Saturday, January 16, 2010

OF HUMAN BONDAGE - W. Somerset Maugham


This "semi-autobiographical fiction" tome begins with the childhood of Philip Carey, an orphaned, sensitive lad whose clubfoot and reliance on the charity of distant relatives causes every chaff or whistle to feel like sandpaper against his fragile soul.

The reader watches Philip's ventures through life, from a student in Germany to art school in Paris, then back to London for medical school. Throughout it all, his views on love, politics, religion, and beauty meld and waver. It is as if watching yourself repeat high school through an ancient, bubbled window.

However, it is his love/hate relationship with Mildred that causes the most pain and passion in his life. Maeve Binchy, whose writing I adore, wrote it best when she stated that she wanted to send an anonymous letter to this character to warn him of Mildred's evil intentions. This character is the symbol of all: the hope and luster of youth, the despair of broken dreams, and the realization of the self.

Knowing that this book was published in 1915 makes the stories and messages even more astounding. The only subject that is not referred to is homosexuality, which I found surprising considering Maughan was "a raging homosexual," according to his biography by Ted Morgan. But to think of others reading about premarital sex, prostitution, strippers, or atheism must have been shocking at the time.

Perhaps because I could identify with his journey in religious thought or his ability to find beauty in the most common of situations (the charm of an impoverished couple who were delighted that he - a "gentleman" - shared dinner with them), I relished every word. Now, I wish there was a sequel. Tell me, dear Philip, what I will experience in the next decades of my life! You have plainly read my thoughts on the past two decades; please tell me more.

4.5 out of 5.0 Pusser's Pain Killers.

5 comments:

UberGrumpy said...

I like Maugham.

Not a title you'd choose now though is it?

Rana said...

I love this book. I read it in high school just because it was on a college reading list I was trying to read through. After I read it I bought it. I have read it a few times. Seen the movie too. Nothing is better than a book though.

Back then would you have called it Scandalous?

moonrat said...

yay! glad you liked this. it's on my fill-in-the-gaps list so i have it ahead of me sometime in the near future. i was a little nervous because of the size of the thing, but all the happy comments here make me feel better.

Kristin Dodge said...

No, the title actually kept me from reading it. It had been recommended for years from my blog readers. I gave them a huge apology.

Rana, I think it would have been scandalous in that time. Think of how society women would gather and read aloud. I see this as something that would be hidden from husbands and suitors and mothers, whispered about in corners, or dismissed from knowledge outside of larger cities. Fun to think about, though!

Jane Steen said...

I have a feeling I read this far back in the mists of time... but your review is prompting me to put it back on my ever-expanding reading list.

BTW by 1915 writers had been tackling premarital sex, atheism, incest, prostitution, and the whole gamut of naughtiness for a while. So while this book would have been considered to hold "advanced views", it wouldn't be particularly unusual.

I can't recall instances from the period that blatantly discussed homosexuality, though, although it was mentioned obliquely. Anyone know the date at which it became possible to write about homosexuality in mainstream lit? I would love to know. I suspect it was quite late, end of the 1950s or something like that.