Eric Aiello's Reviews > Of Human Bondage

Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham
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Jan 26, 2010

it was amazing
bookshelves: 50-book-challenge-2010
Read from June 27 to July 18, 2010

What we have in Of Human Bondage is one of the greatest and all-encompassing stories to ever come from human kind. Written in the early 1900s, Maugham's novel is not only incredibly relevant in today's society but should also be required reading in our schools. I, for one, had never heard of this book until I was well into college (and even then it was not by professors but by the internet). The novel is essentially a bildungsroman tale (coming-of-age tale - allow me to also recommend Nervous Conditions of the same genre) that follows the life of Philip Carey, a club-footed boy orphaned at the age of 9. He goes to live with his aunt and uncle, neither of whom are parents, and from here the novel surges through Philip's life until he is about thirty. Surges may be a poor word choice. This book is, after all, rather long, but not a word could have been spared by editors. I savoured every last one of them until the end.

Considering the novel deals with quite literally the ENTIRETY of Philip's experience as a person in society, it would be a daunting task indeed to review every aspect of this story. So I won't attempt it. Alas, I have other books to read! But I will address a few specific aspects of the novel which had me reeling in delight (and sometimes reeling in annoyed frustration!).

As the title implies, the story has everything to do with the enslavement of the human spirit by various societal institutions and physical and psychological tendencies. The story also has everything to do with the human liberation from such bondage. Philip's tale is our case study here - he is who we will follow and examine as we consider human bondage in a world largely operated by humans!

I was able to identify with Philip on many levels. One such level was that of religious fervour and then the dismissal of that fervent belief. Philip was raised religiously, even professed the beauty of his faith. Soon, he realized the absurdity of religion. He noticed that so many religions sought after the one valid and universal truth, that they all claimed eventually to have found that truth, and that theirs was the legitimate faith and all others illegitimate. Philip saw the problem in this. He realized that this bred a prejudice world, one that would enslave Philip to the Anglican life. This was his first liberation. He shed his faith, realizing that if God would punish him for honestly not believing then there was nothing he could do about it (also touching briefly on Pascal's Wager here). The world was his to explore, and in his exploration he wished to seek a new meaning for his life.

I'm not going to go crazy summarising the rest of the novel and I will let you read it on your own to discover his new views of life as they mature. I'll simply say his journey is quite wonderful and the meaning he finds is a meaning I happen to share. His arrival at this meaning is beautiful and poignant and it is in the last 100 pages of the book that I truly came to care deeply about Philip. Before then, I found him quite insufferable yet I was deeply invested in his life. His relationships with other people and his ludicrous behavior towards some of them left me nearly shouting at the pages, begging the other characters to club Philip over his head with his own club foot. Harsh and insulting, perhaps, but Philip should have been served what he dished.

I say that reluctantly, actually, because there was that one ill-mannered slut, Mildred, who did not deserve one one-hundreth of what Philip offered her. While I hated Mildred passionately, I was so disgusted by Philip's continual love for her that I came to no longer care what pain he suffered on her behalf. I was in Philip's corner the whole time (except for when he acted like a stalking creep), I just gave up on him. His final two experiences with Mildred left me fuming!

I was only slightly disappointed by the end of the novel. Considering the book was nearly 700 pages, it's sort of strange to say that I thought it ended too abruptly, but none-the-less, I think it did. That said, the ending did do a brilliant job highlighting the overlaying message of the story, the inanity and absurdity of life, and Philip's intense transformation.

Oh, and for what it's worth, I thought Philip was gay. I expected him at any minute to shed his heterosexuality (admit it, Phil, it was all a deception!) just like he shed his fear of God! But alas, he never did. I also swore that Sally was a lesbian, but I was apparently wrong there, too.

And for anyone who thinks "old" books are harder to read, think again! This book is incredibly readable. Maugham takes pride in his succinctness, and reasonably so. Wonderful, simple, and beautiful prose that begs to be read.
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Reading Progress

07/15/2010 page 403
59.0% "I really am loving this book... but if ever there was a character who I wanted to beat the living hell out of it is Philip. Sometimes I like him, sometimes I pity him, but most of the time I find him to be insufferably ridiculous. This whole episode with Mildred... wow."
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Comments (showing 1-11 of 11) (11 new)

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Kristen Catholic? Philips was Anglican, unless you're referring to his fascination with the rituals of the Catholic church which he finds beautiful but still pointless.

Yeah, I screamed at my copy too "leave that bitch alone Phillip." lol

Anyways, glad you liked it, it was just a great as I said it was right? And you took less than a month to read it, which is the proper amount of time . . . not six months. ;-)


Eric Aiello Oops! My mistake. I wasn't referring to his fascination, I just misspoke. Thanks!

And yes, it was as great if not greater than you said it was!


message 3: by Kristen (last edited Jul 19, 2010 03:27PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kristen Now who should I bug to read this book next?

Maybe Hollis, it's only 700 pages, he can knock that out in 3 days.


Eric Aiello Yes, Hollis should read it. I'm sure he'll see these comments. Hollis, I will personally hire people to personally hunt you down to ensure that you read this book in the near future...

or...

I'll just offer my highest recommendation and say that you'd like it.


Blake I see Kristen didn't deduct stars from any of your favourite books. Hmph!


Eric Aiello Well, my friend, it took me mere weeks to read the book as opposed to mere months! hahaha :)


message 7: by Hollis (new)

Hollis I've seen it on the shelf at the bookshop where I volunteer, so I can get on the case with one right away, I think. Two rave reviews from my friends list is definitely an indication that I should read it.


message 8: by Jason (new)

Jason Mills I'm sold. Ordered it - in the cheapest edition I could find, naturally. :)


Eric Aiello Hollis and J.mills, neither of you will be disappointed!


message 10: by Hollis (new)

Hollis I'll get round to it soon within this month and that's a promise. ;)


Kristen My work here is done. :-)


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