Summary

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Of Human Bondage cover image

Of Human Bondage, published when Maugham had just ended his fourth decade, was a highly polished, considerably more mature book than its unpublished antecedent, “The Artistic Temperament of Steven Carey,” written during a sojourn in Spain and unpublished first because Maugham did not want it published at once, and later because no publisher would accept it. Any disappointment that ensued from that book’s rejection was well assuaged over succeeding years when Maugham—now a mature writer with considerable experience in writing plays, short stories, and novels—returned to the manuscript around 1911 and began to rewrite it, this time renaming the protagonist Philip Carey. The result was Of Human Bondage, probably Maugham’s best-known novel and certainly among his two or three most artistically successful ones. The philosophical scope of this book far exceeds that of the earlier version, presumably because Maugham had now matured into middle age.

By this time he realized that he did his best writing when he wrote about his own experience. Also by this time he had experienced considerable success as a playwright and was able to apply to his prose writing some of the techniques he had learned as a dramatist, thereby bringing greater dramatic tension into his fiction.

Philip Carey’s story, with certain artistic alterations, is Maugham’s own story. The novel opens when the young Philip is informed of his mother’s death. The boy went to his mother’s closet, just as young Willie did, and wrapped his arms around as many of her dresses as possible, burying his face in them, inhaling the lingering vestiges of his mother’s perfume. Like Maugham, Philip is soon sent to England to live with his uncle, a vicar, and his Aunt Louisa. Philip differs from Willie in that he has a club foot, but this touch is simply a substitution for Willie’s affliction: stuttering. The young Maugham stuttered badly, particularly after the death of his parents, and suffered from this problem throughout his life. As Philip was abused by the students and masters of the school he attended at Tercanberry, so was Maugham ridiculed for his stuttering by his masters and fellow students at King’s...

(The entire section is 907 words.)