressing his repentance only to the Almighty.

Of course schools are made for the average. The holes are all round, and whatever shape the pegs are they must wedge in somehow. One hasn't time to bother anything but the average.

In schools the rather stupid boys who work always do better than the clever boy who's idle.

You know, there are two good things in life, the freedom of thought and the freedom of action. In France you get freedom of action: you can do what you like and nobody bothers, but you must think as anybody else. In Germany you must do what everybody does, but you may think as choose. They're both very good things. I personally prefer the freedom of thought. But in England you get neither: you're ground down by convention. You can't think as you like and you can't act as you like. That's because it's a democratic country. I expect America's worse.

But one mark of a writer's greatness is that different minds can find in him different opinions.

Perhaps his taciturnity hid a contempt for the human race which has abandoned the great dreams of his youth and now wallowed in sluggish ease; or perhaps these thirty years of revolution had thought him that men are unfit for liberty, and he thought that he had spent his life in the pursuit of that which was not worth the finding. Or maybe he was tired out and waited only with indifference for the release of death.

He was so young, he did not realize how much less is the sense of obligation in those who receive favours that in those who grant them.

... when feeling is the gauge you can snap your your fingers at logic, and when your logic is weak that is very agreeable.

... he felt that in putting into plain words what the other had expressed in paraphrase, he had been guilty of vulgarity.

'St. Augustin believed that the earth was flat and that the sun turned around it.'
'I don't know what that proves.'
'Why, it proves that you believe with your generation. Your saints lived in an age of faith, when it was practically impossible to disbelieve what to us is positively incredible.'
'Then how d'you know that we have the truth now?'
'I don't.'
'I don't see why the things we believe absolutely now shouldn't be just as wrong as what they believed in the past.'
'Neither do I.'
'Then how can you believe in anything at all.'
'I don't know.'
'Men have always formed gods in their own image.'
'I don't see why one should believe in God at all.'

Faith had been forced upon him from the outside. It was a matter of environment and example. A new environment and a new example gave him the opportunity to find himself. [...] The religious exercises which for so many years had been upon him were part and parcel of religion to him.
Suddenly he realized that he had lost also that burden of responsibility which made every action of his life a matter of urgent consequence. He could breath more freely in a lighter air. He was responsible only to himself for the things he did. Freedom! He was his own master at last. From old habit, unconsciously he thanked God that he no longer believed in him.

It is an illusion that youth is happy, an illusion of those who have lost it; but the young know they are wretched, for they are full of the truthless ideals which have been instilled into them and each time they come in contact with the real they are bruised and wounded.

He was a man who saw nothing for himself but only through a literary atmosphere, and he was dangerous because he had deceived himself into sincerity. He honestly mistook his sensuality for romantic emotion, his vacillation for the artistic temperament, and his idleness for philosophic calm. His mind, vulgar at its effort at refinement, saw everything a little larger than life size, with the outlines blurred, in a golden mist of sentimentality. He lied and never knew that he lied, and when it was pointed out to him said that lies are beautiful. He was an idealist.

Like all week men he laid an exaggerated stress on not changing one's opinion.

But art is a luxury. Men attach importance only to self-preservation and the propagation of their species. It is only when these instincts are satisfied that they consent to occupy themselves with the entertainment which is provided for them by writers, painters, and poets.

He had pondered for twenty years the problem whether he loved liquor because it made him talk or whether he loved conversation because it made him thirsty.

'By George, I believe I've got genius.'
He was in fact very drunk, but as he had not taken more than one glass of beer, it could have been due only to a more dangerous intoxicant than alcohol.

Art [...] is merely the refuge which the ingenious have invented, when they were supplied with food and women, to escape the tediousness of life.

The Almighty can hardly be such a fool as the churches make out. If you keep His laws I don't think He can care a packet of pins whether you believe in Him or not.

The illusion which man has that his will is free is so deeply rooted that
I am ready to accept it.

I refuse to make a hierarchy of human actions and ascribe worthiness to some and ill-repute to others. The terms vice and virtue have no signification for me. I do not confer praise or blame: I accept. I am the measure of all things. I am the centre of the world.

But are you under the impression that men ever do anything except for selfish reasons?

You will find as you grow older that the first thing needful to make the world a tolerable place to live in is to recognize the inevitable selfishness of humanity. You demand unselfishness from others, which is a preposterous claim that they should sacrifice their desires to yours. Why should they? When you are reconciled to the fact that each is for himself in the world you will ask less from your fellows. They will not disappoint you, and you will look upon them more charitably. Men seek but one thing in life - their pleasure.

You rear like a frightened colt, because I use a word to which your Christianity ascribes a deprecatory meaning. You have a hierarchy of values; pleasure is at the bottom of the ladder, and you speak with a little thrill of self-satisfaction, of duty, charity, and truthfulness. [...] It is pleasure that lurks in the practice of every one of your virtues. Man performs actions because they are good for him, and when they are good for other people as well they are thought virtuous: if he finds pleasure in giving alms he is charitable; if he finds pleasure in helping others he is benevolent; if he finds pleasure in working for society he is public-spirited; but it is for your private pleasure that you give twopence to a beggar as much as it is for my private pleasure that I drink another whiskey and soda. I, less of a humbug than you, neither applaud myself for my pleasure nor demand your admiration.

People ask you for criticism, but they only want praise.

Criticism has nothing to do with the artist. It judges objectively, but the objective doesn't concern the artist.

We paint from within outwards - if we force our vision on the world it calls us great painters; if we don't it ignores us; but we are the same. We don't attach any meaning to greatness or to smallness. What happens to our work afterwards is unimportant; we have got all we could out of it while we were doing it.

Oh, my dear fellow, if you want to be a gentleman you must give up being an artist. They've got nothing to do with one another. You hear of men painting pot-boilers to keep an aged mother - well, it shows they're excellent sons, but it's no excuse for bad work. They're only tradesmen. An artist would let his mother go to the workhouse.

There is nothing so degrading as the constant anxiety about one's means of livelihood. I have nothing but contempt for the people who despise money. They are hypocrites or fools. Money is like a sixth sense without which you cannot make a complete use of the other five. Without an adequate income half the possibilities of life are shut off. The only thing to be careful about is that you do not pay more than a shilling for the shilling you earn. You will hear people say that poverty is the best spur to the artist. They have never felt the iron of it in their flesh. They do not know how mean it makes you. It exposes you to endless humiliation, it cuts your wings, it eats into your soul like a cancer. It is not wealth one asks for, but just enough to preserve one's dignity, to work unhampered, to be generous, frank, and independent. I pity with all my heart the artist, whether he writes or paints, who is entirely dependent for subsistence upon his art.

I see no talent in anything you have shown me. I see industry and intelligence. You will never be anything but mediocre.

It is cruel to discover one's mediocrity only when it is too late.

I daresay one profits more by the mistakes one makes off one's own bat than by doing the right thing on somebody's else advice.

Follow your inclinations with due regard to the policeman round the corner.

He found that it was easy to make a heroic gesture, but hard to abide by its results.

But age is a matter of knowledge rather than of years;

I shouldn't mind marrying, but I don't want to marry if I'm going to be no better off than what I am now. I don't see the use of it.

You know, I don't believe in churches and parsons and all that [...] but I believe in God, and I don't believe He minds much about what you do as long as you keep your end up and help a lame dog over a stile when you can. And I think people on the whole are very nice, and I'm sorry for those who aren't.

Life wouldn't be worth living if I worried over the future as well as the present. When things are at their worst I find something always happens.

...he did not think he had been more selfish than anyone else...

It's the simplest thing in the world to have an affair with a woman [...] but it's a devil of a nuisance to get out of it.

There is nothing so terrible as the pursuit of art by those who have no talent.

There's always one who loves and one who lets himself be loved.

One's always rather apt to exaggerate the passion one's inspired other people with.

"Oh, it's always the same," she sighed, "if you want men to behave well to you, you must be beastly to them; if you treat them decently they make you suffer for it."

It's not very pleasant being in love.

It doesn't matter what a man does if he's ready to take the consequences.

He had heard people speak contemptuously of money: he wondered if they had ever tried to do without it. He knew that the lack made a man petty, mean, grasping; it distorted his character and caused him to view the world from a vulgar angle; when you had to consider every penny, money became of grotesque importance: you needed a competency to rate it at its proper value.

"Thing I've always noticed, people don't commit suicide for love, as you'd expect, that's just a fancy of novelists; they commit suicide because they haven't got any money. I wonder why that is."
"I suppose money's more important than love," suggested Philip.
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From a tormented orphan with a clubfoot, Philip Carey grows into an impressionable young man with a voracious appetite for adventure and knowledge. His cravings take him to Paris at age eighteen to try his hand at art, then back to London to study medicine. But even so, nothing can sate his nagging hunger for experience. Then he falls obsessively in love, embarking on a disastrous relationship that will change his life forever.

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