BOOK REVIEW | Of Human Bondage

BOOK REVIEW | Of Human Bondage by W Somerset Maugham
Review by Mark David Major

(Book blurb begins) The first and most autobiographical of Maugham’s masterpieces. Of Human Bondage is the story of Philip Carey, an orphan eager for life, love and adventure. After a few months studying in Heidelberg, and a brief spell in Paris as a would-be artist, he settles in London to train as a doctor where he meets Mildred, the loud but irresistible waitress with whom he plunges into a tortured and masochistic affair. (Book blurb ends)

Of Human Bondage (1915) by W. Somerset Maugham is an interesting read. It has the merit of a perfect title for its subject, namely the familiar theme of ‘love makes fools of everyone’ for many authors (myself included, see The Persistence of Memory and Other Plays) It is easy to empathize with the story’s protagonist, Philip Carey, during this ‘coming of age’ story. His desire to live, to explore, for freedom, to experience everything deeply and completely, even when naturally shy and reserved. We have also all met sociopaths like Mildred – even loved them deeply, passionately, unconditionally – only to be disappointed by their inability to see anything but their own reflection (i.e. by definition, they are selfish users). We can only hope *fingers crossed* our Mildreds meet the same fate as Philip’s (unwanted pregnancy, prostitution, syphilis, and a probable death of excruciating pain and loss). It is true that karma can be a total bitch that way. Of course, this theme has been done much better to more realistic and devastating effect; most notably in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.

Because Of Human Bondage is ‘semi-autobiographical’ by Maugham’s own admission, the author’s confusion about his own sexuality tends to bleeds through to the story’s protagonist, which makes some of Philip’s actions as a character seem unrealistic within the story itself. However, if you read the story as Philip is a homosexual, it makes much more sense even if it conflicts with the ‘happy ending’ of heterosexual martial bliss at its conclusion. In my opinion, in this context, it makes Mildred’s actions seem even more reprehensible and Philip’s more understandable and compassionate. There is a positive and a negative. It conveys sympathy on the character of Philip Carey but, simultaneously, also makes him seem incredibly gullible to reader; much more so than your typical heterosexual male, who, I think, would mostly likely ‘twist the knife’ in very deep when finally given a golden opportunity, as Philip is eventually by Mildred’s fall from grace. I do think I probably would have found more merit in this novel if I had read it when I was younger, like maybe 20 years ago. Mark’s Grade:

Of Human Bondage
by W. Somerset Maugham

Paperback, English, 736 pages
Bantam Classics, 1915 (Reprint Edition, 1991)
ISBN-10: 055321392X
ISBN-13: 978-0553213928

You can purchase Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham from Amazon here.


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