Of Human Bondage

Following his mother’s death, Philip becomes the ward of his uncle, the Vicar of Blackstable, a rural parish in Kent. Philip, also oriented toward a clerical life, attends the King’s School, Tercanbury, where he finds himself isolated, lonely, and unhappy. He is by nature shy, and a clubfoot severely limits his participation in usual school activities.

Before completing his schooling, he decides against the clergyman’s life and travels to Heidelberg, where he absorbs German philosophy, culture, and art. The remainder of the novel largely concerns Philip’s efforts to establish a career and to discover the meaning of life. It chronicles his growth and clarifies the understanding he gains from experience, as he seeks to become first an accountant, then an artist, and finally, a physician. He succeeds in medicine after abandoning accounting for lack of interest and painting for lack of talent.

It is, however, the necessity for controlling his emotions that Philip learns most painfully--a lesson taught him by his long and unrequited love for Mildred Rogers. By the novel’s end, he can make sense of his life by accepting a philosophical position that reconciles suffering and pain with the quest for happiness. From a piece of Persian rug given him by an eccentric poet, he discovers the meaning of life.

The novel reflects the author’s fundamental values and interests-- a clinical detachment, a skeptical attitude, a distrust of...

(The entire section is 494 words.)