Emilia P's Reviews > Of Human Bondage

Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham
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Dec 06, 11

bookshelves: real-books
Read from November 07 to December 06, 2011

My favorite of the Goodreads reviews "THIS BOOK IS ABOUT A GUY WITH A CLUBFOOT HIS GIRLFRIENDS A BITCH". I would add to that it's about class and religious feeling or lack thereof. These are important things.

I have really mixed feelings about this book, and am giving myself the self-congratulatory fourth star. Yes, there is something very compelling to a story which spans the scope of a man's life, and does a really good job being consistent about his attitudes, affectations, prejudices and dreams and how they develop, are sometimes dashed, and change their shape with changing times and circumstances. In a way, it's incredibly human - refreshingly honest about what a relateable, judgemental twerp most people are in their inner lives. Full of little schemes and kind and ugly urges alike. Philip's affair with Mildred (the aforementioned girlfriend) is the culmination of that -- a woman he simultaneously wants to stab in throat, make passionate love to, and take care of. He takes her back again and again, never liking her, but always loving her. Really, it's ridiculous. But believeable.

That said, I think there's a lot in this book that isn't believeable -- particularly the portrayals of women -- particularly the "good" women. Maugham is so into his protagonists inner life that he forgets to make the women who are kind to him much more than plot movers. Oh, hey conveniently self-sufficient and intelligent lady novelist with whom Philip is able to have a sexual affair with no strings attached! Why hello, charming salt-of-the-earth-yet still intelligent daughter of a charmingly bombastic fellow that shows up in Philip's life! Yeah, I think that it would have been really great to see like two seconds of these women's inner lives and some of their flaws and foibles and dreams. But nahhh... who needs it! But, well, maybe internal misogyny or ignorance is just part and parcel of Philip's character. In fact, with his mom dying young and all, it probably is. But perhaps the most striking moment in the book is the single chapter in which the perspective switches to Mildred's - right before she gets furious at him and tears up his house. Yeah, Mil, dude is sendin' hella mixed messages. But, well, yeah, you still probably shouldn't have messed his stuff up so bad.

The other interesting and somewhat constructed/somewhat convincing thing that was of real interest here were the journeys through a wide variety of social classes, castes, etc, boarding school, a wide-eyed scholar in Germany, artistically destitute in Paris, training for accountancy and doctorhood in London, and truly destitute, hungry, and dirt-poor in London. It's no wonder that George Orwell really liked this book - I saw glimpses of Down and Out in Paris and London here, and a glowing adoration/sympathy/patronizing for the lowly, dirty, happy proles. And like Orwell, too, we have here a grumpy, cynical, emphatically atheistic upper-middle narrator who idolizes people who implicitly believe in God, people for whom loneliness is oppressive, people who have no choice but to not live only for themselves. How convenient, bro. So, yeah, there's that.

This is pretty early stuff for Maugham, and I've read his later stuff and I think it gets a lot better - more sensuous, succinct and well, more novelish and less biographical. Also, shorter!

Basically, this book was a really good look at one dude's life. You don't have to like the dude. He doesn't even like himself that much. But, you're tied to him, as he is tied to others along the way. A story, one might say, of human bondage. Wah-wahhh.




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Reading Progress

11/07/2011 "Wish me luck please. Please." 2 comments
11/16/2011 page 160
28.0% "I still don't understand the title and always feel gleefully obscene on the bus."
11/28/2011 page 275
49.0% "I'm at the beginning of the Mildred fiasco and oh my god it is painful. It is making me not want to read the rest of the book. :P"
11/30/2011 page 400
71.0% "I am conquering you! Bzam!"
12/05/2011 page 532
94.0% "I can taste it!!"

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