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Of Human Bondage W. Somerset Maugham

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The following entry presents criticism on Maugham's novel Of Human Bondage (1915). See also W. Somerset Maugham Criticism (Volume 1) and W. Somerset Maugham Criticism (Volume 11).

Of Human Bondage is arguably Maugham's most popular work and has steadily gained readers and influence since its publication in 1915. Often described as a bildungsroman, the novel chronicles the youth and early adulthood of Philip Carey as he struggles to retain his freedom and individuality within a rigid society. Clubfooted and orphaned, Philip struggles with his differences and sensitivities, which he comes to believe have made him more perceptive than others to art and beauty. Though the first manuscript of the novel was completed in 1898 and titled "The Artistic Temperament of Stephen Carey," Maugham was unable to find a publisher and pursued other writing interests. In 1911, after achieving some success as a playwright, he rewrote the novel, believing that he was now more adept at portraying the themes and characters that concerned him in his youth, and changed the title to Of Human Bondage. Commenting on the novel's autobiographical aspect, Maugham stated in the preface to the abridged edition that he wrote it to "rid myself of a great number of unhappy recollections that had not ceased to harrow me." Criticized on publication for its pessimistic world view and frank, dispassionate view of sexuality, Of Human Bondage has been alternately praised and condemned for its sometimes unflattering depiction of a hero who tends towards self-pity and self-absorption.

Plot and Major Characters

The novel opens when Philip is sent from London to live with his aunt and uncle in Blackstable after the death of his mother following a stillbirth. His uncle, a vicar, shows little interest in the boy beyond providing basic provisions, and young Philip quickly becomes adept at spotting the vicar's hypocrisy, which includes treating his family with a frugality to which the vicar himself is not held. This hypocrisy leads to Philip's early rejection of Christianity. When he is sent away to school, Philip's painful adolescence continues as he withdraws socially from the other boys; his clubfoot prevents him from joining in sports and games. The novel also depicts Philip's coming-of-age as a man, whose early experiences with women—most notably the aging governess Miss Wilkerson and the penny-novel writer Norah Nesbitt—are physical acts marked with pathos and disdain on Philip's part. After a year of studying business in Heidelberg, Germany, Philip returns to London, only to reject a respectable living as an accountant for the romance of being an artist in Paris. But in France he encounters only poverty and hunger. Following the sui-cide of Fanny Price, an untalented fellow artist whose passion could not save her from her squalid circumstances, he returns to London to begin medical school. When he meets Mildred Pierce, a decidedly plain-looking, emaciated tea-shop girl—whom one critic dubbed "an implacable, pale green worm"—he is inexplicably drawn to her and exhibits an irrational passion of the type that has brought many of his friends to ruin. Mildred rejects his overtures of affection and uses him repeatedly until their relationship reaches masochistic proportions. As Mildred's position in society continues to decline, she resorts to prostitution despite Philip's attempts to help her. When she destroys his art in a fit of rage and condemns him as a cripple, his passion for her is finally extinguished. Finally determining that life is random and meaningless, Philip trades his dreams of freedom and travel for responsibility and respectability when he asks the simple and pleasing Sally Athelny, towards whom he feels some affection but no love, for her hand in marriage.

Major Themes

Of Human Bondage, a title borrowed from a chapter in Baruch Spinoza's Ethics (1677), examines Philip's psychological growth, his aesthetic pursuit of beauty in a world in which beauty is constantly juxtaposed with struggle, and the paradox of his love for Mildred, who represents none of the ideals he cherishes. Philip's quest for beauty becomes inextricably tied to his intense desire to follow his dreams at the risk of losing respect within a strict Edwardian society. His decision to study art in Paris, for example, is condemned by his uncle, who derides painting as a "disreputable, immoral" profession and considers Paris "a sink of iniquity." Philip engages in many pursuits on his journey to self-understanding, and his self-absorption frequently discounts the importance of nurturing relationships on human development. Love of beauty alone, however, proves unsustainable; as Philip becomes impoverished and tragedy befalls his friends and acquaintances, his staunch individualism yields to more conventional societal norms. Eventually, he realizes that though life contains patterns, the patterns themselves are essentially meaningless. The novel also examines the conventions of Edwardian society. As a student and young man undergoing a strict upbringing, Philip battles society's definitions of what it means to be a gentleman and he variously accepts and rejects roles as an accountant, store clerk, art student, and medical student. In this respect, Philip's situation mirrors Maugham's, who was orphaned at the age of ten and sent from Paris to live with an uncle in England, where his profound stutter impeded his social development and drove him into the solitary pursuits of art and literature.

Critical Reception

Of Human Bondage received mixed reviews and fleeting attention on its initial publication. A reviewer in the Athenaeum took issue with the novel's morality: "The values accorded by the hero to love, realism, and religion are so distorted as to have no interest beyond that which belongs to an essentially morbid personality." Conversely, Theodore Dreiser praised the novel as an "autobiography of utmost importance," and appreciated the moral circumstances with which Philip grappled. A typical critical reaction, however, is echoed in the sentiments of a Dial reviewer, who admitted that the detail contained within six-hundred pages "can hardly fail to leave us with the feeling of intimate acquaintance," but that the novel ultimately imparts a "depressing impression of the futility of life." While noting the similarities between the author's life and Philip's, some critics have contended that the compromised ending, in which Philip finds comfort and security with the understanding and proper Sally is wishful thinking, especially in light of the author's homosexual tendencies: for Maugham, though he graduated from medical school like Philip, never practiced medicine, and remained unmarried until the age of forty. Several years after its initial publication, however, the novel gained a sizable following among the American reading public through word-of-mouth and a few strategic mentions in the press. Subsequent printings and editions added to the novel's popularity, and in 1946 Maugham presented the original manuscript to the Library of Congress. Maugham stated that his place in literature was "in the very first row of the second-raters," and many critics have been inclined to agree. Likewise, Maugham's contention that he "painted easel pictures, and not frescoes" was enough to earn the dismissal of many critics. Contrasting Maugham's public success with his failure among many critics, Theodore Spencer has argued that the "problem for anyone trying to judge Maugham's permanent value is to decide whether the critics or the public are right."

Principal Works

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Liza of Lambeth (novel) 1897
The Making of a Saint (novel) 1898
Orientations (short stories) 1899
The Hero (novel) 1901
Mrs Craddock (novel) 1902; revised edition, 1937
Schiffbrüchig (drama) 1902
A Man of Honour (drama) 1903
Mademoiselle Zampa (drama) 1904
The Merry-Go-Round (short stories) 1904
The Land of the Blessed Virgin: Sketches and Impressions in Andalusia (travel essay) 1905
The Bishop's Apron: A Study in the Origins of a Great Family (novel) 1906
Lady Frederick (drama) 1907
The Explorer (drama) 1908
Jack Straw (drama) 1908
The Magician (novel) 1908
Mrs Dot (drama) 1908
Penelope (drama) 1909
Smith (drama) 1909
Grace (drama) 1910; published as Landed Gentry, 1913
The Tenth Man (drama) 1910
Loaves and Fishes (drama) 1911
The Land of Promise (drama) 1913
Of Human Bondage (novel) 1915
Caroline (drama) 1916; published as The Unattainable, 1923
Love in a Cottage (drama) 1918
Caesar's Wife (drama) 1919
Home and Beauty (drama) 1919; also performed as Too Many Husbands, 1919
The Moon and Sixpence (novel) 1919
Our Betters (drama) 1919
The Unknown (drama) 1920
The Circle (drama) 1921
The Trembling of a Leaf: Little Stories of the South Sea Islands (short stories) 1921
On a Chinese Screen (travel essay) 1922
East of Suez (drama) 1922
The Camel's Back (drama) 1923
The Painted Veil (novel) 1925
The Casuarina Tree: Six Stories (short stories) 1926
The Constant Wife (drama) 1926
The Letter (drama) 1927
Ashenden; or, The British Agent (short stories) 1928
The Sacred Flame (drama) 1929
The Breadwinner (drama) 1930
Cakes and Ale; or, The Skeleton in the Cupboard (novel) 1930
The Gentleman in the Parlour (travel essay) 1930
Six Stories Written in the First Person Singular (short stories) 1931
The Book-Bag (novel) 1932
For Services Rendered (drama) 1932
The Narrow Corner (novel) 1932
Ah King: Six Stories (short stories) 1933
Sheppey (drama) 1933
East and West: The Collected Short Stories (short stories) 1934; also published as Altogether, 1934
Don Fernando; or, Variations on Some Spanish Themes (travel essay) 1935
Cosmopolitans (short stories) 1936
The Summing Up (autobiography) 1938
Christmas Holiday (novel) 1939
Books and You (essays) 1940
France at War (nonfiction) 1940
The Mixture as Before (short stories) 1940
Up at the Villa (novel) 1941
Strictly Personal (nonfiction) 1941
The Hour before Dawn (novel) 1942
The Razor's Edge (novel) 1944
The Unconquered (short stories) 1944
Then and Now (novel) 1946; also published as Fools and Their Folly, 1949
Creatures of Circumstance (short stories) 1947
Catalina (novel) 1948
Great Novelists and Their Novels (criticism) 1948; also published as Ten Novels and Their Authors [revised edition], 1954
A Writer's Notebook (journals) 1949
The Complete Short Stories of W. Somerset Maugham. 3 vols. (short stories) 1951
The Vagrant Mood (essays) 1952
The World Over (short stories) 1952
Points of View (essays) 1958
Looking Back (autobiographical sketch) 1962
Purely for My Pleasure (essays) 1962

W. Somerset Maugham (essay date 1915)

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SOURCE: A Foreword to Of Human Bondage, in Selected Prefaces and Introductions of W. Somerset Maugham, Heinemann, 1963, pp. 34-7.

[In the following essay, published as a foreword to the first edition of Of Human Bondage, Maugham describes the book as an autobiographical novel that freed him "from the pains and unhappy recollections that had tormented [him]."]

This is a very long novel and I am ashamed to make it longer by writing a preface to it. An author is probably the last person who can write fitly about his own work. In this connection an instructive story is told by Roger Martin du Gard, a distinguished French novelist, about Marcel Proust. Proust wanted a certain French periodical to publish an important article on his great novel and thinking that no one could write it better than he, sat down and wrote it himself. Then he asked a young friend of his, a man of letters, to put his name to it and take it to the editor. This the young man did, but after a few days the editor sent for him. 'I must refuse your article,' he told him. 'Marcel Proust would never forgive me if I printed a criticism of his work that was so perfunctory and so unsympathetic.' Though authors are touchy about their productions and inclined to resent unfavourable criticism they are seldom self-satisfied. They are miserably conscious how far the work on which they have spent much time and trouble comes short of their conception and when they consider it they are much more vexed with their failure to express this in its completeness than pleased with the passages here and there that they can regard with complacency. Their aim is perfection and they are wretchedly aware that they have not attained it.

I will say nothing then about my book itself, but will content myself with telling the reader of these lines how a novel that has now had a fairly long life, as novels go, came to be written; and if it does not interest him I ask him to forgive me. I wrote it first when, at the age of twenty-three, having taken my medical degrees after five years at St Thomas's Hospital, I went to Seville determined to earn my living as a writer. The manuscript of the book I wrote then still exists, but I have not looked at it since I corrected the typescript and I have no doubt that it is very immature. I sent it to Fisher Unwin, who had published my first book (while still a medical student I had published a novel called Liza of Lambeth, which had had something of a success), but he refused to give me the hundred pounds I wanted for it and none of the other publishers to whom I afterwards submitted it would have it at any price. This distressed me at the time, but now I know that I was very fortunate; for if one of them had taken my book (it was called The Artistic Temperament of Stephen Carey) I should have lost a subject which I was too young to make proper use of. I was not far enough away from the events I described to use them properly and I had not had a number of experiences which later went to enrich the book I finally wrote. Nor had I learnt that it is easier to write of what you know than of what you don't. For instance, I sent my hero to Rouen (which I knew only as an occasional visitor) to learn French, instead of to Heidelberg (where I had been myself) to learn German.

Thus rebuffed I put the manuscript away. I wrote other novels, which were published, and I wrote plays. I became a very successful playwright and determined to devote the rest of my life to the drama. But I reckoned without a force within me that made my resolutions vain. I was happy, I was prosperous, I was busy. My head was full of the plays I wanted to write. I do not know whether it was that success did not bring me all I had expected or whether it was a natural reaction from it, but I was but just firmly established as the most popular dramatist of the day when I began once more to be obsessed by the teeming memories of my past life. They came back to me so pressingly, in my sleep, on my walks, at rehearsals, at parties, they became such a burden to me, that I made up my mind there was only one way to be free of them and that was to write them all down in a book. After submitting myself for some years to the exigencies of the drama I hankered after the wide liberty of the novel. I knew the book I had in mind would be a long one and I wanted to be undisturbed, so I refused the contracts that managers were eagerly offering me and temporarily retired from the stage. I was then thirty-seven.

For long after I became a writer by profession I spent much time on learning how to write and subjected myself to very tiresome training in the endeavour to improve my style. But these efforts I abandoned when my plays began to be produced and when I started to write again it was with different aims. I no longer sought a jewelled prose and a rich texture, on unavailing attempts to achieve which I had formerly wasted much labour; I sought on the contrary plainness and simplicity. With so much that I wanted to say within reasonable limits I felt that I could not afford to waste words and I set out now with the notion of using only such as were necessary to make my meaning clear. I had no space for ornament. My experience in the theatre had taught me the value of succinctness and the danger of beating about the bush. I worked unremittingly for two years. I did not know what to call my book and after looking about a great deal hit upon Beauty from Ashes, a quotation from Isaiah which seemed to me apposite; but learning that this title had been recently used was obliged to search for another. I chose finally the name of one of the books in Spinoza's Ethics and called it Of Human Bondage. I have a notion I was once more lucky in finding that I could not use the first title I had thought of.

Of Human Bondage is not an autobiography, but an autobiographical novel; fact and fiction are inextricably mingled; the emotions are my own, but not all the incidents are related as they happened and some of them are transferred to my hero not from my own life but from that of persons with whom I was intimate. The book did for me what I wanted and when it was issued to the world (a world in the throes of a dreadful war and too much concerned with its own sufferings and fears to bother with the adventures of a creature of fiction) I found myself free for ever from the pains and unhappy recollections that had tormented me. It was very well reviewed; Theodore Dreiser wrote for The New Republic a long criticism in which he dealt with it with the intelligence and sympathy which distinguish everything he has ever written; but it looked very much as though it would go the way of the vast majority of novels and be forgotten for ever a few months after its appearance. But, I do not know through what accident it happened after some years that it attracted the attention of a number of distinguished writers in the United States and the references they continued to make to it in the press gradually brought it to the notice of the public. To these writers is due the new lease of life that the book was thus given and them must I thank for the success it has continued increasingly to have as the years go by.

R. Ellis Roberts (review date September 1915)

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SOURCE: "The Amorist," in The Bookman, London, Vol. XLVIII, No. 288, September, 1915, pp. 171-72.

[In the following favorable review, Roberts comments on the futility of Philip Carey's relationships with women and calls the novel a clever "portrait of the weak egoist."]

It was a right instinct which made Mr. Maugham give the greatest space to Mildred, among all the women who touched and influenced his hero's life [in Of Human Bondage]. For Philip Carey, introspective, indolent, shiftless, opinionated, club-footed, is a man doomed to be loved. He is not doomed to evoke great passion, nor is it his destiny to love lightly or deeply any one woman: he is simply one of those men for whom women, in whom affection is stronger than passion, will always be prepared to suffer. Yet he himself has, mentally rather than emotionally, the capacity for feeling passion: and he does, midway in his career, fall stupidly and desperately in love with Mildred, a vulgar, avid, atrocious girl in a tea-shop. The episode of Mildred and Philip is horrible. She takes and takes, and gives nothing. She rejects Philip for a sensual brute: and then, abandoned, comes to Philip for help. Forsaken again, betrayed by his friend, Philip still cannot resist Mildred's appeal: and he continues to give charity long after he has lost passion. The thing, in spite of fine moments, is degrading: for the sake of this passion, Philip neglects honour, affection, duty and decency. Yet it is the one fixed thing in his life. Unstable as water in all else, he fails in this, too, where he feels firmly and definitely. And his failure to hold Mildred throws a light on his character almost as illuminating as his capacity for loving so ignoble a creature.

It is no use complaining that Mr. Maugham might have chosen a nobler, a more exciting, a more amusing person than Philip Carey. He has given us so admirable a picture, so carefully etched a portrait of this poor beggar of the spirit that we must not cry out against the lack of colour and humour in his pages. There are a great many of those pages—over six hundred—and some of them could have been spared. The intense, rather baffling detail of Philip's life at his two schools is rather distracting; and the perpetual conflict between Philip and his uncle is rather needlessly ugly. The main problem of the book is, however, Philip's relationship with women. Miss Williamson, Mildred, Norah Nesbit, and Sally are all drawn into an insight and sincerity which few modern novelists could equal. Miss Williamson is saved from being frankly sordid by a touch of heartbreaking farce, common in French; but rare in English fiction. The passion of an old maid for a young man can be a beautiful thing; but when it is as physical and selfish as Miss Williamson's it is bound to be disgusting. Norah Nesbit loves Philip in the way of friendship, and is rewarded by his return to Mildred: Sally only occurs, as a woman, at the end of the book and we leave Philip on the verge of marrying her.

It may be gathered easily enough that Philip Carey has no sort of moral principles in his relations to women. He abandons the narrow Christianity of his youth, and adopts a meagre heathenism which brings him more happiness than he deserves. His preoccupation with sex would be more tolerable if it was more frankly sensual; but with him nature is an afterthought. As a portrait of the weak egotist, of the knock-kneed Nietzschean, Of Human Bondage may be greeted as a remarkably clever book. Mr. Maugham's elaborate, preoccupied method, his slow insertions of the scalpel into every obscure place suits the timid type he is analysing. It is no disrespect to this piece of work to wish him a rather robuster subject for his next serious novel.

William Morton Payne (review date 16 September 1915)

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SOURCE: A review of Of Human Bondage, in The Dial, Vol. LIX, No. 701, September 16, 1915, pp. 219-21.

[In the following excerpt, Payne commends Maugham for creating a sustained interest in his protagonist, but criticizes him for missing "the broad effects" and "large issues of a human characterization."]

Mr. W. Somerset Maugham, a successful playwright, has turned his activities in the direction of fiction-writing, the result being Of Human Bondage, an immensely lengthy work of the biographical type, setting forth the story of a young man's life from childhood to the age of thirty or thereabouts. The following extract will show why it takes six hundred and fifty compact pages to accomplish this setting forth:

When Philip arrived there was some difficulty in deciding on which evening he should have his bath. It was never easy to get plenty of hot water, since the kitchen boiler did not work, and it was impossible for two persons to have a bath on the same day. The only man who had a bathroom in Blackstable was Mr. Wilson, and it was thought ostentatious of him. Mary Ann had her bath in the kitchen on Monday night, because she liked to begin the week clean. Uncle William could not have his on Saturday, because he had a heavy day before him, and he was always a little tired after a bath, so he had it on Friday. Mrs. Carey had hers on Thursday for the same reason. It looked as though Saturday were naturally indicated for Philip, but Mary Ann said she couldn't keep the fire up on Saturday night, and with all the cooking on Sunday, having to make pastry and she didn't know what all, she didn't feel up to giving the boy his bath on Saturday night: and it was quite clear that he could not bath himself.

The upshot of all this complication was that Mary Ann relented, and grudgingly agreed to Saturday night. Even this description leaves Tuesday and Wednesday unaccounted for, which we rather resent, since we would like to be told all about it. It is obvious that a writer who works with this method of detailed photographic realism can "go far," and the story runs to nearly three hundred thousand words. We began it in Chicago, took it upon an ocean voyage, and it was still with us upon our return. Nor did it prove lacking in sustained interest. When a novelist thus sets out to chronicle everything about his hero's life, he can hardly fail to leave us with the feeling of intimate acquaintance. But he can easily miss, as Mr. Maugham does, the broad effects and the large issues of a human characterization. The only thing of this sort that we get from Of Human Bondage is a most depressing impression of the futility of life, an impression similar to that produced by The Old Wives' Tale of Mr. Arnold Bennett. Our hero's life is not romantic. When he gets out of school, he tries accountancy and fails. Then he tries art in the Paris schools, and fails again. Then he tries medicine, barely scrapes through to a diploma, and is in sight of marriage and a country practice when the book of his life is closed for us. Before this consummation, he has entanglements with various women, including a long and enslaving infatuation for a girl of repellent vulgarity—a waitress in a cheap restaurant who graduates into the life of the streets. She, too, is an amazingly real person, as are many others whom we encounter in this narrative, which may perhaps best be described as an album of unretouched photographs. The book is far from being, in the publishers' phrase, "compellingly great," but, allowing once for all its inartistic method, it is at least a noteworthy piece of creative composition.

S. P. B. Mais (essay date 1923)

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SOURCE: "Somerset Maugham," in Some Modern Authors, Dodd, Mead and Company, 1923, pp. 115-28.

[Mais was a British educator, nonfiction writer, and critic. In the following excerpt, he briefly comments on several of Maugham's early novels and discusses Of Human Bondage, describing it as a model of autobiographical fiction.]

For some twenty years Mr Somerset Maugham has been writing novels and plays, hammering hard on the doors of the critics' studies, clamouring for a hearing. For a long time they overlooked him. A man of indomitable courage, he has persevered and gone on from strength to strength until at last, in The Moon and Sixpence, he "rang the bell" (as the phrase goes) to such purpose that no intelligent reader could any longer deny him his place among the really brilliant leaders of modern fiction. There is an astringency about all his work that is most refreshing. He has stood his ground always, and refused to pander to the public taste for the sugary sentimental. He has remained true to his conception of his art, and he has won out. After years of struggle as a dramatist he is now accredited with financial success only second to that of Barrie. It is salutary to our critical sense to go back twenty years and see how good he was long before he was recognised. Take, for instance, The Merry-Go-Round. The idea of the barrister-author philandering with the barmaid, marrying her to save her honour, finding out that by so doing he was making a hell for two instead of one, has been often enough exploited, but no one has tackled the theme so frankly as Maugham. At the end, when Jenny commits suicide, Basil is at any rate honest:

"I made a ghastly mistake and suffered for it … and perhaps it wasn't all my own fault…. For God's sake let us be free. Let us do this and that because we want to, and because we must, not because other people think we ought. And d'you know the worst of the whole thing? If I'd acted like a blackguard and let Jenny go to the dogs, I should have remained happy and contented and prosperous, and she, I daresay, wouldn't have died. It's because I tried to do my duty that all this misery came about."

Somerset Maugham is a good author because he never flinches in the face of reality: he is definitely antisentimental. "After all," he says to his best friend just after he had seduced Jenny, "if we were all as cool at night as we are in the morning—"

"Life would be a Sunday school," finished his friend. His mother (herself wanton) denounces his decision to marry the girl in good set terms. "A gentleman doesn't marry a barmaid because he's seduced her—unless he has the soul of a counter-jumper…. You're one of those persons who are doomed to mediocrity because you haven't the spirit to go to the devil like a man."

Maugham is like Flaubert in his contemptuous view of humanity. Most of his women have the souls of trollops, most of his men are frankly sensual, loving after feeding, like animals, "as an accompaniment to the process of digestion."

His virtuous characters, like Bella Langton's father, are hard, his worldly characters hypocritical. Once in early days he had a curious lapse into the sentimental. "Even if the beliefs of men are childish and untrue," cries Miss Ley, by far the best character in The Merry-Go-Round, "isn't it better to keep them? Surely superstition is a small price to pay for that wonderful support at the last hour, when all else fades to insignificance."

When Reggie Bassett goes off the rocks Miss Ley coolly rounds on his dissolute mother.

"A wise mother lets her son go his own way, and shuts her eyes to youthful peccadilloes: but you made all these peccadilloes into deadly sins…. Moralists talk a deal of nonsense about the frailty of mankind. When you come to close quarters with vice, it's not really so desperately wicked as all that…. All these things are part of human nature, when youth and hot blood are joined together."

Clear-sightedness in Maugham's characters leads them to cruelty. They have no compunction in cutting Gordian knots which may lead to disasters for the weaker party. He is as much a believer in the survival of the fittest as he is in the saving quality of beauty.

Take another of his little-known early works, The Explorer. He is quite relentless in hunting Lucy Allerton's lovable but shifty father to prison and death for his weakness. Maugham is almost alone among novelists in facing the utter ruthlessness of life. Just as he refuses to compromise in his art, so does he refuse to allow his characters the false security of a harbour. That is why he is so frequently accused of cynicism and brutality. "Every woman is a Potiphar's wife, though every man isn't a Joseph," is typical of the sort of epigram with which his pages are studded.

"A love for good food is the only thing that remains with man when he grows old," is put into the mouth of an indolent wit; but we feel that Maugham himself believes it, just as in Alec Mackenzie, the explorer, he paints what he would wish himself to have been, reckless, desperate, the fascination of the unknown ever urging him on to explore the hidden recesses of the material world as well as those of the world of the mind.

In reply to Alec's denunciation of "the greatest imposture of Christian times—the sanctification of labour," he replies: "If I had ten lives I couldn't get through a tithe of what … so urgently needs doing."

Strength, simplicity, the greatness of life, beauty—these are the things that Mackenzie and Maugham both worship. It is these things that make them worship Boswell, Homer, Thucydides and Shakespeare, the heart of Africa and the South Seas. Maugham delights in placing his characters not only in dangers but in the most remote places of the earth. They are all, like himself, victims of a wanderlust.

His attitude to life is that of Walker, the fighter:

"I've not had a bad time," he said. "I've loved a little, and I've worked and played. I've heard some decent music, I've looked at nice pictures, and I've read some thundering fine books. If I can only account for a few more of those damned scoundrels before I die, I shouldn't think I had much to complain of."

Abroad he suffers from a nostalgia for the grey, soft mists of England; at home he suffers from a nostalgia for the wild, riotous, prodigal virgin jungle, the hot sun beating on a blue lagoon. He has something of the bitter scorn of Swift and Samuel Butler for the world's quick changes from idolatry to persecution. "They lick my boots till I loathe them, and then they turn against me like a pack of curs." He might be Coriolanus speaking. Misunderstood, his pride prevents him from explanations. "Take it or leave it, by God, 'tis good," one imagines both the explorer and Maugham saying to a puzzled world. "The British public is sentimental," cries Mackenzie, "they will never understand that in warfare it is necessary sometimes to be inhuman." But these two novels are examples merely of Maugham in his salad days, serving his apprenticeship in a none too tractable medium. His greatness can be gauged from two books: Of Human Bondage and The Moon and Sixpence—both novels of his maturity.

Of Human Bondage is so good a book that it is impossible (for a long time after reading it) to fall down and worship the young Americans of the Sinclair Lewis type or the intellectual young Englishwoman of the Dorothy Richardson-Romer Wilson type. Of Human Bondage is good because it is sincere autobiography—one of the few absolutely sincere documents I have ever read. I would give it, if I could afford copies, to every imaginative boy on leaving school. Let me go through it in detail.

Right from the beginning there is Philip Carey's club-foot, the deformity which made life so hard for him, which warped his character, which made him ultrasensitive, but by reason of which in the end he "acquired that power of introspection which had given him so much delight. Without it he would never have had his keen appreciation of beauty, his passion for art and literature, and his interest in the varied spectacle of life. The ridicule and the contempt which had so often been heaped upon him had turned his mind inward and called forth those flowers which he felt would never lose their fragrance."

Early left an orphan, he had provided for himself (by reading) a refuge from all the distress of life. His schooldays (at King's School, Canterbury, thinly disguised) increased his sensitiveness (one master called him a club-footed blockhead), and made him solitary: he developed a sense of humour and lost his faith in God. He then went to Heidelberg and indulged in much freedom of thought. It was here that he met the feckless Hayward, who gave him a sense of taste, and Weeks, who helped him to put off the faith of his childhood, like a cloak that he no longer needed. He began to yearn for experience, especially with women, and to see things for himself. When he got home again he drifted into a liaison with the elderly Miss Wilkinson.

There are few things more grim than the picture of Philip steeling his heart to take what this grotesque, unattractive woman had to offer.

She had taken off her skirt and blouse, and was standing in her petticoat…. She wore a camisole of white calico with short arms…. Philip's heart sank as he stared at her … but it was too late now. He closed the door behind him and locked it.

He was lucky to escape even to that appalling London office of Herbert Carter & Co. and his lodgings in Barnes: for ten loathsome months he learnt how to fail as an accountant and (under Hayward's guidance) went to study painting in Paris. It was here that he met the slatternly Fanny Price, unhealthy, unwashed and starving, who hanged herself when she found that neither her pictures nor herself were marketable commodities in a ruthless world. The picture which Maugham draws of these artists, all desiring to have mistresses, all indulging in endless discussions on art, is excellent. Cronshaw, the poet, in particular, stands out, yearning "for the love of chamber-maids and the conversation of bishops," preaching his gospel of pleasure, finding the meaning of life in a Persian carpet. It is in Paris that Philip hears that creed of the artist: "An artist would let his mother go to the workhouse," let his wife and children starve, sacrifice everything for the sake of getting on to canvas with paint the emotion which the world gave him.

It was from Foinet, the master, that he learnt the importance of money.

"There is nothing so degrading as the constant anxiety about one's means of livelihood. I have nothing but contempt for the people who despise money…. Money is like a sixth sense without which you cannot make a complete use of the other five. Without an adequate income half the possibilities of life are shut off…. You will hear people say that poverty is the best spur to the artist. They do not know how mean it makes you. It exposes you to endless humiliation; it cuts your wings; it eats into your soul like a cancer. It is not wealth one asks for, but just enough to preserve one's dignity, to work unhampered, to be generous, frank and independent. I pity with all my heart the artist, whether he writes or paints, who is entirely dependent for subsistence upon his art."

He goes back to Blackstable, a failure as an artist, after two years of jollity, two years of learning to look at hands, at houses and trees against the sky—years of discovery that shadows are not black but coloured … that sort of thing.

So he now makes his third fresh start, this time to learn something about medicine, armed with a deeper philosophy of life, determined to be swayed by no prejudices, to follow his inclinations "with due regard to the policeman round the corner," and to find out man's relation to the world he lives in, man's relation with the men among whom he lives, and man's relation to himself. He delighted in the robust common sense of Thomas Hobbes: his mind was concrete. Almost immediately he got entangled with Mildred, another unattractive girl, with narrow hips and the chest of a boy. Only her face and her teeth passed muster. She worked in a tea-shop. He did not think her pretty; he hated the thinness of her; she was common and unhealthy; she showed no pleasure in his company, and yet he was hungry for her; his want of her became a poison, permeating his whole system. She gave him no encouragement; she only went out with him because he was "a gentleman in every sense of the word"; he even offered to marry her, but she preferred to go off with Emil (already married, with three children), so Philip is left with his unslaked thirst and his passion to travel.

It was during these medical student days that he met Norah Nesbit, with the pleasant, ugly face, who lived on writing penny novelettes. In spite of the fact that he did not love her, he made her his mistress and companion, and had some measure of satisfaction until Mildred (deserted by Emil) came back. This meant breaking off with Norah and looking after Mildred until her baby was born. Then (as much in love with her as ever) he gives her up to his friend, Griffiths, who, of course, deserts her. He had the luck to meet a forty-eight-year-old journalist, Thorpe Athelny, who lived with his wife and family (which included Sally) on three pounds a week, earned as press agent to a linendraper, and gave Philip a zest for El Greco, that painter of the soul, and for the beauty of Spain.

He again runs across Mildred (now a harlot) and provides for her a home with him, in spite of the fact that his love for her was now finally killed. They have a row; she makes havoc of his furniture and leaves him. Philip loses the little money he has left on a gamble on the Stock Exchange and sinks to starvation. He is rescued by Athelny, who makes him live with him and finds him a job as shopwalker at six shillings a week. Once more he finds Mildred, now a victim to venereal disease, and passes his final examination at the hospital.

He accepts a locum tenens post in Dorsetshire, which leads to the offer of a partnership, which he refuses on the ground that he wants to travel. He goes back to Athelny and immediately seduces the amiable, buxom, rosycheeked Sally. He did not love her, but he had conceived a great affection for her; he admired her magnificent healthiness. When she came to let him know that she was going to have a child he was torn between his life's ambition to get away and travel to Spain and the South Seas and his duty to her. "I'm so damned weak," he said despairingly. He screws himself to offer to marry her, when she tells him that it was a false alarm, and suddenly he discovers that all his desires to wander were as nothing compared with the desire of his heart. "Always his course had been swayed by what he thought he should do and never by what he wanted with his whole soul to do." He had failed to see that the simplest pattern, that in which a man was born, worked, married, had children and died, was likewise the most perfect—so he discovered the meaning of the pattern on the Persian carpet at last. "Amor omnia vincit"—was that it?

Of Human Bondage is of great length: six hundred and fifty pages, closely packed, and not one of them could be spared. Maugham, like Philip Carey, is one of the few persons who gain a different standpoint from every experience that they undergo. His sensitiveness enables him to recoil more than most of us do from ugliness, and respond more than most of us do to beauty. To fail and fail again, ever to have courage to climb once more, to be interested in every type he meets, and to meet as many types as possible, to put his beliefs to the proof, to discard, prune, reembellish all the time ruthlessly—there are the qualities that made Philip a man and Maugham an artist. He sees with a holy compassion the long procession of unfortunates, deformed in body and warped in mind, ill in the spirit, craving for sweetness and light; he sees the goodness in the bad, but is not sentimental enough or cowardly enough to shut his eyes to the power of evil. He will not pretend that things or people are attractive when they are not. He is probably the least of a hypocrite, as he is one of the finest in spirit, among modern authors.

By comparison with, shall we say, Hugh Walpole's Fortitude, Of Human Bondage stands out as immeasurably superior to most of even the best work in this kind of our time. It is a human document of incalculable value to all men who wish to leave the world richer for their experiences. It is a model of what the autobiography in fiction ought to be.

Marcus Aurelius Goodrich (essay date 25 January 1925)

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SOURCE: "After Ten Years 'Of Human Bondage,'" in The New York Times Book Review, January 25, 1925, p. 2.

[In the following essay, Goodrich summarizes the critical reaction to Of Human Bondage.]

During the last decade, the vast, passive jury, in whose hands rests the fate of all writing aspiring to a berth among the classics, have been attending in ever increasing numbers to the steady, unacclaimed arcing over the turmoil of William Somerset Maugham's Of Human Bondage. Among New York's literary guild the quite long book, no doubt, has been forgotten. Experiment has shown that when it is possible for a moment to shunt the attention of most of that eminent crew from the uproarious business of literature to the name Maugham, the inevitable response is an exhibitionistic shout referring to a play that he did not write, or to another novel about a tired English business man who retreated to life among the blue skies and corals with a leprosy ridden negress.

But in the less spectacular realms of those who read books merely because they like to read, or those whose culture shelters a vibrant attraction towards authentic performances in English prose, or those who are thrilled to find the universal aspects of life on a printed page, Of Human Bondage has, after ten years of steadily increasing activity, risen in England almost to a place beside The Way of All Flesh, and in the United States is on the way to becoming an uncanonical sensation. When the book was first published in the United States, it managed to live through three anaemic editions, despite the general critical preoccupation with other matters. Then four years went by and the publishers suddenly discovered that there was a quiet, unheralded demand for more copies of Of Human Bondage. They issued another small edition. Two years later, without a single pat on the back from the literators, the supply was again exhausted. The publishers prepared another edition. In 1923 the steady demand for the novel assumed such proportions that it was introduced into a special edition of works that seem to be in permanent demand. In this last edition, which is a fixture of its publishing house, it has gone through three printings. The universities just seem to have discovered the novel, libraries report an increasing call for it, second-hand book dealers number it among the old novels that still sell easily, and the price in London of a first edition of it has multiplied itself by three in the past five years. In New York's clubs and drawing rooms and at exoteric dinner tables, one is a bit surprised to find so old a book talked of as if it had been written yesterday, surprised that any volume could have resisted for so long the gigantic flood rushing every second from the printing presses. The explanation, perhaps, is that Of Human Bondage has become a classic.

A short time after Heinemann in England and Doran in the United States simultaneously published Of Human Bondage in 1915, the perfunctory unenergetic ripple that it had caused in the critical puddle had smoothed out. The book was allowed to go unpublicized on its quiet way down the trail to oblivion, while the critics turned to raddle themselves in more spectacular rouge pots. In England the critics evidently had felt that something was expected of them, but most of them just did not seem to be very much interested. They admitted generally that it was a realistic character study. Richard King in the Tatler, as was to be expected, dismissed it facetiously in a short commentary that ended with the information that "Of Human Bondage is scarcely a story." The Westminster Gazette decorously passed on the word that it had "excellence"; The Saturday Review admitted that it was "arresting"; The Nation, in a flabby article, pronounced it to be an experimental attempt to follow in the steps of Compton Mackenzie; and Punch inquired plaintively, "Why have so many of our novelists taken to producing enormous volumes marked by a pre-Raphaelite fidelity to detail?" In the United States the case was pretty much the same. The New York World in four careless, little unsigned paragraphs intimated that the novel was not worth all the space it took up and complained of the title. Harper's Weekly printed: "Of Human Bondage is a fat, comfortable volume that will hold the attention of all those who read fiction seriously." The Dial commented sententiously on its length and said that "the book is far from being compellingly great." The Outlook devoted a few lines to the opinion that the book "shows marked ability in its own way." Most of the papers throughout the States contented themselves with minor, routine observations that the book was "startingly realistic," and with excerpted paragraphs let it go at that. In several journals appeared the same, mild, stereotyped review that had probably emanated from some syndicate; but what might be held up as the symbol of the whole critical attitude, both here and in England, leaked off the pen of the critic on The Pittsburgh Chronicle-Telegraph:

The reviewer has looked at this book time and again, and just as often has refrained from looking into it. The reason is that there are 648 pages of the story—300 pages too many for careful reading and candid review. But this much can be said: It opens with a funeral and ends with a wedding. As the author is one of the most successful of the younger dramatists, and is said to have made several fortunes from his plays, it may be taken for granted that his novel will repay the reading of it by those who have the time to do so.

Both abroad and in the United States, however, there were some who were fired into eloquent approval of Mr. Maugham's novel. The journals in Dublin, Ireland; Los Angeles, Cal., and Chicago, Ill. The Boston Evening Transcript and Theodore Dreiser in the New Republic came out flatly with the news that a great and thrilling masterpiece had been born into the world.

When Mr. Maugham, after fashioning a monument of such stoical brilliance as Of Human Bondage unmolested by overmuch critical booming, went down among the critics and burst out in their midst with The Moon and Sixpence, his fleshy, vivid gesture was not, perhaps, so much a normal literary development, as it was a comment on the middlemen who stood between him and promptly rewarded literary achievement.

After coming face to face with the universal, simple beauty and verity that rears itself symmetrically through the 648 pages of Maugham's book, one realizes that he confronts a tremendous emotional, not merely sensual, upheaval. He has seen life, if not defined, at least epically epitomized.

That Of Human Bondage suffered tardy intellectual approval, may be due to the gaudy critical methods that began to come into vogue about the time Mr. Maugham started writing. The chief impetus behind these methods seems to be, as somebody has pointed out, an intent on the part of the critic to call attention to himself rather than to the work he is criticizing. A book received the spotlight if it were capable of reflecting sensational and startling colors back upon him who directed the light. There are in Maugham's novel no color splashing areas nor purpureal periods that could be used to decorate the sort of spectacular critiques inspired, for instance, by the efforts of Messrs. Huxley, Hergesheimer and Firbank. But Of Human Bondage is built with pure, meagre-syllabled phrases that twist and cling thrillingly in their unsensational contexts. It is only when the simple; almost primitive, words sum up into the whole absorbing performance that they partake of the nature of sensation. Without once relapsing into dullness, Maugham has consistently passed by the opportunity to indulge in poster effects, so that in the end he might attain to a vital sweep of living, effulgent, integral color. He has succeeded. Even in those passages wherein he depicts events and situations than which there are no more spectacular in man's existence, he maintains his Homeric restraint to an extent that almost makes them seem flat when extracted from their contexts. Here is an example:

Philip felt on a sudden sick with fear. He hurried to the house in which she lived. He was astonished that she was in Paris at all. He had not seen her for months and imagined she had long since returned to England. When he arrived he asked the concierge whether she was in.

"Yes, I've not seen her go out for two days."

Philip ran up stairs and knocked at the door. There was no reply. He called her name. The door was locked, and on bending down he found the key was in the lock.

"Oh, my God, I hope she hasn't done something awful," he cried aloud.

He ran down and told the porter that she was certainly in the room. He had had a letter from her and feared a terrible accident. He suggested breaking open the door. The porter, who had been sullen and disinclined to listen, became alarmed; he could not take the responsibility of breaking into the room: they must go for the commissaire de police. They walked together to the bureau, and then they fetched a locksmith. Philip found that Miss Price had not paid the last quarter's rent; on New Year's Day she had not given the concierge the present which old-established custom had led him to regard as a right. The four of them went up stairs, and they knocked again at the door. There was no reply. The locksmith set to work, and at last they entered the room. Philip gave a cry and instinctively covered his eyes with his hands. The wretched woman was hanging with a rope round her neck, which she had tied to a hook in the ceiling fixed by some previous tenant to hold up the curtains of the bed. She had moved her own little bed out of the way and had stood on a chair, which had been kicked away. It was lying on its side on the floor. They cut her down. The body was quite cold.

As in The Way of All Flesh, the hero of Maugham's book emerges from the household of an English country clergyman and climbs through public school, college, violent youth and rugged London up onto the peaceful level agony of disillusionment. In this case the climber was handicapped by a badly deformed foot. The Way of All Flesh, it has been said, is one of the most terrible indictments of parenthood that man's mind has ever produced. Of Human Bondage is not merely that.

The novel takes up the life of one Philip Carey when he is almost a baby in arms, living with his newly widowed mother in a middle-class section of London. In the first few pages the mother dies and leaves Philip, sensitive and club-footed, in the hands of his uncle, the Rev. William Carey, and his childless wife. When the boy is about thirteen he is sent to King's School at Tercanbury, from there he goes to Heidelberg. After that he tries accountancy in London, then art in Paris. The last half of the novel is built about his vivid, impecunious struggle to graduate from St. Luke's Hospital in London. Through this half of the story an implacable, pale, green worm, named Mildred, crawls unhealthily: a truly remarkable character.

The book has no plot in the sense that a short story has one, but it fills splendidly that function traditionally ascribed to the novel of recording the development of a character from the moment he becomes conscious to the moment when life has finished its major operations upon him.

Mr. Maugham was born in Paris, where his father was a counselor at the English Embassy. When he was between the ages of 10 and 13, he was confronted with his native land for the first time on the occasion of his going to England to become a student in King's School at Canterbury. From King's he went to the University of Heidelberg, and several years later the records of St. Thomas's Hospital in London record his graduation as a physician. His literary career began when he was twenty-one with a novel called Liza of Lambeth. It was written some time before he had finished with his medical studies at St. Thomas's, induced, it is reported, by a sudden pressing and romantic need for money. He has since written thirteen books, numerous short stories and twenty plays, one of which was written in German and produced in Berlin.

Well-read people often have the habit of remarking that they get a great deal more satisfaction out of reading the biography of an actual man than out of reading the most skillfully written novel. There seems to be an authenticity about the biography that is lacking in the novel. One of the striking things about Of Human Bondage is that it does not lack this authenticity. But there is more evidence than even this to indicate that Mr. Maugham's book may be his own thinly disguised autobiography. The meaning here of the phrase "thinly disguised" is illustrated by this example: in the novel the boy, Philip, is sent to King's at Canterbury; the first town's name may be manufactured from the second by inverting its first two syllables. Once during an interview with Mr. Maugham, a reporter asked him: "What did you do at Heidelberg?"

Mr. Maugham, who in his early youth stuttered clumsily and consistently, started out on what promised to be a long stretch of talk, when he suffered an attack of his youthful affliction; he stopped, and then said:

"Oh, you'll find it in Of Human Bondage."

To further questions as to whether he found studying medicine very interesting, what he did in Paris, and what he thought of the public school he attended, he said impatiently, as he tried to end the interview:

"You'll find it all in Of Human Bondage."

If the reporter's effrontery had had the complete courage of its conviction, he might have asked Mr. Maugham:

"Didn't you find that your stuttering made life somewhat difficult?"

And his answer, no doubt, would have been,

"That's in Of Human Bondage too"—screened, perhaps, behind the symbol of a clubbed foot.

Dorothy Brewster and Angus Burrell (essay date October 1930)

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SOURCE: "Time Passes," in Adventure or Experience: Four Essays on Certain Writers and Readers of Novels, Columbia University Press, 1930, pp. 39-75.

[Brewster was an American educator and critic. In the following excerpt, part of a longer essay illuminating the differences between "chronicle" novels and "dramatic" novels, Brewster and Burrell classify Of Human Bondage as a dramatic novel, citing what they consider the reader's ability to sympathize with the self-pitying, imperfect Philip Carey.]

Somerset Maugham's Of Human Bondage is no family chronicle, no slow birth to death progression. Its very title suggests an emotional involvement, a struggle for escape, that promises a dramatic development. Fill out the title from Spinoza's Ethics—"Of Human Bondage, or the Strength of the Emotions"—and one is prepared for a plunge into some intense form of human experience. And one takes it, too; such a deep plunge that there are probably few characters in modern English fiction with whom readers more readily identify themselves than with Philip Carey. But for all that, there are qualities in the novel—to be noted presently—that leave one at the end in a mood very different from that in which, for example, a Dostoevsky novel leaves us, though Philip's emotional entanglements are almost Russian.

The most lasting bondage in which Philip is held is that of his own temperament, and his temperament is determined largely by the accident of his deformity—a club foot. Thinking over his life towards the end of the book, he realizes how this deformity has warped his character, and yet how it had developed in him a power of introspection that has given him as much delight as misery. One of the pitfalls of his nature is self-pity. A little boy, just after his mother's death, he weeps, yet keenly enjoys the sensation he is causing among some sympathetic ladies by his sorrow, and wishes he could stay longer with them to be made much of. Awakened to acute self-consciousness by the brutality with which he is treated by curious boys in the school dormitory, his school life becomes one of intermittent torment. He soon learns that when anyone becomes angry with him for any reason, some reference will be made to his foot. He finds himself doing odd bits of playing to the gallery, to excite compassion; as when a schoolmate accidentally breaks a penholder belonging to Philip, and Philip, with tears, declares it was given to him by his mother before she died—though he knows he had bought it a few weeks before. "He did not know in the least what had made him invent that pathetic story, but he was quite as unhappy as though it had been true." The habit continues even after he has learned to understand it, and he lapses into it whenever he is weakened by suffering. When Mildred is irritated by his persistent love on one occasion, "he hesitated a moment, for he had an instinct that he could say something that would move her. It made him almost sick to utter the words,"—but he utters them nevertheless—"'You don't know what it is to be a cripple. Of course you don't like me. I can't expect you to.' He was beginning to act now, and his voice was husky and low." And she softens at the pathos.

He develops ways of escape and defense: reading, first, in his uncle's queerly assorted library, where he forgot the life around him and formed "the most delightful habit in the world—reading. He did not know that he was thus providing himself with a refuge from all the distress of life; he did not know either that he was creating for himself an unreal world which would make the real world of every day a source of bitter disappointment." The wide knowledge gained from his books made him contemptuous of his companions' stupidity, and he found he had a knack in saying bitter things, "which caught people on the raw." Thus he could defend himself, but he couldn't make himself popular, and he longed for easy inter-course with his schoolmates, and would gladly have changed places with the dullest boy in the school who was whole of limb. He develops a cool ironic manner; he evens learns to control his sensitive blushing; he can protect himself, but he is still in bondage. When the physician at the hospital where he is studying asks Philip casually to display his foot, to compare it with that of the patient under examination in the clinic, Philip forced himself to appear indifferent, allowed the students to look at the foot as long as they wished—"when you've quite done," said Philip with an ironical smile…. "And felt how jolly it would be to jab a chisel into their necks." He becomes an adept in self-analysis—"a vice as subtle as drug-taking."

What Philip suffers from his deformed foot is mild compared with the misery he undergoes when he falls in love with Mildred. It is an emotion so different from anything he has ever dreamed or read about—this aching of the soul, this painful yearning—that he is profoundly shocked when he is forced to identify it as love. Mildred, with her insolent pale thin mouth and anaemic skin, has been described somewhere as an implacable pale green worm who crawls through the book. The very fact that Philip is blinded by no illusions about her, that he sees how unhealthy, commonplace, odiously genteel, vulgar and selfish she is, convinces us that the passion is irresistible. Lovers of unworthy objects in fiction are usually clearly deluded; we, the readers, see that, and look for the waning of the passion with the discovery of the truth. But Philip knows the truth from the beginning, and we agonize with him over this divorce between reason and emotion, this split in consciousness where the reason watches, disgusted, repelled, estimating the passion at its true value, but unable to affect the emotions, which go their own lamentable way. "His reason was someone looking on, observing the facts, but powerless to interfere; it was like those gods of Epicurus, who saw the doings of men from their empyrean heights and had no might to alter one smallest particle of what occurred." There are moments when he loathes Mildred, moments again when he feels noble because of the sacrifices he makes for her, other moments—like the blessed pauses in an illness—when the temperature falls and he thinks he is released. Once when she treats him with an insolence that humiliates him, "he looked at her neck and thought how he would like to jab it with the knife he had for his muffin. He knew enough anatomy to make pretty certain of getting the carotid artery. And at the same time he wanted to cover her thin pale face with kisses." He tastes the depths of voluptuous self-torture when he gives Mildred and Griffiths—his friend for whom the apparently passionless Mildred has a violent infatuation—money to go off together on a week-end trip. He is sick with anguish when he makes the offer, yet "the torture of it gave him a strange subtle sensation." The devil of self-torture always lurks in him. There is a strange sequel when he later takes Mildred and her baby into his little flat and supports them, though he no longer has any desire for Mildred. This physical indifference so piques Mildred that she throws herself at his head, and rejected, takes a vicious revenge by utterly destroying all the furnishings of the apartment, even slashing Philip's few paintings, relics of his art studies. But even that is not the end of Mildred; she comes back again and again, with each reappearance more degraded. When she is finally lost, Philip sometimes wandered through the streets haunted by prostitutes, wishing and dreading to see her, catching a glimpse of someone resembling her that gave him a sharp stab of hope or of sickening dismay—he scarcely knew which. Relieved when it was not she, he was yet disappointed and seized with horror of himself.

Would he never be free from that passion? At the bottom of his heart, notwithstanding everything, he felt that a strange desperate thirst for that vile woman would always linger. That love had caused him so much suffering that he knew he would never, never be quite free of it. Only death could finally assuage his desire.

There are times in the course of this strange passion when Philip could step over into Dostoevsky's world and feel at ease with the most accomplished masochist of them all.

Compelling as is the drama of Philip's struggle, it is to other aspects of the novel that the final impression is due. There is the sense of change, of relentless moving on, that marks the chronicle, though the space of years actually covered in Of Human Bondage is not great—perhaps twenty-five or thirty. Philip moving from one group to another, in his restless search for adjustment, loses sight of this or that person for a time; then sees him again, changed, older. There are his clergyman uncle and his aunt, middle-aged when they take the orphaned nephew into their home, growing into old age, dying; there is Hayward, fascinating and brilliant in the eyes of twenty-year-old Philip, gradually revealing himself as Philip grows more astute to be a shallow poseur, whose mind grows more and more flabby and his charm more and more tarnished. There is Cronshaw, the poet of the Montparnasse cafés, center of a little circle of the initiated; leading an ever shabbier and more sordid life, coming to die wretchedly in London. And Mildred herself, who runs rapidly through the stages that take her from a curiously attractive waitress in an ABC teashop to a diseased prostitute haunting Piccadilly. It is Philip's reflective attitude towards all these mutations that helps to create the effect of philosophic detachment characteristic of the chronicle novel.

Then Philip's career is so varied and experimental that he seems to have led several lives. And there is such richness of detail in the account of his art studies in Paris, his medical training in London hospitals, his dismal interlude as a shop clerk; there are so many people in each little universe whose lives Philip observes with the same sort of interested detachment with which Maugham himself observes Philip,—that we feel we are watching the unrolling of an elaborate panorama. There is not the rigid selection of detail that in the dramatic novel makes everything bear directly on the main conflict. For the interest is not so much in the final resolution of the conflict as in Philip's arrival at a comprehension of its nature and its place in some general scheme of human existence. He begins quite early seeking consciously to understand the meaning of life, as well as to make his own difficult adjustments to it. Often this intellectual need—stimulated by his emotional difficulties—is more pressing than a decision about his career or an escape from the degrading bondage to the unspeakable Mildred. The reader begins presently to share Philip's philosophic concern with what life is all about.

It is towards the chapter that follows "Of Human Bondage" in Spinoza's Ethics that the novel is moving, though one can scarcely say that it arrives—"Of Human Freedom, or the Control of the Understanding." From time to time Philip feels that he understands himself and life and can control both. When he talks with Cronshaw in Paris, he is challenged to say what he really thinks he is in the world for, and he answers vaguely—to do one's duty, to make the best use of one's faculties, and to avoid hurting other people. This he calls abstract morality, and he is indignant with Cronshaw for ridiculing his weak reasoning, and for setting up a thoroughly self-centered philosophy—that men seek but one thing in life, their pleasure. Philip had always believed conventionally in duty and goodness. As he goes on through his own difficult experiences, and especially as he watches day after day the procession of humanity through the clinic of the hospital, he comes to see only facts. The impression was

neither of tragedy nor of comedy…. It was manifold and various; there were tears and laughter, happiness and woe; it was tedious and interesting and indifferent; it was as you saw it; it was tumultuous and passionate; it was grave; it was sad and comic; it was trivial; it was simple and complex; joy was there and despair; the love of mothers for their children, and of men for women; lust trailed itself through the rooms with leaden feet, punishing the guilty and the innocent, helpless wives and wretched children; drink seized men and women and cost its inevitable price; death sighed in these rooms and the beginning of life, filling some poor girl with terror and shame, was diagnosed there. There was neither good nor bad there. There were just facts. It was life.

So Philip cultivated a disdain for idealism, which he had found meant for the most part a cowardly shrinking from life. But meeting a man with a passion for Spain and particularly for the painting of El Greco, Philip began to divine something new, to feel on the brink of a discovery, a new kind of realism in which facts "were transformed by the more vivid light in which they were seen." There was some mysterious significance in these paintings, but the tongue in which the message came was unknown to him.

He saw what looked like the truth as by flashes of lightning on a dark stormy night you might see a mountain range. He seemed to see that a man need not leave his life to chance, but that his will was powerful; he seemed to see that self-control might be as passionate and as active as the surrender to passion; he seemed to see that the inward life might be as manifold, as varied, as rich with experience as the life of one who conquered realms and explored unknown lands.

These remain but flashes. He finds most satisfaction in the conviction that life has no meaning. "Life was insignificant and death without consequence." He exulted as he had in his boyhood when the weight of a belief in God was lifted from his shoulders. He felt free. "If life was meaningless, the world was robbed of its cruelty." But Cronshaw had once given him a little Persian rug, and told him that the meaning of life was hidden in its pattern; and now he thinks he discerns it.

As the weaver elaborated his pattern for no need but the pleasure of his aesthetic sense, so might a man live his life, or if one was forced to believe that his actions were outside his choosing, so might a man look at his life, that it made a pattern…. Out of the manifold events of his life, his deeds, his feelings, his thoughts, he might make a design, regular, elaborate, complicated, or beautiful; and though it might be no more than an illusion that he had the power of selection, though it might be no more than a fantastic legerdemain in which appearances were interwoven with moonbeams, that did not matter: it seemed, and so to him it was…. There was one pattern, the most obvious, perfect, and beautiful, in which a man was born, grew to manhood, married, produced children, toiled for his bread, and died; but there were others, intricate and wonderful, in which happiness did not enter and in which success was not attempted; and in them might be discovered a more troubling grace.

Philip felt he was casting aside the last of his illusions in throwing over the desire for happiness. Measured by that desire, his life was horrible, but it might be measured by something else. Happiness and pain were details in the elaboration of the design. Anything that happened to him henceforth would simply be one more motive to add to the complexity of the pattern. When the end came and it was completed, he would find it none the less beautiful because he alone knew of its existence and "with his death it would cease to be."

Philip's final acceptance of the most obvious pattern is brought about by his meeting with Sally, a girl with a very simple pagan attitude towards living, as radiantly healthy as Mildred was sickly, as tranquil as Philip is restless, as soothingly maternal as any man could wish his ideal woman to be—yet not as convincing as the dreadful Mildred, who seems the reality, whereas Sally is one of the dreams belonging to the Golden Age. Freedom to Philip suddenly takes on the aspect of lonely voyaging over a waste of waters; a quiet home with Sally is a fair harbor.

He thought of his desire to make a design, intricate and beautiful, out of the myriad, meaningless facts of life: had he not seen also that the simplest pattern, that in which a man was born, worked, married, had children, and died, was likewise the most perfect? It might be that to surrender to happiness was to accept defeat, but it was a defeat better than many victories.

Theodore Spencer (essay date October 1940)

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SOURCE: "Somerset Maugham," in College English, Vol. 2, No. 1, October, 1940, pp. 1-10.

[In the following excerpt, Spencer discusses the strengths and weaknesses of Of Human Bondage.]

One of the difficulties involved in writing a critical essay on Somerset Maugham is that he seems to have made such an estimate unnecessary by writing it himself. In a number of prefaces and especially in The Summing Up he has described his career, stated his beliefs, and defined his limitations. He has been as honest with his readers as he has been with himself.

Though I have had variety of invention, and this is not strange since it is the outcome of the variety of mankind, I have had small power of imagination. I have taken living people and put them into the situations, tragic or comic, that their characters suggested. I might well say that they invented their own stories. I have been incapable of those great, sustained flights that carry the author on broad pinions into a celestial sphere. My fancy, never very strong, has been hampered by my sense of probability. I have painted easel pictures, not frescoes.

Such frankness, as Maugham himself points out, is likely to be dangerous to a writer's reputation. The Anglo-Saxon public likes its authors to have some mystery or romance surrounding them, to be less explicit and less rational about themselves than Maugham has been; it is not wise for an English writer to show that he has too much common sense. "Anthony Trollope ceased to be read for thirty years because he confessed that he wrote at regular hours and took care to get the best price he could for his work." And it is true that Maugham has been slighted or ignored by the critics. "In my twenties the critics said I was brutal, in my thirties they said I was flippant, in my forties they said I was cynical, in my fifties they said I was competent, and now in my sixties they say I am superficial." But the critics have not only branded Maugham with unflattering epithets; they have done something more harmful to his reputation than that—they have neglected him by putting him to one side of the main current of literature in his age. The age has been an age of experiment, and criticism has followed many of the writers in being more interested in experiment than in accomplishment along relatively traditional lines. It is easier to make critical comments on experimental than on conventional writing; there is more to explain and therefore more to say. And recent critics have been so conditioned by the historical sense, by the feeling that literary art, like evolutional biology, must be continually developing new forms if it is to progress, that they conclude that an author who does not experiment with new forms is worth little attention. Most histories of contemporary literature give only a brief notice to Maugham.

But Maugham deserves better than this, and popular opinion has recognized the fact by not agreeing with the critics. One of Maugham's books, Of Human Bondage, is probably the most universally read and admired of modern English novels, and his plays have more vitality than those of any of his contemporaries, except Shaw. The problem for anyone trying to judge Maugham's permanent value is to decide whether the critics or the public are right….

Of Human Bondage … is by common consent Maugham's best novel and the one which gives him a claim to being considered a first-class writer. It remains to be seen whether this claim can be justified.

There are, we may say, four things which we look for in a serious work of fiction: (1) an organization of incident which produces the illusion that the sequence of events is necessary and inevitable; (2) a set of characters whose relation to the events is equally inevitable and in whom we can believe; (3) a physical, social, or geographical setting which forms a fitting background for the events and characters; and (4) a moral, intellectual, or metaphysical climate which creates the standard by which, more or less unconsciously, both the author and the reader judge the behavior of the characters. This last requirement, one which is usually overlooked, may be for a certain type of novel the most important of all. For example, the implications of the characters and the action in Moby Dick are in a sense more significant than the action that the characters perform. They universalize the individual events by giving them a symbolic meaning; we have, in other words, the feeling of a fourth dimension to which I have already referred. The problem in criticizing Of Human Bondage is to determine whether or not this quality can be found in it or whether it is merely, like the Forsyte Saga, a kind of sublimated reporting limited to a given time and place.

There is no doubt about the conviction of reality which we receive from the book; Philip Carey's childhood, his uncle, the school at Tercanbury, his years abroad, and his struggle to find a satisfactory way of existence are all described with honesty, fidelity, and conviction. The material is almost entirely autobiographical, and Maugham has told us himself that he was virtually forced to write the book in order to get the subject matter out of his system. The difference between the first three-quarters of the book and the last quarter, the part describing Philip's marriage, which, according to Maugham, is largely wish fulfilment, shows how necessary it is for Maugham, if he is to write convincingly, to rely fairly solidly on what he himself has seen and felt. For the last section of the book, "competent" as it is, has not the strength and the authority of the earlier part. Like the happy ending of Hardy's Return of the Native, it is a kind of excrescence on the original organic structure.

It is, then, the first three-quarters of the book that we must consider most seriously. Apart from the fact that we can believe without question in the people and the events which Maugham describes, there are two things in this part of the novel which impress most readers: the love affair with Mildred, and the search for a pattern in human experience. There is no doubt that Maugham's description of his hero's violent infatuation has more intensity than that which he has given to any other similar situation. The odi et amo of Catullus has found no more vivid presentation in modern fiction than this. The contrast between the strength of emotion and the unworthiness of its object, which is one of the most painful of human experiences, Maugham here describes in a manner which all who have shared that experience can recognize. Not only are the individual scenes between Mildred and Philip admirably handled but their sequence—the development of the relation between the two—is as psychologically true as it is powerfully described.

And yet, excellent as it is, if we compare it with another handling of the same situation, it may perhaps be clear why it is difficult to attribute to Maugham's description the final, inner artistic vision which I have mentioned as the fourth requirement of a great novel. When Shakespeare's Troilus realizes that his Cressida is unworthy of his feelings for her, he makes that realization the opening wedge for a frightening view into the gulf between appearance and reality which involves every range of thought and feeling. To him it is merely one aspect of a whole view of life; the most excruciating, but not the only, evidence of the gap between what the will and the mind can desire and what the limited, hampering body can perform.

Shakespeare, of course, is writing a poetic drama, not a novel, and as a result he has more opportunity for creating poetic intensity. The comparison between him and Maugham has only a limited value. Nevertheless, there is a "fourth-dimensional" character to Shakespeare's view of Troilus which is missing in Maugham's view of Philip, and we must recognize this lack if we are to keep our standards clear. The difference, to be sure, is not merely a difference in individual ability or vision; it is also a reflection of a difference between two periods in history. Shakespeare's world was based on a concept of unity; when that unity, through the realization of individual perfidy, was apparently smashed, tragedy was the result. Maugham's age gave him no unity; the only order known to Philip—that of his uncle's beliefs—was a shoddy sort of order, and the smashing of it brought, not tragedy, but freedom. Life, like the famous Persian rug given to Philip by Cronshaw, has no pattern at all. "Life was insignificant and death without consequence," Philip discovers; and this discovery is a release and a satisfaction: "His insignificance was turned to power, and he felt himself suddenly equal with the cruel fate which had seemed to persecute him; for, if life was meaningless, the world was robbed of its cruelty…. He had not been so happy for months."

Obviously this kind of resolution lacks the intensity of a tragic resolution, and the success of Of Human Bondage as a whole is a limited success. It has not, for example, the lyrical intensity which we sometimes find in such a comparable work as Arnold Bennett's Old Wives Tale; there is nothing in Maugham like Sophia's reflections over the body of Gerald Scales. Of Human Bondage is not one of those novels which press us urgently into new areas of awareness; it merely fills out, in its moving, efficient, and vivid way, those areas of awareness which we already possess. Superior as it is to anything else Maugham has written, it is still, to use his own words, an "easel picture" and not a "fresco."

Maugham has rounded out his life's work in his intellectual and artistic biography, The Summing Up. We find here, as we would expect, a reflection of the same temperament that is expressed in the novels. It is an admirable book; sensible, clear, and full of an honest and not too worldly wisdom. Next to Of Human Bondage it is the most likely of his works to survive, for it is not only an expression of Maugham's own point of view, it is also representative of what many people in Maugham's generation believe. It is, truly, "what oft was thought but ne'er so well expressed." But it too is not the work of an imaginative mind; its philosophy is the philosophy of the present and the practical—it does not play with original concepts or mold any unity that does not already exist. For Maugham there are no eternal silences.

But if we are to exclude Maugham from the very top rank of contemporary writers that does not mean that we can dismiss him entirely. His honesty, his craftsmanship, and his admirable gifts for arousing interest and holding attention make him the kind of writer whom it is always a pleasure, and sometimes a stimulus, to read. If literature is to flourish, there must always be, in any given generation, a number of writers who take their work seriously as a craft, who look with unfailing curiosity and interest at human behavior, and who consider the description of that behavior one of the chief justifications for living. Writers of this kind are essential both for keeping our sensitivities alive and for preserving that common basis of value and tradition which must always be the groundwork for writing of the superior kind. Among such writers Maugham holds a high place, and to deny him our respect were to deny respect to the art he has served so long and so well.

W. Somerset Maugham (speech date 20 April 1946)

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SOURCE: "Of Human Bondage with a Digression on the Art of Fiction," in The Maugham Enigma, edited by Klaus W. Jonas, The Citadel Press, 1954, pp. 121-28.

[In the following transcript of a speech Maugham delivered on April 20, 1946, when he presented the manuscript for Of Human Bondage to the Library of Congress, he explains the genesis of the novel both literally and thematically.]

                                            April 20, 1946

Ladies and Gentlemen:

You will remember that one of the characters in Dostoevsky's novel The Possessed remarks that at a literary gathering, such as this, no one should be allowed to discourse for more than twenty minutes. It is true that he is the most odious character in the book, but there is a lot in what he says. I shall try not to exceed this limit. I start by telling you this in case these typescript sheets I have in front of me fill you with misgiving. A year or two ago I was invited to give a lecture at a great and ancient university, and for reasons with which I need not trouble you I chose the somewhat grim topic of political obligation. I knew exactly what I wanted to say and went into the lecture hall without even a note. It was crowded to the doors. I think I got through the lecture pretty well and I reached my peroration without mishap. But having been at one time of my life a dramatist, I have been inclined to end a discourse with a curtain line. Well, I reached my curtain line with a sigh of relief and began very confidently: The price of liberty is—and then I had a complete black-out and I could not for the life of me remember what the price of liberty was.

It brought my lecture to a humiliating conclusion and, unless in the interval someone else has told them, the students of that great and ancient university do not to this day know what the price of liberty is.

I thought I would not let myself be caught in that way again and I am no longer prepared to trust in the failing memory of the very old party you know I am.

I am very grateful to you for coming here tonight, since you are not only paying me a compliment, but you are paying a compliment to a form of fiction which is badly in need just now of encouragement.

I have never pretended to be anything but a story teller. It has amused me to tell stories and I have told a great many. But as you know, story telling just for the sake of the story is not an activity that is in favour with the intelligentsia. It is looked upon as a debased form of art. That seems strange to me since the desire to listen to stories appears to be as deeply rooted in the human animal as the sense of property. Since the beginning of history men have gathered round the camp fire or in a group in the market place to listen to the telling of a story. That the desire is as strong as ever it was is shown by the amazing popularity of detective stories in our own day. For the habitual reader of them can generally guess who the murderer is before he is half way through, and if he reads on to the end it is only because he wants to know what happens next, which means that he is interested in the story.

But we novelists are on the whole a modest lot, and when we are told that it is our business, not merely to entertain, but to deal with social security, economics, the race question, and the state of the world generally, we are pleased and flattered. It is very nice to think that we can instruct our fellow men and by our wisdom improve their lot. It gives us a sense of responsibility and indeed puts us on a level of respectability with bank presidents. For my part, I think it is an abuse to use the novel as a pulpit or a platform, and I think readers are misguided when they suppose they can thus acquire knowledge without trouble.

It is a great nuisance that knowledge cannot be acquired without trouble. It can only be acquired by hard work. It would be fine if we could swallow the powder of profitable information made palatable by the jam of fiction. But the truth is that, so made palatable, we can't be sure that the powder will be profitable. I suggest to you that the knowledge the novelist imparts is biased and thus unreliable, and it is better not to know a thing at all than to know it in a distorted fashion. If readers wish to inform themselves of the pressing problems of the day, they will do better to read, not novels but the books that specifically deal with them.

The novelist is a natural propagandist. He can't help it, however hard he tries. He loads his dice. By the mere fact of introducing a character to your notice early in his novel he enlists your interest and sympathy in that character. He takes sides. He arranges facts to suit his purpose. Well, that is not the way a book of scientific or informative value is written. There is no reason why a novelist should be anything but a novelist. He should know a little about a great many things, but it is unnecessary, and sometimes even harmful, for him to be a specialist in any particular subject. The novelist need not eat a whole sheep to know what mutton tastes like; it is enough if he eats a chop. Applying then his imagination and his creative faculty to the chop he has eaten, he can give you a very good idea of an Irish stew, but when he goes on from this to give you his views on sheep raising, the wool industry and the political situation in Australia, I think it is well to accept his ideas with reserve.

But please do not misunderstand me. There can be no reason why the novelist should not deal with every subject under the sun so long as it enables him to get on with his story and to develop his characters. If I insist on the importance of the story, it is partly because it is a very useful rail for the author to cling to as page follows page and it is the surest way for him to hold his reader's interest. The story and the persons of the story are interdependent. They must act according to character or the story will lose its plausibility, but it seems to me that the author is at liberty to choose his characters to fit his story or to devise his story to fit his characters. Which he does, probably depends on the idiosyncrasy of his talent, if any.

I suggest to you that it is enough for a novelist to be a good novelist. It is unnecessary for him to be a prophet, a preacher, a politician or a leader of thought. Fiction is an art and the purpose of art is to please. If in my quarters this is not acknowledged I can only suppose it is because of the unfortunate impression so widely held that there is something shameful in pleasure. But all pleasure is good. Only, some pleasures have mischievous consequences and it is better to eschew them. And of course there are intelligent pleasures and unintelligent pleasures. I venture to put the reading of a good novel amongst the most intelligent pleasures that man can enjoy.

And I should like to remind you in passing that reading should be enjoyable. I read some time ago a work by a learned professor which purported to teach his students how to read a book. He told them all sorts of elaborate ways to do this, but he forbore to mention that there could be any enjoyment to be got out of reading the books he recommended. In fact he made what should be a delight into an irksome chore, and, I should have thought, effectively eradicated from those young minds any desire ever again to open a book after they were once freed from academic bondage.

Let us consider for a moment the qualities that a good novel should have. It should have a coherent and plausible story, a variety of probable incidents, characters that are living and freshly observed, and natural dialogue. It should be written in a style suitable to the subject. If the novelist can do that I think he has done all that should be asked of him. I think he is wise not to concern himself too greatly with current affairs, for if he does his novel will lose its point as soon as they are no longer current. H. G. Wells once gave me an edition of his complete works and one day when he was staying with me he ran his fingers along the many volumes and said to me: "You know, they're dead. They dealt with matters of topical interest and now of course they're unreadable". I don't think he was quite right. If some of his novels can no longer be read with interest it is because he was always more concerned with the type than with the individual, with the general rather than with the particular.

Nor do I think the novelist is wise to swallow wholesale the fashionable fads of the moment. I read an article the other day in which the author stated that in future no novel could be written except on Freudian principles. It seemed to me a very ingenuous statement. Most psychologists, though acknowledging liberally the value of Freud's contributions to their science, are of opinion that he put many of his theories in an exaggerated form; but it is just these exaggerations that attract the novelist because they are striking and picturesque. The psychology of the future will doubtless discard them and then the novelist who has based his work on them will be up a gum tree. How dangerous to the novelist the practice is, of depending too much on theories that a later generation may discard, is shown very well in the most impressive novel this century has produced, Remembrance of Things Past. Proust, as we know, was greatly influenced by the philosophy of Henri Bergson and large stretches of his great work are taken up with it. I think I am right in saying that philosophers now regard Henri Bergson's more striking ideas as erroneous. I suppose we all read with a thrill of excitement Proust's volumes as they came out, but now when we re-read them in a calmer mood I think what we find to admire in them is his wonderful humour and the extraordinarily vivid and interesting characters that he created. We skip his philosophical disquisitions.

It is obviously to the novelist's advantage that he should be a person of broad culture, but the benefit to him of that is the enrichment of his own personality. His business is with human nature and he can best acquire knowledge of that by observation and by exposing himself to all the vicissitudes of human life.

But I have not really come here to give you a discourse upon the art of fiction. Dr. Luther Evans asked me to talk to you about Of Human Bondage, and if I had so long delayed to do so it is because I have now to tell you that I know very little about it. I corrected the proofs in the autumn of 1914—thirty-two years ago—in a billet near Ypres by the light of a single candle, and since then I have only opened the book once. That was when, some months ago, I was asked to read the first chapter for a record that was being made for the blind. I did not make a very good job of it because I was moved, not because the chapter was particularly moving, but because it recalled a pain that the passage of more than sixty years has not dispelled. So if you will have patience with me I will content myself with giving you the history of this book.

While still a medical student I had published a novel which had some success and as soon as I had taken my degrees I went to Seville and settled down to write an autobiographical novel. I was then twenty-three. Following the fashion of the day I called it rather grandly The Artistic Temperament of Stephen Carey. Then I took it back to London to get it published. Life was cheap in those days, but even then you couldn't live for nothing, and I wanted a hundred pounds for my year's keep. But I could find no publisher who was willing to give me more than fifty, I daresay that was all it was worth, but that I obstinately refused to accept. It was a bit of luck for me, for if the book had been published then—and it was certainly very crude and very immature—I should have lost much that I was able to make better use of later.

Years went by and I became a popular dramatist. But those memories of an unhappy past burdened me and the time came when I felt that I could only rid myself of them by writing them; so I retired from the theatre and spent two years writing the book you know now. Then I had another bit of luck. I had called it Beauty for Ashes, which is a quotation from Isaiah, but discovered that a novel with that title had recently been published. I hunted about for another and then it occurred to me that the title Spinoza had given to one of the books of his Ethics would very well do for mine. So I called it Of Human Bondage.

It was published in England in 1915 and was well enough reviewed. But we were then engaged in a war and people had more important things to occupy themselves with than the characters of a work of fiction. There had been besides a spate of semi-biographical novels and the public was a trifle tired of them. My book was not a failure, nor was it a success. It did not set the Thames on fire. It was only by a lucky break that it was published in America. George Doran, then a publisher who specialized in English books, brought it back to this country for consideration, but it was very long and nobody read it. Then Mrs. Doran got an attack of influenza and on asking for something to pass the time, George Doran gave her Of Human Bondage to read, chiefly, I believe, because of its length. She liked it and on this he decided to publish it.

It came out and Theodore Dreiser gave it in The Nation a very long, intelligent and favourable review. [In a footnote, the editor adds that the article by Dreiser "actually appeared in The New Republic of December 25, 1915."] Other reviewers were more moderate in their praise, but on the whole sympathetic. The average life of a novel at that period was ninety days, and about that time Of Human Bondage appeared to die. For two or three years, perhaps more, it was to all appearance forgotten. Then again I had a bit of luck. For a reason I have never known it attracted the attention of various writers who were then well-known columnists, Alec Woollcott, Heywood Broun and the still living and still scintillating F. P. Adams. They talked about it among themselves and then began talking about it in their columns. It found new readers. It found more and more readers. The final result you know. It has now gained the doubtful honour of being required reading in many educational institutions. If I call it a doubtful honour it is because I am not sure that you can read with pleasure a book you have to read as a task. For my own part, I once had to read The Cloister and the Hearth in that way and there are few books for which I have a more hearty dislike.

It is because the success of Of Human Bondage is due to my fellow writers in America and to a whole generation of American readers that I thought the least I could do was to offer the manuscript to the Library of Congress.

When I asked Dr. Luther Evans if he would accept it I told him that I wanted to present it in gratitude for the hospitality I, my daughter and grandchildren have received in this country. I was afraid it would seem presumptuous if I said more. I did not expect this celebration. I thought that if Dr. Evans was agreeable to my suggestion, I would make the manuscript into a neat parcel, despatch it by parcel post, and then he would put it on one of the shelves in the Library and that would be that. But since you have been so good as to come here, since I have had a signal honour conferred on me, I am encouraged to say what was really my wish to say at the beginning. You know, we British are on the whole honest people, we like to pay our way and we do not like to be in debt. But there is one debt that we can never hope to repay, and that is the debt we owe you for the kindness and the generosity with which you received the women and children of my country when in fear of a German invasion they came to America. They were lonely and homesick and they were unhappy at leaving behind them those who were dear to them. No one knows better than I how much you did for them, how patient you were with them and what sacrifices you made for them. So it is not only for my own small family, but for all those of my fellow countrymen who found refuge on these shores that I wish to offer this manuscript to you, not as an adequate return, not even as a token payment, but just as an acknowledgment of the debt we owe you. Thank you.

Robert Spence (essay date Spring/Summer 1951)

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SOURCE: "Maugham's Of Human Bondage," in The Library Chronicle, Vol. XVII, No. 2, Spring/Summer, 1951, pp. 104-14.

[In the following essay, Spence traces the novel's rise in popularity and notes the critics whom he believes played a fundamental role in the novel's emergence as a classic.]

W. Somerset Maugham has been one of the most prolific writers of our time. However, of the more than fifty books which he has published—novels and volumes of plays, short stories, essays, and travel sketches—only Of Human Bondage has won the full admiration of serious, reputable critics. Although they tend to disregard Maugham's other work, they have been generally consistent in their praise of this autobiographical novel, comparing it with David Copperfield and Tom Jones. Of Human Bondage has been, in addition, enormously popular with the general reading public. It is, in the opinion of Theodore Spencer [in "Somerset Maugham," College English (October 1940)], "probably the most universally read and admired of modern English novels."

In view of the wide acclaim which has been accorded Maugham's masterpiece, it is of interest to notice that the book was not at first a success, either with the critics or the public. Indeed, success came tardily to Of Human Bondage, though it was not ephemeral. In this paper I shall endeavor to trace briefly the history of the reception of the novel, and to suggest what seem to have been some fundamental factors underlying its rise from temporary oblivion to a position in the first rank of modern English novels.

Maugham tells us [in "Of Human Bondage, with a Digression on the Art of Fiction," 1946] that the book

… was published in England [and America] in 1915 and was well enough reviewed. But we were engaged in a war and people had more important things to occupy themselves with than the characters of a work of fiction. There had been besides a spate of semi-biographical novels and the public was a trifle tired of them. My book was not a failure, nor was it a success.

Evidence corroborates the suggestion that the book was not an immediate success. British reviewers in The Tatler, The Westminster Gazette, The Nation, and Punch all considered it perfunctorily, while others were generally critical. The Saturday Review (September 4, 1915) objected to the evident relish of the author in depicting the sordid aspects of life. The Athenaeum (August 21, 1915) commented:

The values accorded by the hero to love, realism, and religion are so distorted as to have no interest beyond that which belongs to an essentially morbid personality. In such a long novel reiteration is peculiarly tiresome and apt to reduce the gratitude which should be felt for the detailed portraiture and varied aspects of life the author presents to us.

The Times Literary Supplement (August 12, 1915) commended the skill with which the portrait of Mildred Rogers is drawn, but objected to the emphasis placed on her distasteful relationship with Philip Carey:

It is not only that we resent being forced to spend so much time with so unpleasant a creature. We resent the twist that is given to the figure of life.

The comments in The Bookman (September, 1915) were less tempered:

It may be gathered easily enough that Philip Carey has no sort of moral principles in his relation to women. He abandons the narrow Christianity of his youth, and adopts a meagre heathenism which brings him more happiness than he deserves. His preoccupation with sex would be more tolerable if it was more frankly sensual; but with him nature is an afterthought. As a portrait of the weak egotist, of the knock-kneed Nietzschean, Of Human Bondage may be greeted as a remarkably clever book.

In the United States the reception by critics was, with one or two exceptions, much the same. Only the appraisal by Dreiser in The New Republic (December 25, 1915) was distinguished by enthusiastic and unqualified praise. Dreiser was pleased that "Nothing is left out," and compared the life of the hero as presented by Maugham with the design in the poet Cronshaw's Persian carpet:

And so it is, Mr. Maugham, this life of Philip Carey as you have woven it. One feels as though one were sitting before a splendid Shiraz or Daghestan of priceless texture and intricate weave, admiring, feeling, responding sensually to its colors and tones. Or better yet, it is as though a symphony of great beauty by a master, Strauss or Beethoven, had just been completed and the bud notes and flower tones were filling the air with their elusive message, fluttering and dying.

Critical comment in The Boston Evening Transcript (August 11, 1915) and The New York Times (August 1, 1915), though it did not approach the fervor of Dreiser's review, was in the main favorable. The Transcript stated:

Romance and realism are mingled in Of Human Bondage exactly as they are mingled in life. It is a chronicle story well conceived, well told, and with every character in it a human being. Not all of it is "agreeable" reading, to be sure, but there is no reason why a novel should cater to the prejudices of those who demand nothing but the "agreeable" in fiction. Perhaps its greatest effect upon us is that it arouses an eager desire for further knowledge of Philip Carey's future.

And The Times commented:

The vivisection is at times a little too minute, the small incidents rather over elaborated, and there are certain episodes … which seem both repulsive and superfluous. Nevertheless, Mr. Maugham has done a big piece of work.

The majority of the American reviews, however, reveal a reaction to the novel comparable to that of the British critics, and similarly proscribe the book. The critic for The Dial (September 16, 1915) wrote:

When a novelist thus sets out to chronicle everything about his hero's life, he can hardly fail to leave us with the feeling of intimate acquaintance. But he can easily miss, as Mr. Maugham does, the broad effects and the larger issues of a human characterization. The only thing of this sort that we get from Of Human Bondage is a most depressing impression of the futility of life …

"Unhappy childhood," said The Independent (August 23, 1915),

always is a bid for sympathy, but little Philip grows up into an insufferable cad. One longs, after reading these novels where spineless men and women yield without a struggle to the forces of evil and are overwhelmed by the world, for the ringing shout of the stout apostle Paul: "I have fought a good fight … I have kept the faith!"

The New York World termed Of Human Bondage "the sentimental servitude of a poor fool." The Philadelphia Press referred to it as the life of "futile Philip," while The Outlook insisted that "the author might have made his book true without making it so frequently distasteful." And The New Orleans Times-Picayune commented: "Certainly the story cannot be said to be in any sense a wholesome one, and it would require a distinctly morbid taste for one to enjoy it thoroughly."

In view of this widespread denunciation by critics in 1915, and the novel's subsequent half-dozen years of dormancy, it is surprising to learn that in 1923 the George H. Doran Company classed it with works in continual demand, and that a commentator [Marcus Aurelius Goodrich] in The New York Times Book Review stated in 1925 that "Of Human Bondage has become a classic." There are probably several reasons for the new interest American readers showed in the novel during the twenties. Perhaps there was something in the story of Philip Carey which appealed to the psychology of what Franklin Roosevelt called "the apparently soulless decade which followed the World War." Or possibly it was, as has been claimed by Richard Cordell and Stuart P. B. Mais, the publication in 1919 of The Moon and Sixpence which drew attention to the earlier "neglected" novel. Maugham has suggested, however, what appears to be a chief factor behind the success of his masterpiece. "It failed to do well," he says [in an interview in The New York Times Book Review (21 April 1946)], "until, in the twenties, a number of your columnists picked it up and began to talk about it." [In an endnote, Spence adds: "I do not mean to intimate that the basic reason for the success of Of Human Bondage was the favorable comment of certain columnists and critics. Their function was to call attention to what previously had been considered a mediocre novel. Possibly the book's popularity with the public is due in part to Maugham's skeptical world view. Readers who experienced the feelings of despair, of frustration, and of the aridity of life subsequent to World War I perhaps found—with Philip Carey—a satisfactory solution to the problems of human existence in skepticism and iconoclasm."] He reiterated the statement when he presented the manuscript of the novel to the Library of Congress in April, 1946. Of Human Bondage was, after publication, apparently forgotten

… for two or three years, perhaps more …

Then again I had a bit of luck. For a reason I have never known it attracted the attention of writers who were then well-known columnists, Alec Woollcott, Heywood Broun, and the still living and still scintillating F. P. Adams. They talked about it among themselves and then began talking about it in their columns. It found new readers. It found more and more readers. The final result you know.

Between 1917 and 1925, roughly, a number of columnists and critics did give much attention to Maugham and to Of Human Bondage. Early stirrings of interest, given impetus by what appears to have been a "Maugham cult," led ultimately to wide enthusiasm. Adams, who stated in a recent letter to this writer that he often alluded to Of Human Bondage, praised the novel in print as early as March 10, 1917. In his column in The New York Tribune under that date appeared this comment: "Home and finished reading Mr. Maugham's Of Human Bondage, which I think is a great book, and I am grateful to W. Hill the artist for having told me of it." The appearance in 1919 of The Moon and Sixpence seems further to have elevated Maugham in the esteem of the critics. Adams praised the novel, and Heywood Broun ranked it after Of Human Bondage. During the early twenties Adams helped to keep the spotlight on Maugham. He wrote in his column of November 5, 1921: "… I read Mr. W. S. Maugham's Liza of Lambeth on the train, and as good a book ever he wrote save Of Human Bondage…. So to bed and read Maugham's The Circle, a highly interesting and diverting play." The George H. Doran Company had, in that year, printed for the first time in America Maugham's earliest novel, Liza of Lambeth, which had appeared in London in 1897. During the previous year Doran had brought out his second novel, Mrs. Craddock, published in England in 1902.

Maugham's stature as a novelist was growing steadily in America—a fact due chiefly to the increasing popularity of Of Human Bondage. In 1922 Grant Overton stated confidently in When Winter Comes to Main Street that

The day will come … when people will think of him as the man who wrote Of Human Bondage. This novel does not need praise. All it needs, like the grand work it is, is attention; and that it increasingly gets.

Adams, also, commented on May 5, 1922: "Thinking again on Intrusion, I mused that the girl [Mildred] in Of Human Bondage, which still to me is the best writing Mr. W. Somerset Maugham ever did, is as well drawn as Roberta in Intrusion." This conviction that Of Human Bondage was Maugham's best novel was echoed by Cornelius Weygrandt, who declared as early as 1925 (A Century of the English Novel) that the final judgment of Maugham would rest on the basis of that work. In 1923 Stuart P. B. Mais discussed the novel in Some Modern Authors, stressing its "realism" and the determination of the author to present all aspects of life, regardless of how unpleasant—those elements which Dreiser had lauded eight years earlier and which the devotees of the twenties generally pointed to. "Maugham," said Mais, "ought to be one of the most formative influences of the present day. There is certainly no one who could exert such a healthy restraint on the young writer who fears to face the truth."

By the middle of the decade Maugham's novel had made, and still was making, enormous headway. Goodrich wrote in 1925 [in "After Ten Years Of Human Bondage," from W. Somerset Maugham, Novelist, Essayist, Dramatist]: "In New York's clubs and drawing rooms and at exoteric dinner tables, one is a bit surprised to find so old a book talked of as if it had been written yesterday…." "Of Human Bondagein the United States is on the way to becoming an uncanonical sensation." Goodrich's statements are not particularly surprising in view of earlier comments by Mais and Dorothea Lawrence Mann. Mais had written (Some Modern Authors):

Of Human Bondage is so good a book that it is impossible (for a long time after reading it) to fall down and worship the young Americans of the Sinclair Lewis type or the intellectual young Englishwoman of the Dorothy Richardson-Romer Wilson type. Of Human Bondage is good because it is sincere autobiography—one of the few absolutely sincere documents I have ever read. I would give it, if I could afford copies, to every imaginative boy on leaving school.

Mrs. Mann, in a commentary in The Boston Evening Transcript (reprinted in Doran's 1925 tribute to Maugham under the title "Somerset Maugham in his Mantle of Mystery"), had stated enthusiastically:

I should like to see the time come when the well-read person would be as unwilling to admit not having read Of Human Bondage as he would be to admit that he had not seen the plays of Shakespeare.

Some indication as to the hold which Maugham's novel took on the reading public is suggested by an essay published by Carl Van Doren in Century for May, 1925 entitled "Tom Jones and Philip Carey; Heroes of Two Centuries." That such a comparison could be made is indeed revealing when one considers that—with the exception of the small re-issue of 1919—the book was not reprinted until two years earlier.

The new-found popularity of Of Human Bondage was not evanescent. As Maugham has said, since the critics began talking about and writing about his novel, "nothing has stopped it." Notice of it reached even the sports pages. Gene Tunney revealed, according to Maugham, that it was the only book he read while training for the famous fight with Jack Dempsey in Philadelphia in 1926. By 1930 Dorothy Brewster and Angus Burrell were expressing the opinion (Adventure or Experience) that "there are probably few characters in modern English fiction with whom readers more readily identify themselves than with Philip Carey."

It should be pointed out that there were, of course, critics both in England and America who remained unconvinced that Of Human Bondage was a "classic," and who did not share in the enthusiasm of the Maugham cult. Desmond MacCarthy, writing in The New Statesman, August 14, 1920, said of the novel:

It is not a cheerful book; the attitude of the author towards human nature is mistrustful, and oddly enough there seems to be little curiosity about human beings in that attitude; the one passion which in the absence of warmer feelings helps a writer most to carry to the finish such a long detailed piece of work.

Weygandt, although holding that Of Human Bondage surpasses Maugham's other work, considered it at best a second-rate novel. "Maugham," he said, "is a keen student of humanity but hardly an artist at all." Brewster and Burrell adjudged the novel a good one, but noted that its ultimate effect is not gained without straining. And Theodore Spencer, in one of the more recent, dispassionate evaluations of the book, declared in 1940 that the success of the novel is definitely limited. "Of Human Bondage is not one of those novels which press us urgently into new areas of awareness; it merely fills out … those areas of awareness which we already possess."

Suggestions that Of Human Bondage has been overrated appear (if anything may be inferred from the publication record) to have had little effect on the reading public once the columnists and critics had stimulated interest in the book. Goodrich, discussing at a ten-year distance the reception of the novel, reported that not until 1923—when the George H. Doran Company authorized a new edition—was there a serious demand for it. During the next two years it was reprinted three times, and by 1925, said Goodrich, libraries and second-hand book stores were reporting increasing demands for it. The popularity of the novel appears to have mounted rapidly. In 1927 Doran issued a new edition, and in 1928 the book reached the cheap reprint stage. Odyssey Press brought out the first of these editions. Grosset and Dunlap published it in their reduced-rate Novels of Distinction series in 1929 and again in 1932, and the Modern Library added it to its list in 1930. By 1931 copies of the 1915 edition were to be found with difficulty. Frederick T. Bason, compiling a bibliography of the writings of Maugham in that year, reported that copies of the first edition of the masterpiece were among the most sought after books in the United States.

Public demand for Of Human Bondage continued undiminished through the thirties. The Modern Library advertised the novel in 1941 as one of its best-selling titles. The Garden City Publishing Company and the Dial Press each issued several reprints between 1933 and 1949. Even British readers, long reluctant to accept Of Human Bondage, apparently caught something of the American fever, William Heinemann, Limited, which published the novel in 1915, brought out in 1934 the first English edition in nineteen years. Reprints followed in 1935 and 1936. In 1936 Doubleday, Doran and Company published in New York the first of several limited deluxe editions. The following year the Literary Guild distributed the novel to its many thousands of members, and in 1938 Yale University Press printed it in two volumes, with an introduction by Theodore Dreiser, for members of the Limited Editions Club. The Clovernook Printing House for the Blind (Mount Healthy, Ohio) published a seven volume edition in braille in 1941, and portions of the novel were recorded recently by Maugham. In addition to the many American and the two British editions, Of Human Bondage has been published in a number of foreign languages—in French (1937), German (1939), Italian (n. d.), Spanish (1944), and Hungarian (n. d.).

It would appear, on the basis of the foregoing data, that there is much justification for Spencer's assertion that Of Human Bondage is one of the most universally read and admired of modern English novels. His statement seems valid despite the generally unfavorable critical comment in 1915, and the subsequent half-dozen years of public apathy toward the book. Not until the early twenties did Of Human Bondage begin its climb toward a position in the highest level of English novels. As we have seen, the emergence of the work appears to have been due in large part to the critics and columnists who saw more in the novel than did the reviewers of 1915. Their interest stimulated public interest, and their unreserved praise was a fundamental factor in the making of a masterpiece. Maugham, when he presented the original manuscript of the novel to the Library of Congress [on April 21, 1946], acknowledged the debt he owed its champions:

It is because the success of Of Human Bondage is due to my fellow writers in America and to a whole generation of American readers that I thought the least I could do was to offer the manuscript to the Library of Congress.

That the novel has not slipped much in the esteem of American readers is suggested by the editorial comment of the Houston, Texas, Post (April 28, 1946), shortly after the presentation. The Post declared that Of Human Bondage is "one of the greatest novels in the English language." Maugham, in his novel The Razor's Edge, stated that "we the public in our heart of hearts all like a success story." Where could one find a better one than in the history of Of Human Bondage?

John R. Reed (essay date 1964)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1158

SOURCE: "The Redundant Gentleman," in Old School Ties: The Public Schools in British Literature, Syracuse University Press, 1964, pp. 169-219.

[Reed is an American educator, critic, and poet. In the following excerpt, he discusses the impact of Philip's schooling on his character—a schooling intended to make him a gentleman but which in practice left him ostracized and self-conscious.]

In Maugham's Of Human Bondage (1915), Philip Carey, an up-to-date Ernest Pontifex, in his rebellion against the cant of his elders, reacts strongly against his school as well as his family. He leaves school to finish his education at Heidelberg, hoping for greater intellectual and imaginative freedom. Of Human Bondage is typical of the twentieth-century version of the Bildungsroman. Philip follows a familiar pattern in his progress toward enlightenment. At school he is unhappy, suffering humiliation at the hands of his schoolmates for a physical deformity. Philip becomes introverted, and his suffering makes him aware of the flaws in the system under which he is forced to exist. He suffers isolation from his fellows and is made the victim of a capricious bully. Like Stephen Dedalus in James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Philip is made acutely sensitive to religious matters, especially matters concerning damnation.

From this unhealthy prep school atmosphere, Philip moves on to King's School at Tercanbury (an anagram on Canterbury) which "prided itself on its antiquity," much in the manner of Sawston in The Longest Journey. Tercanbury is a smartly snobbish school for gentlemen's sons. There Philip is fashioned into a gentleman. In the atmosphere of the school, Philip is uneasy but cannot focus his dissatisfaction since he accepts the gentlemanly code of the school. He learns that enthusiasm is bad form, while suffering form the passionate irascibility of a techy form master not fit to teach young and sensitive boys. Just as Tony Farrant learned how to adapt himself to all situations, preserving this talent as the one lesson adequately taught at school, so Philip's greatest acquisition at Tercanbury is adroitness in deceit, "which was possibly of greater service to [him] in after life than an ability to read Latin at sight." Uncontent, Philip wishes to leave Tercanbury. Public schools are uncongenial for the bright student, and, as Mr. Perkins, the liberal headmaster of Tercanbury, admired by Philip, says, "'Of course schools are made for the average. The holes are all round, and whatever shape the pegs are they must wedge in somehow. One hasn't time to bother about anything but the average.'"

Philip, while accepting this tradition, suffers from a sense of failure at school and leaves to complete his education in Germany; and it is here, indeed, that his real education begins, for, when Weeks, an American, presses him for an exact definition of a gentleman, Philip has difficulty defending one of his accepted prejudices. This is the first step in the bouleversement of the ideal British middle-class image, the gentleman. Philip realizes, as he learns to look critically upon gentlemanliness and the society it represents, that his education has been limited and that he has been insulated against too much of life. It is with this step outside the potting shed of the narrowly tended public school that Philip is made aware of the existence of values which not only differ from but which conflict with school values and which, if they are to be faced, require clear and critical revaluation. At first, Philip attempts to defend his previously unquestioned beliefs. His definition of a gentleman is naïve.

"First of all he's the son of a gentleman, and he's been to a public school, and to Oxford or Cambridge."

"Edinburgh wouldn't do, I suppose?" asked Weeks.

"And he talks English like a gentleman, and he wears the right sort of things, and if he's a gentleman he can always tell if another chap's a gentleman."

His is not, in fact, a bad definition. However, as Philip proceeds on his crusade of discovery, he learns that there are other sorts of gentlemen. Mr. Watson, whom Philip meets while at the law firm of Messrs. Herbert Carter and Co., is from a wealthy brewing family and in his manner is too gentlemanly. He is rude to his inferiors and patronizing in a careless manner toward Philip.

He had been to Winchester and to Oxford, and his conversation impressed the fact upon one with frequency. When he discovered the details of Philip's education his manner became more patronising still.

"Of course, if one doesn't go to a public school those sort of schools are the next best thing, aren't they?"

Mr. Carter, speaking casually to Philip, also manages to announce that he is accustomed to hunting (definitely a gentleman's sport) and that his son has been educated at Rugby and is now at Cambridge. When Mr. Carter leaves, Philip, pondering the performances by Carter and Watson, is obliged to reconsider his definition of a gentleman.

Philip was overwhelmed by so much gentlemanliness: in East Anglia they knew who were gentleman and who weren't, but the gentlemen didn't talk about it.

Philip's experience is a guide to the transformation of the modern gentleman. Philip is made aware of the possible perversion and distortion of the gentlemanly code which he had previously accepted as the standard for decorous behavior. He discovers that the gentleman can use his advantages in ways which suggest a great potential for the exercise of a snobbish and thoughtless influence, concerned paradoxically with material values, yet lacking an adequate comprehension of reality. Though Philip never confronts a Pembroke or a Ralston, he does encounter the products of their educational methods.

From this point, Philip's maturation and experience wean him from the sham gentility that he encounters repeatedly in his adult life. He submerges himself in the underworld of Parisian bohemia and London lower-middle-class labor, reaching the antipodal regions of society where he can view his old genteel values in new perspectives, much in the manner of George Orwell, whose descent into the subworld of deprivation and suffering was more conscious and politically motivated. Having reached this spiritual Duogobmai, Philip is prepared to return to the old values on new terms, and after an excruciating love affair, he frees himself from economic insecurity by completing his medical education. When he goes down into the country to serve as assistant to Doctor South, his qualifications are indicative of his own progress away from sham gentility. The doctor asks him if he was at a university, and Philip replies that he was not, at which the doctor remarks: "'Last year when my assistant took a holiday they sent me a 'Varsity man. I told 'em not to do it again. Too damned gentlemanly for me.'"

Maugham's hero escapes his public school background, as did Ernest Pontifex, to associate himself with the more natural aspects of human life and to find love and contentment on a less pretentious level of existence.

M. K. Naik (essay date 1966)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 3544

SOURCE: "Of Human Bondage," in W. Somerset Maugham, University of Oklahoma Press, 1966, pp. 46-57.

[Naik is an Indian educator and critic. In the following excerpt, he argues that Of Human Bondage is a "novel of adolescence"—the purpose of which was for the author to find himself—and concludes that the book's greatest fault is a negativity that leaves the hero with a creed that lacks positive values.]

The strong native sensibility which dominates the works of Maugham's early phase reaches its high-water mark in Of Human Bondage, a novel which is largely autobiographical. Maugham wrote in The Summing Up that, having finished the novel, he "prepared to make a fresh start." This "fresh start" was to lead him far away from the dominant strain in Liza of Lambeth, Mrs. Craddock, and Of Human Bondage.

Maugham described the genesis of this novel in The Summing Up and also in the introduction to the reprint of the novel in the Collected Edition of his works. We are told that Maugham first wrote Of Human Bondage in a much shorter form, as early as 1897–98:

It was called then, somewhat grandly, "The Artistic Temperament of Stephen Carey." It finished with the hero at the age of twenty-four, which was my own age when I finished it, and it sent him to Rouen, which I knew only from two or three short visits to see the sights, instead of Heidelberg, as in Of Human Bondage, which I knew well; and it made him study music, of which I knew nothing, instead of making him study painting, of which in later years I was to learn at least a little.

The book was rejected by publishers and was put aside. But, continues Maugham:

I could not forget the people, the incidents and the emotions of which it was composed. In the next ten years I had other experiences and met other people. The book continued to write itself in my mind, and many things that happened to me found their place in it. Certain of my recollections were so insistent that, waking or sleeping, I could not escape from them. I was by then a popular playwright. I was making for those days a great deal of money, and the managers could hardly wait to engage a cast till I had written the last act of my new piece. But my memories would not let me be. They became such a torment that I determined at last to have done with the theatre till I had released myself from them. My book took me two years to write. I was disconcerted at the unwieldly length to which it seemed to be extending, but I was not writing to please; I was writing to free myself of an intolerable obsession. I achieved the result I aimed at, for after I had corrected the proofs, I found all those ghosts were laid, and neither the people who played their parts in the story, nor the incidents in which they were concerned ever crossed my mind again. Looking back on it now in memory … I can hardly tell what is fancy and what is fact, what parts describe events that happened, sometimes accurately and sometimes disturbed by an anxious imagination, and what parts describe what I could have wished had happened.

The account in The Summing Up is even more explicit. Maugham narrates there how, at the height of his success as a playwright, he began to be obsessed by:

… the teeming memories of my past life. The loss of my mother and then the break up of my home, the wretchedness of my first years at the school for which my French childhood had so ill-prepared me, and which my stammering made so difficult, the delight of those easy, monotonous and exciting days in Heidelberg, when I first entered upon the intellectual life, the irksomeness of my few years at the hospital and the thrill of London.

Of Human Bondage provided the release from these "teeming memories." This account of the genesis of the novel is highly significant. It explains the deep compassion, the insight into the adolescent mind, and the honesty of the book.

Of Human Bondage belongs to that type of novel which may be called "the novel of adolescence." This type of novel, which was usually represented by a long chronicle in three thick volumes and which flourished throughout the nineteenth century, had its beginning with Goethe's Wilhelm Meister. As has been pointed out by William Y. Tindall [in Forces in Modern British Literature], this form received new life towards the end of the century from the science of biology and later from psychology.

In novel after novel sensitive lads are apprenticed to life, formed by its forces, rebelling against them, sometimes failing, sometimes emerging in victory. Their trials and errors, like those of rats in a maze, are painfully displayed. And all the horrors of adolescence, the theatre of biology and spirit, are examined…. From 1903 onwards almost every first novel by a serious novelist was a novel of adolescence … it produced some of the best novels of the early twentieth century.

Of Human Bondage is a chronicle of a period of about twenty years in the early life of Philip Carey, who is, to a large extent, Maugham himself. The opening chapter forms one of the most moving scenes in the novel. Philip's mother, who is on her deathbed, asks nine-year-old Philip to be brought to her. She presses the child, who is only half-awake, to herself, and then, "she passed her hand down his body till she came to his feet; she held the right foot in her hand and felt the five small toes; and then slowly passed her hand over the left one. She gave a sob." Thus the fact of Philip's clubfoot, which is going to cause him suffering throughout his whole life, is intimated to the reader in an effortless and effective way.

Philip's clubfoot seems to have been suggested by young Maugham's own stammer, and Maugham indeed appears to have put so much of his childhood and adolescence into the portrait of Philip that he emerges as easily the most memorable of Maugham's heroes.

Since Philip's mother dies (his father is already dead), the bringing up of the orphan is entrusted to his uncle, who is vicar of Blackstable. Philip's life at Blackstable is not happy. He is starved of affection, for his uncle is too self-centered to pay much attention to the boy; his aunt, a shy and meek childless lady, is too diffident to satisfy the boy's emotional needs. Philip's deformity, which excites ridicule and makes him exceedingly self-conscious, renders his schooldays equally unhappy. "And often there recurred to him then that queer feeling that his life with all its misery was nothing but a dream, and that he would awake in the morning in his own little bed in London."

The dull routine of the school irks this dreamy and precocious boy, and he rebels against the ecclesiastical career which his uncle intends for him. However, he persuades his uncle to allow him to spend a year in Germany, where he experiences his first taste of freedom of action and thought. Still undecided about the choice of a career on his return, he spends one year in London in a chartered accountant's office, and two more in Paris, where he studies painting, until he discovers that he is devoid of genius and returns to London to become a medical student.

While Philip is pursuing his medical studies, he falls in love with Mildred, a shallow and vulgar waitress.

He had thought of love as a rapture which seized one so that all the world seemed spring-like, he had looked forward to an ecstatic happiness, but this was not happiness; it was a hunger of the soul, it was a painful yearning, it was a bitter anguish, he had never known before.

He struggles in vain against the destructive passion which robs him of his health, of his peace of mind, and of his slender financial resources. Thrice Mildred leaves his life, only to return and make fresh claims upon him. Reduced to poverty, Philip has to abandon his studies for a time and work as a shopwalker to maintain himself.

At long last, he frees himself from the cruel spell of Mildred, and, inheriting money from his uncle who has died, is able to resume his studies. He decides to travel extensively after qualifying as a doctor, but when he receives his degree, he discovers that his one desire is for peace. Throughout his adolescence and youth, one question has been nagging him—"What is the meaning of life?" He deduces that life has no meaning and that every man's life is simply a pattern that he makes out of the manifold events of his life, his deeds, his feelings, and his thoughts—a pattern that he makes simply for his own pleasure. There is "one pattern, the most obvious, perfect and beautiful, in which a man is born, grows to manhood, marries, produces children, toils for his bread, and dies." With the passing of his mental struggles, Philip decides to follow this pattern, and he marries a healthy and simple girl, settling down as a country doctor.

The appeal of Of Human Bondage is due, first, to the sincere desire to understand the mind of a sensitive and dreamy adolescent, secondly, to the deep sympathy with which the afflictions of this adolescent are portrayed, and, lastly, to the unflinching honesty and restraint which save its compassion from sentimentality or mawkish self-pity.

The pathos of the opening scene of the novel has already been commented on. With great tenderness, Maugham portrays the sense of loneliness and desolation which haunts Philip in his early days at school. The story of how his deformity, to which he has scarcely given any thought so far, makes him woefully sensitive and self-conscious there, alienates him from the other boys, and makes him grow into a brooding, lonely, and morbid adolescent is told with great power. The career of Philip is, in broad outline, a rather depressing record of the failure of a morbid mind to adjust itself to the world and to life. Yet, it is remarkable that, throughout this long chronicle, Philip never loses our sympathy. This is perhaps due to the stark sincerity with which Maugham portrays his career, extenuating nothing and making no excuses.

The sincerity with which Maugham treats his hero is best illustrated in the Mildred episodes of the novel. Philip emerges from these episodes as an ineffectual, weak, irresolute, and drifting young man, and yet retains our sympathy. It is interesting to compare Philip's adolescent love experience with those of Wells's Lewisham and Meredith's Richard Feverel, for both of whom adolescent love is enveloped in a rosy romantic haze. Philip, with painful honesty, confesses that "Love was like a parasite in his heart, nourishing a hateful existence on his life's blood."

This sincerity is part of Maugham's creed as a realist, but it does not make him completely detached here. This is impossible; for Philip is, to a large extent, Maugham himself. On the contrary, this quality gives greater verisimilitude to the whole picture. [In William Somerset Maugham, 1937] R. H. Ward complains of a certain "rigidity" in Of Human Bondage, arising out of "a stubborn determination to plough right on from the beginning to the end, to extenuate nothing." He thinks that this is due to the "material tyrannising over the author." But it is possible to find in this very "determination to extenuate nothing" the source of the emotional force and massiveness of the book. It is that determination, in fact, which gives unity to this sprawling and seemingly formless chronicle.

Philip is not the only object of Maugham's pity in the novel. There are the drifters through life whom Philip meets in his career, and they are pathetic spectacles—more lamentable than he in certain respects, for they are greater self-deceivers. The portraits of some of these are not devoid of irony, as for example, the picture of Hayward, who is at once the deceiver and the deceived. He has purposely impressed others as being an idealist and has led, under the cloak of idealism, an idle and wasted life. He has worn his mask so long, however, that he has ultimately come to believe in his own fiction.

Nevertheless, the dominant note in the other portraits is one of pity for waste and futility. Such is the fate of Cronshaw who is the slave of his Bohemian life in Paris, and who pitiably advises Philip, "If you can get out of it, do while there's time." Such, again, is the fate of Miss Price who, refusing to accept the fact that she has no talent for painting, blunders on through her art studies, until starvation drives her to hang herself.

Of the restraint which saves the novel from mawkish sentimentality, there is a fine example in the scene where Philip, going through the correspondence of his deceased uncle, suddenly comes upon a letter written by his mother. In that letter she writes about her son: "I pray God night and day that he may grow into a good, honest, and Christian man…. I hope that he will become a soldier in Christ's Faith and be all the days of his life God-fearing, humble, and pious." The letter moves Philip. "He read again," says Maugham, "what she said about him, what she expected and thought about him … he had turned out very differently; he looked at himself for a moment." And then follows a significant gesture; "Then a sudden impulse caused him to tear up the letter; its tenderness and simplicity made it seem peculiarly private…. He went on with the Vicar's dreary correspondence."

Humanitarianism is, as noted earlier, incompatible with disbelief in the sincerity or goodness of human motive and actions. Maugham, usually the ironic observer of life, has created very few men and women the goodness of whose motives and actions he does not doubt. Thorpe Athelny in Of Human Bondage is one of these. He is, no doubt, an absurd creature to some extent. Although he is an insignificant advertisement writer by profession, he grandiloquently calls himself "a journalist," and his garrulity and flamboyance are highly diverting. Yet with all his ridiculousness, Athelny has a pure, disarming goodness, the warmth of which is felt by all who come into contact with him. It is this goodness that succors Philip when both materially and spiritually he has reached the nadir of helplessness.

The other strain in Maugham—that of contemptuous sneering and cold indifference indicative of cynicism—also has a place in Of Human Bondage. It is present, first, in the unfavorable portrait of Philip's uncle, the vicar of Blackstable. Maugham is generally hard on clergymen, and in the famous short story, "Rain," in the farcical comedy Loaves and Fishes and elsewhere in his work, clergymen are butts of ridicule. The Vicar of Blackstable is a detestable creature both as a clergyman and as a man. He is self-centered, vain, mean, avaricious, and indolent. Maugham takes delight in exposing him through small situations. Thus, when the Vicar and his wife play backgammon, the wife always arranges that he should win, because he is a bad loser. But it is when the Vicar is about to die that Maugham's satire becomes most stinging. Far from reconciling himself to the thought of joining his Maker after a life spent in ease and comfort, this man of God has become a valetudinarian monster, clinging desperately to existence. The thought of death fills him with horror, and the religion that he has preached all his life is now of no avail to him.

But the attack on the clergy and religion in Of Human Bondage has more of contemptuous sneering and frigid indifference than of indignation in it. John Brophy makes an illuminating comparison between Samuel Butler's The Way of All Flesh and Of Human Bondage from this point of view: "The Way of All Flesh is inspired by violent anger against the clergy because they offended Butler's moral sense. The hypocrisy reported in Of Human Bondage arouses not so much indignation as distaste." Thus, when Philip loses his faith, he does so

… with surprise at the foolishness of believers, but with no sense of shock, no moral indignation. Convinced that religion is nonsense, he feels no obligation to disabuse others of what he regards as mere fantasy, even when he observes that on their death-beds it fails to console them. Maugham notes, as it were, in a casebook: this man is dying of pneumonia because, curious creature, he insists on going out in the rain. The fact is reported and the comment added without passion, without even concern. Samuel Butler, by contrast, professes social medicine. He is appalled that the contagion should be spread. He denounces religion in a satire so hot that it scorches and discomforts not only the object of his scorn but the reader and himself. He would have the churches pulled down and sterlized, and he has already planned the temples to the Life Force which should be built in their place. [Somerset Maugham, published in "The British Council Bibliographical Series," 1952]

This is, indeed, the reason why Of Human Bondage misses the greatness which its rich compassion for Philip brings it near attaining. The deep sensibility and honesty of the book are undeniable, but it fails to attain greatness because of what R. H. Ward rightly describes as its "negative quality." "Of Human Bondage has," he says, "one great disadvantage, that it is written by a man determined that only thought and the material, with the material as leader and ruler exist. It is, as a result, a good book, but an unillumined book."

The negativeness of Of Human Bondage lies mainly in the solution which Maugham ultimately has his protagonist find to the question: "What is the meaning of life?" The conclusion arrived at by Philip is, "There was no meaning in life, and man by living served no end. It was immaterial whether he was born or not born, whether he lived or ceased to live." Philip's reaction to this conclusion is even more revealing:

Philip exulted, as he had exulted in his boyhood when the weight of a belief in God was lifted from his shoulders; it seemed to him that the last burden of responsibility was taken from him; and for the first time he was utterly free … what he did or left undone did not matter. Failure was unimportant and success amounted to nothing.

The total lack of positive values in Philip's creed is self-evident. He no doubt speaks, later on, about every man making "a pattern of his life for his own pleasure," and tells us that "there was one pattern, the most obvious, perfect and beautiful, in which a man was born, grew to manhood, married, produced children, toiled for his bread, and died." But it is significant that the end of the novel where Philip chooses this pattern for his own life is, according to most critics, the least satisfactory part of the book. Maugham himself mentions this in his preface to Of Human Bondage and is almost apologetic about it: "Here," he says, "I had no facts to go on. It was a wishfulfilment." The fact is that Philip's sudden apprehension of this perfect pattern is not well prepared for in his psychological portraiture and lacks adequate motivation. Hence it fails to convince. It must also be remembered that Maugham's philosophy of life, as stated in The Summing Up, also shows an almost total lack of a positive creed.

The negativeness of Of Human Bondage is no doubt mitigated to a considerable extent by its author's humanitarianism, by the fundamental honesty of the book, and by the goodness discernible in Athelny. Nevertheless, it cuts too deep into the work to be wholly dissipated by these and is especially emphasized, as shown earlier, in the concluding portions of the novel.

The dominant strain in Of Human Bondage is that of understanding and compassion: "I was not writing to please, I was writing to free myself of an intolerable obsession," says Maugham in commenting on the genesis of the book. Hence, the transparent sincerity of the work and the human warmth pervading the struggles and trials of adolescent Philip are explained.

The novel has many faults. It is too long and verbose, and the ending where Philip is thrown hastily into Sally's arms is rather hard to swallow, if not disgusting. From the point of view of form, the novel is indeed only a sprawling chronicle such as a panoramic novel usually is, and, like other lengthy chronicles, it has its redundancies and repetitions. But the greatest limitation of the book is its negativeness of philosophy which persists, though mitigated to a point by other elements in the novel. Yet, in spite of all these shortcomings, the humanitarianism of Of Human Bondage, which is undeniable, effectively counterbalances its strain of cynicism. The tables, however, are turned with Maugham's next novel, The Moon and Sixpence.

Bonnie Hoover Braendlin (essay date 1984)

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SOURCE: "The Prostitute as Scapegoat: Mildred Rogers in Somerset Maugham's Of Human Bondage," in The Image of the Prostitute in Modern Literature, edited by Pierre L. Horn and Mary Beth Pringle, Frederick Ungar Publishing, 1984, pp. 9-18.

[In the following excerpt, Braendlin discusses the character of Mildred Rogers, arguing that Rogers is cast as a "threatening female" who serves as villain, victim, and scapegoat and is sacrificed for her sins.]

Scarcely any other character in modern British fiction has been disparaged as unanimously as Mildred Rogers, the supercilious waitress turned prostitute in Somerset Maugham's early-twentieth-century Bildungsroman, Of Human Bondage (1915). Critics of the novel have nearly all regarded Mildred solely from the author's viewpoint, perhaps because Maugham's naturalistic, detailed style so convincingly characterizes her as an immoral "slut" and castigates her as a representative of feminine evil, allowing her no redeeming virtue. Because Mildred is propelled into prostitution by her own snobbery, it is obvious that she is culpable and thus perhaps deserving of her fate, yet from other perspectives she appears not only as villainess but also as victim. In this novel of male self-development, Mildred assumes the position of a scapegoat, compelled to expiate the sins of others, specifically those of the protagonist, Philip Carey, and more generally those of women who defy prescribed identities and demand proscribed freedoms. She is victimized in a symbolic way by the demands of the traditional male Bildungsroman, which sacrifices woman to man's development process and in a sociological sense by a rigid class hierarchy and propriety and by a paucity of opportunities for women to advance themselves or to find satisfying work. Her independent willfulness suggests her affinities with the New Woman, a turn-of-the-century phenomenon depicted in various guises by novelists of the period; her irrational destructiveness relates her to female demons and finally to all outsiders who avenge themselves against societal ostracism.

Of Human Bondage delineates a young man's struggle to realize his own identity, or in bourgeois terms, to achieve a successful integration into his society through the proper choice of vocation and wife; hence, the novel closely follows the basic pattern and philosophy of the conventional Bildungsroman. Maugham's novel continues the practice established by its predecessors in the Bildungsroman tradition—Goethe's Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre and Charles Dickens's David Copperfield, for example—of rewarding the mature adolescent with marriage to an idealized woman. Like Goethe's Natalie and Dickens's Agnes, Sally Athelny incarnates those female characteristics which men have usually considered ideal—unselfish love, unquestioning devotion, and uncritical maternal solicitude—against which all the other women in the novel, including Mildred, are measured and found wanting. On an archetypal level, Sally provides the means whereby Philip as the questing hero can reaffirm lost ties with the natural world. Her affinity with nature becomes evident especially at the end of the novel as she emerges "a Saxon goddess" in the hop fields of Kent. By virtue of her sexual openness, Sally is a twentieth-century improvement on the Victorian mother-goddess, a fitting reward for the young modern who frees himself from outmoded religion and morality yet retains a sense of familial responsibility and societal duty and of the necessity for harmony with the natural world, which is all but eclipsed by industrialism and urbanization.

When Philip meets Sally, he has for some time been hopelessly and helplessly enslaved by his irrational passion for Mildred, whose commonness, vulgarity, and infidelity he despises. The defects of several women in Philip's previous adolescent love affairs and friendships coalesce in Mildred's repulsiveness, which is diametrically opposed to Sally's ideal beauty. Mildred's tall, thin, drooping figure, flat chest, and narrow hips characterize her as less than the established ideal of feminine pulchritude, while her greenish, anemic skin tone betrays her underlying unhealthiness. Her outer sickly physique masks no mitigating inner beauty or strength of character; her "common" and "vulgar" personality lacks any redeeming "gentleness" or "softness." In addition to being unfeminine, Mildred lacks "the maternal instinct," a grievous flaw for any woman to have in a male Bildungsroman, in which the goal of individual and societal stability depends on a perpetuation of values through family solidarity and inheritance. The perfect wife not only provides essential maternal solicitude for the struggling hero but promises to give continuity to his newfound identity through children, preferably sons.

Mildred is one of many characters sacrificed in this Bildungsroman and in countless others to the development process of the protagonist. Philip's inexplicable infatuation with her constitutes one of the series of trials in his progress toward maturity, illustrating the destructive power of unbridled emotion over reason, a major theme in Maugham's novel. [In an endnote, Braendlin adds that Robert Lorin Calder in his W. Somerset Maugham and the Quest for Freedom, 1973, "demonstrates how the several stages of the Philip-Mildred relationship embody various emotional responses of Philip to Mildred, ranging from humiliation through enslaving emotional bondage and finally pity arrived at through self-analysis."] Robert Lorin Calder points out that a destructive female like Mildred appears in most English nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century Bildungsromane: "It is usually part of a young man's apprenticeship that he becomes ensnared by a woman who is vulgar, insensitive and unintelligent. In most cases the hero finally frees himself and, although emotionally scarred, is more mature because of his experience." Calder offers no explanation for the inclusion of such a character, but his remark implies that her presence, although appearing to hinder the protagonist's development, in some way furthers it. As seductress, Mildred incurs the blame for impeding Philip's progress, since her enslavement of him causes his initial failure in medical school and eventually contributes to his impoverishment. Yet she also promotes his progress by exemplifying the inevitable consequences of undesirable behavior and destructive emotions. Philip's devastating relationship with Mildred chastens his pride and strengthens his will and determination; most important, it demonstrates to him that love is not so much passion as affection and respect, two sensible emotions that he feels for Sally, although he does not "love" her.

As a symbol of enslaving emotional, irrational passion, Mildred represents that bane of male existence, the femme fatale, the unattainable temptress, the faithless lover, the social counterpart to the immortal fairy, La Belle Dame sans Merci. By refusing to submit to Philip's sexual advances because she feels neither sexual attraction nor love for him, Mildred illustrates Barbara Fass's definition [in her La Belle Dame sans Merci & the Aesthetics of Romanticism, 1974] of the femme fatale, "the unattainable temptress who keeps her admirer in a perpetual state of longing." Later, when Mildred turns to other men to satisfy her own desires, she fulfills another form of the archetype by becoming the "frequently faithless partner of a destructive love affair," although ironically the "affair" with Philip is devoid of love. Mildred appears to be damned if she does (with other men) and damned if she doesn't (with Philip). In Of Human Bondage, the specific social designation for the destructive female archetype is the prostitute, which Mildred becomes after Philip refuses to marry her because he is disgusted and disillusioned by her unfaithfulness. Prostitution brands Mildred a pariah, separated by an insurmountable gulf from respectable womanhood. Because she solicits men on the streets, taking them back to her dingy room, she inhabits the lowest rung of the demimonde social hierarchy, far removed from the courtesans in elegant brothels who catered to the Edwardian upper classes and thus enjoyed a measure of social respect and even envy.

Mildred's fall to the depths of depravity punishes her for sexual promiscuity, a conduct accepted as part of the normal course of events in a young man's adolescent development, in which his sexual exploits confirm his manhood. A comparison of Mildred's actions with Philip's indicates that her emotions, desires, and responses parallel his in reverse. The direction of Mildred's reaction to Philip during their relationship proves to be the inverse of the course of his interest in her. Her initial lack of response to Philip's advances leads Philip to conclude that she is impervious to passion, but gradually her sensuality emerges in her affairs with other men, at the same time that Philip's ardor cools in reaction to her "infidelity." She becomes as enslaved to passion as Philip is in the early stages of their acquaintanceship. Finally she turns her desires toward Philip, only to be rebuffed by his decision that their association be platonic. Mildred's reactions of bewilderment, humiliation, and anger, which are reported by the narrator just before her attack on Philip's room and mark one of the few lapses of the limited omniscient point of view, echo the "pique" and humiliation Philip demonstrates earlier. Calder provides a rationale for Mildred's destructiveness, attributing it to sexual frustration and loss of "mastery" over Philip once he no longer desires her, two motives that also suggest her affinities with Philip. Mildred in fact personifies the very weakness of character that Philip himself displays and which hinder his development: Philip accuses her of being "on the make" as he himself is; she betrays him for other men, but he in turn betrays Norah Nesbitt when Mildred returns to him.

As is typical with secondary characters in a Bildungsroman, Mildred is allowed no self-development and no change of heart; but unlike other personages in Of Human Bondage, such as Norah, who is rescued by marriage, Mildred is denied redemption. The nature of Mildred's illness as a prostitute presages an early death for her. The fact that the severity of her punishment exceeds the enormity of her "crimes" and the fact that Philip escapes punishment for similar sins suggest that Mildred assumes the burden of Philip's guilt as well as her own. Her sins are his sins exaggerated, and her penalty is his release. As a scapegoat she is sacrificed so that Philip may be strengthened. As she deteriorates, he regenerates; as she slides down the social scale, he rises, moving from the poverty of his student days to the security of the medical profession.

As a scapegoat Mildred is both guilty and not guilty. She represents the "fallen woman" who, although partly responsible for her own actions and choices, is also victimized by men in particular and society in general. Mildred's early conditioning, her petty bourgeois upbringing, has instilled in her a scorn for menial work like waitressing and a belief in the necessity of marriage for respectability and advancement on the social scale. The latter conviction conspires with her uncontrollable emotional desires to increase her vulnerability to men who seduce her by marriage offers or by affairs that end in deception and abandonment. Ironically, Mildred's vanity and desire for independence, in addition to her snobbish attitude—typical, Maugham says, of her class—cause her fall to a level of the social scale diametrically opposite that of the respected housewife she longs to become and pretends to be while living and traveling with Philip.

Maugham's unrelieved negative portrayal of Mildred in this novel differs from his more sympathetic treatment of prostitutes, such as Miss Sadie Thompson in "Rain" but resembles other characterizations of destructive women in his works. One critic speculates that Mildred's despicable character results from Maugham's notorious misogyny occasioned by his disillusionment with women who could not measure up to his mother or assuage the pain occasioned by her death; others assume that Maugham's desire to expunge the memory of some agonizing love affair prompted his deleterious description of Mildred. [See Richard Albert Cordell, Somerset Maugham, 1961, p. 80; Laurence Brander, Somerset Maugham, 1963.] Both theories have merit, especially because Of Human Bondage is an autobiographical novel, detailing the pain suffered by a little boy who loses his beloved mother, as happened to Maugham.

Another possible explanation is suggested, however, by Mildred's affinities with the New Woman, the independent female who caused consternation in England from the 1890s into the twentieth century. While Mildred does not directly rival Philip for professional opportunities, she does threaten the accepted societal notion of male domination, which is essential to Philip's pride and easily bruised ego. At the beginning of their relationship, Philip cannot control Mildred although he is determined to bend her to his will. Later he feels betrayed when she follows her own passionate inclinations, and unjustly injured and insulted when she rebels against his mandate of a platonic liaison, destroying his property in revenge for his treatment of her.

When he attempts to rehabilitate her, to get her off the streets and prevent her from spreading venereal disease, she pushes him away with a final vituperative comment: "What do I care? Let them [the men she solicits] take their chance. Men haven't been so good to me that I need bother my head about them." Turning an independent woman into a diseased harpy suggests that Maugham's misogyny may have been furthered by a fear of the consequences inherent in woman's desire for self-determination and her refusal to acquiesce to maternal and subordinate roles; it may reveal some of the antagonism toward the New Woman expressed in other Edwardian literature, in novels such as H. G. Wells's Tono-Bungay and D. H. Lawrence's Sons and Lovers. [In The Edwardian Turn of Mind, 1968] Samuel Hynes attributes this hostility to the fear that women's desire for freedom presented a serious threat to family stability and hence to societal equilibrium, already shaken by disruptive factors resulting from increased industrialization. While the young Edwardians desired more sexual freedom, even extending it to women as if to enhance them as sexual partners, they also regretted the loss of their Victorian fathers' ideal of a stable and sheltered home life safeguarded by a contented wife-mother. Mildred's characterization seems to incorporate this trepidation and desire for revenge on the wayward female; she may be Maugham's scapegoat for the New Woman, made to expiate her independent spirit.

Having demonstrated that Mildred becomes a scapegoat for the sins of others, we may extend the nature of her sacrifice by reference to her as a manifestation of the universal goddess, as the evil side of the Great Mother archetype. [In an endnote, Braendlin states: "See Joseph Campbell, Hero with a Thousand Faces, 1949. A displacement of the myth of the hero into the realistic Bildungsroman finds the young developing protagonist encountering various manifestations of the mother in the ancillary women characters, at least two of whom are often polarized, a reflection of the general tendency in man's art and literature to view woman as either good or evil, angel or witch, helpmate or hindrance, intercessor or seducer. In Victorian fiction, this duality expresses itself in the characters of wife and whore, the latter being either the working-class woman or one fallen from middle-class respectability through sexual indiscretion. Of Human Bondage continues the dichotomization into the twentieth century."] If Sally is the "sinless" aspect of the deity in that she embraces her designated role as maternal helpmate, Mildred represents the misguided goddess who resists. In a response to Claude Lévi-Strauss's observations on myth, René Girard [in "Violence and Representation in the Mythical Text," MLN, 92 (1977)] defines one basic mythic structure as the ritual elimination of an erring deity, the scapegoating of a divine being who has acted in a manner threatening to the community. If a society's crisis situation is severe enough and the causes vague, an individual deity or a human incarnation may be accused and made a scapegoat even though not guilty of any real crime or causative action. From the perspective of the threatened community, the apparent malefactor or a helpless substitute is always guilty; and the punishment, usually ostracism or death, is always justified. In Of Human Bondage, Mildred is made a scapegoat to save Philip from his personal crisis, but in a larger sense, she is sacrificed for the good of a society in crisis. Although, as Calder says, Maugham's novel in many ways "attempts to grapple with man's new freedom in the twentieth century," it reaffirms traditional answers to modern dilemmas, particularly those involving threatened values such as the stable home as a bulwark against change. The marriage of Sally and Philip at the end of the novel is intended to restore a threatened societal ideal; it is Maugham's answer to his culture's crisis, and it necessitates the death of Mildred, the erring goddess.

Widening the circle of those who benefit from the ostracism and death of a scapegoat enables us to see Mildred as an example of the "outsider," defined by Vivian Gornick [in "Woman as Outsider," in Woman in a Sexist Society, ed. Vivian Gornick and Barbara K. Moran, 1971] as "one in whom experience lives in a metaphorical sense, one whose life and meaning is a surrogate for the pain and fear of existence, one onto whom is projected the self-hatred that dogs the life of the race." Like Sue Bridehead in Thomas Hardy's Jude the Obscure, Mildred incarnates "the quintessential female" whose "behavior is emotional, impetuous, illogical, uncontrollable," all characteristics that help explain Mildred's supposedly inexplicable destructiveness. When she annihilates Philip's possessions, presumably in a streak of mad fury, Mildred demonstrates "the infantilism of reduction" typical of all outsiders who are denied the advantages of civilized living appropriated by the inside elite. Finally, as the fatally diseased prostitute, she becomes the scapegoat, described by Gornick as one whose "life is offered up, as every outsider's life is offered up, as a sacrifice to the forces of annihilation that surround our sense of existence, in the hope that in reducing the strength of the outsider—in declaring her the bearer of all the insufficiency and contradiction of the race—the wildness, grief, and terror of loss that is in us will be grafted onto her, and the strength of those remaining within the circle will be increased." Mildred, the diseased prostitute, the treacherous goddess, the independent woman, dies for us all.

Critics of Maugham's novel maintain that reader sympathy for Philip continues even when he appears ridiculous by wishing that he could stab Mildred in the carotid artery with his muffin knife or callous by longing for his uncle's death so that he can get his inheritance. Maugham's vituperative treatment of Mildred as unredeemed feminine evil supposedly excludes any similar compassion for her, yet it may in fact engender sympathetic understanding. Even as a spiteful fallen woman, Mildred exhibits a measure of courage and independence by scorning the option of serving a man who neither loves nor respects her. Sympathy for Mildred and her plight comes more easily perhaps to readers whose consciousness has been raised by the women's movement and feminist criticism. But Maugham's naturalistic technique, which revels in sordid detail in order to expose the evils of society (as in the slum where Philip practices medicine) and to revive a threatened societal ideal, may in Mildred's case also contribute to a sympathetic reading of her character and function by affording a view of her as a representation of a social reality, the fallen woman and unwed mother, a victim as well as a villainess, a person as well as a symbol.

Of Human Bondage is undeniably remarkable for its particular vindictiveness toward the threatening female, which transforms her into a prostitute who, as scapegoat, is sacrificed for all who remain within the circle of respectability and rationality. Even this vindictiveness, though, may backfire by loading the dice against Mildred and thus increasing reader sympathy for her. Because Maugham advances the time-honored theme of ironic comedy that the scapegoat must be ritualistically expunged from society, his treatment of Mildred may illustrate Northrop Frye's contention [in Anatomy of Criticism, 1957] that "insisting on the theme of social revenge on an individual, however great a rascal he [or she] may be, tends to make him [or her] look less involved in guilt and the society more so."

Forrest D. Burt (essay date 1985)

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SOURCE: "Autobiographical Novel," in his W. Somerset Maugham, Twayne Publishers, 1985, pp. 71-93.

[In the following excerpt, Burt comments on the autobiographical aspects of Of Human Bondage as well as the dramatic skill with which Maugham relates the various forms of "bondage" the characters endure.]

It is of critical importance to understand the significance of Of Human Bondage in Maugham's writing career. The psychological dynamics of Maugham's writing this novel are closer to that experienced by writers of autobiography than that experienced by most autobiographical novelists. Maugham wrote this novel later in life, after having established himself in a variety of types of writing: novel, short story, drama, travel book (in contrast to Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Lawrence's Sons and Lovers, which were early works). Second, since this work came later in his career, he was able to draw from his writing experience and to make use of a variety of writing skills—chiefly dramatic—that he had acquired (comparable to those of St. Augustine, Mill, Newman—giving order to their past life). And when Of Human Bondage was written, Maugham was living the middle period of his life, a period in which many experience what psychologists call "a mid-life crisis." It is in this period that autobiographers look back over their life to find a pattern, justification, meaning. The more literary and gifted autobiographers typically go beyond their own lives to become more universal and philosophical. Such was the case in Of Human Bondage.

But above all, the importance of this novel is that in writing it Maugham moved a step further toward understanding his strength as a writer, toward developing his own aesthetic. Curtis refers to Maugham's "need to reshape life into a pattern" and calls it his "greatest drive" [Anthony Curtis, in The Pattern of Maugham, 1974]. This need and drive took form in this novel, his greatest accomplishment in shaping life into art. In the theater he had developed his "reshaping," dramatic skills far beyond those displayed in the 1898 "The Artistic Temperament of Stephen Carey". He became more fully aware of his best subject matter—experience. With the distance and maturity now of almost thirty years, he turned his acute powers of observation and analysis on himself. And in the novel, he wisely decided upon an external, third-person omniscient narrator. [In The Summing Up] Maugham wrote of this shaping of experience—direct or observed—as creating "a plausible harmony": "People are too elusive, too shadowy, to be copied; and they are also too incoherent and contradictory. The writer does not copy his originals; he takes what he wants from them, a few traits that have caught his attention, a turn of mind that has fired his imagination and thereupon constructs his characters."

Understandably, [Richard Heron] Ward notes [in William Somerset Maugham, 1937]: "Maugham's best stories are too well-formed to be personal experiences transferred direct to paper." The important point here, though, is that Maugham is at his best when his characters, events, emotions, and attitudes are grounded in personal experience. He is at his weakest when he goes beyond his experience. In 1911, in composing Of Human Bondage, Maugham was digging back into the personal experience of "The Artistic Temperament of Stephen Carey." As Curtis observes, he "needed now to go more deeply into the causes of his peculiar sense of alienation from life in the midst of so much prosperity, to follow his own emotional and intellectual progress throughout those early years with great but not absolute fidelity to fact."

Somerset Maugham's motivation for writing and his use of personal experience in his writing are therefore not simple matters. But there is considerable evidence that Maugham depended upon experience and upon models for characters from individuals he had either known personally or observed. And because the experiences during the composition of The Land of Promise and Of Human Bondage were especially traumatic, they had a far reaching influence upon his life. It is little wonder, then, the emotions and dilemmas that he was presently experiencing would be for Maugham a rich source of inspiration. As [M. K.] Naik observes [in W. Somerset Maugham, 1966], in his early works Maugham developed two important faculties: "the deep sensibility which was, very soon, to create among the best of Maugham's novels, Of Human Bondage, and the flair for satirical observation which was to develop into the cold indifference and cynicism of his later works."

Returning to the composition of Of Human Bondage after having his marriage proposal rejected by Sue Jones, after completing The Land of Promise, and after beginning a relationship with Syrie Wellcome, Maugham drew upon his major strengths—strengths that he would eventually come to know as well as he then knew his limitations: (1) the transformation of experience and observations into fiction and (2) the dramatic skills developed in the theater. The first strength, use of personal experience and observations, should be evident in a large degree from the above discussion. How much Maugham had developed the second strength, his dramatic skill, can be seen by contrasting Of Human Bondage with "The Artistic Temperament of Stephen Carey."

Of Human Bondage opens with the death of Philip's mother. Orphaned, Philip is forced to move from his French home to England. There he lives with his Uncle Carey, vicar of Blackstable, and Aunt Louisa. They are childless and live a life quite unsuitable for their nine-year-old nephew, who speaks French more fluently than English and has a clubfoot. Shortly, Philip is sent to school at Tercanberry where he is mistreated by students and masters for his physical handicap. One holiday back at the vicarage he has an unusual experience. Having read in the Bible that if a person has faith enough mountains can be moved, he decides to put his faith to the test by praying, believing with all his might, that his handicap will be removed. When this fails, his disappointment is the first step toward his eventual loss of faith. Ill and with a determination not to abide the bullying of his masters, Philip spends a year studying in Heidelberg. It is there that he loses even more confidence in his childhood faith in God. Under the influence of two fellow lodgers, one an American and the other an Englishman, Philip comes to what for him is an exhilarating and freeing conclusion that there is no God. Upon his return to England Philip meets Miss Wilkinson, a relative of one of his aunt's close German friends. It is with her that he has his first sexual experience.

A brief trial with the accounting business as a possible career proves disappointing. He next journeys to Paris to study art for two years. But at the end of that time, realizing he will never be more than average, Philip gives it all up.

Finally, against his uncle's best thinking, Philip enters St. Thomas's Hospital in London in order to study for a career in medicine. And it is during these early years of his training that he meets Mildred Rogers, a waitress at the A.B.C. shop, a meeting that will lead to a bondage of passion. Philip will be unable to free himself from this bondage for some time. As his passion for Mildred grows, he makes repeated advances: invitations, suggestions, usually meeting with rejections, or more characteristically indifference—Mildred's typical reply is: "I don't mind." When one day she goes away with another, Miller by name, Philip feels that he has finally lost her forever. He does not pass his examinations. At this time he finds a friend in Norah Nesbitt, an individual who has a greater interest in him than he in her—the reverse of his earlier relationship with Mildred. Their friendship, though, is genuine and they are good for each other. Philip makes progress toward his examinations. But later Mildred returns, this time expecting a child. He helps, of course, providing her and her child with a home, but without the earlier physical love for her. In fact, it is when he refuses to yield to her seductive advances that Mildred flies into a rage, and disappears completely. Philip again adjusts. He returns to Norah, but it is too late: she has found another and plans to be married soon. It is then that Mildred again returns: her child has died, and she is now a common streetwalker, and she is in ill health. As before, Philip takes her in. While Mildred has been away Philip has made several changes: because of his money problems, he is now working in a department store; he has made friends with a Mr. Athelny, a fellow employee, and his family; and he has begun once more to prepare for his medical examinations.

Mildred leaves Philip's life for good when she angrily reacts to Philip's insistence that she quit prostitution because of its danger to her health. Philip experiences another loss in the death of Cronshaw, his old friend from Paris. And while in the British Museum, Philip recalls Cronshaw's statement that the meaning of life could be found in a Persian rug, and concludes that life had no pattern, no meaning. If an individual is to find meaning, he reasons, then that pattern must be put into life by the individual. The friendship and concern of the Athelnys become increasingly important at this time in Philip's life. Their oldest daughter, Sally, Philip finds attractive. The interest is mutual and they soon become quite fond of each other. When they have sex, they both worry for fear of a pregnancy. When Philip discovers that their fears are unfounded, he finds to his surprise that he still wants to marry Sally, even though he does not love her: to bring a pattern, a meaning to a life that he has discovered has no integral meaning.

Contrasting the opening chapters of "The Artistic Temperament of Stephen Carey" (1898)—dealing with the loss of Stephen's mother and his humiliation at school—with comparable opening chapters in Of Human Bondage (1915) will make clear how much Maugham had strengthened his dramatic capabilities. Chapter 1 of "The Artistic Temperament of Stephen Carey" opens with Stephen playing with a theater, a present for his ninth birthday. Although there is no dialogue, the external omniscient narrator lets us know that Stephen has seen Hamlet (did not like it because of the inartistic ending—killing so many people off) and that he likes Waterloo. In fact, he has a great battle with his soldiers in the theater and when Waterloo is finished only the Duke of Wellington (a national hero throughout the Victorian era) lives. His masterpiece, though, is "The Corsica Brothers with Louis of France." The hero cries at the end that he is avenged and the curtain falls. And Stephen, alone throughout this entire opening chapter, is completely thrilled. The scene has no dialogue.

Then, in the second chapter, pages 8-16, Misses Fordlington and Emma have been talking in another room and come into the one where Stephen is playing. Putting him on her lap, Emma rocks and consoles him. He decides, as in Of Human Bondage, to go in to see the others so they will feel sorry for him. And they do. But in talking about his father, Dr. Carey, and his mother, Sophia, they soon forget about Stephen. He may well, though, have understood the drift of these remarks—similar to those in Of Human Bondage—that there is little money left for his education, his mother was a woman of society—quite unconcerned about money, and her death was in some ways a blessing.

Finally, in chapter 3, pages 17-23, Stephen is on the way back to the house with Emma and he asks her to tell him a story. She tells him a story of a boy who would not wash his hands or comb his hair. But Emma is mostly worried about the position she will lose and the economic consequences associated with its loss. And Stephen wonders about his Uncle John, who will arrive in four days. When they reach the house Stephen becomes aware for the first time that he is now an orphan. He has an emotional moment in his mother's bedroom—similar to that in Of Human Bondage—in which he senses his mother's presence but realizes that she will never be there again. And he cries genuine tears.

In contrast, in the opening three chapters of Of Human Bondage Maugham devotes more attention to what the characters say. The first chapter in Of Human Bondage, for instance, opens with a brief paragraph describing the setting—the weather: "gray," "dull," "clouds," "rawness in the air," "snow"; a woman servant coming into the room where a child, Philip, is sleeping; a stucco house next door, and a child's bed. Then the sound of voices: "Wake up, Philip"—pulling down bed clothes, taking the child in her arms, carrying the child (now half awake) downstairs—"Your mother wants you." And, although at this point only eighty-seven words into a very long novel, Maugham has skillfully prepared his audience for the dramatic scene of Philip's being with his dying mother for the last time. The entire scene is presented with the detachment of a dramatist: we learn of the nature of the circumstances mainly through dialogue.

[PHILIP'S MOTHER]: Oh, don't take him away yet.

[THE DOCTOR]: What's the matter?… You're tired … [To the nurse:] You'd better put him back in his bed.

[PHILIP'S MOTHER]: What will happen to him, poor child?…

[THE DOCTOR]: What about the little boy? I should think he'd be better out of the way.

[THE NURSE]: Miss Watkin said she'd take him, sir.

[THE DOCTOR]: Who's she?

[THE NURSE]: She's his godmother, sir. D'you think Mrs. Carey will get over it, sir?

The external, omniscient, narrator ends chapter I with a succinct description of the doctor's response, an early example of Maugham's use of nonverbal behavior for dramatic effect: "The doctor shook his head."

In chapter 2 Maugham follows the same pattern: setting the scene—"a week later," "Philip … an only child … used to amusing himself"; "hides himself from the Red Indian …," "hearing the door open"; and then dialogue. The external narrator provides what any dramatist could provide visually on stage: "It was in eighteen-eighty-five and she wore a bustle. Her gown was of black velvet, with tight sleeves and sloping shoulders, and the skirt had three large flounces. She wore a black bonnet with velvet strings. She hesitated. The questions she had expected did not come, and so she could not give the answer she had prepared." The black dress, in keeping with the nature of the occasion, increases the dramatic irony of the following scene.

[EMMA]: Aren't you going to ask how your mamma is?…

[PHILIP]: Oh, I forgot. How is mamma?…

[EMMA]: Your mamma is quite well and happy.

[PHILIP]: Oh, I'm glad.

[EMMA]: Your mamma's gone away. You won't ever see her any more….

[PHILIP]: Why not?

[EMMA]: Your mamma's in heaven.

The narrator describes Emma's genuineness, which contrasts with the self-seeking nurse's falseness in Maugham's earlier work: "Her tears increased her emotion, and she pressed the little boy to her heart. She felt vaguely the pity of that child deprived of the only love in the world that is quite unselfish. It seemed dreadful that he must be handed over to strangers." And Philip, though not fully understanding, cried with her.

What follows is the scene—described fully in chapter 2—in which Philip says goodbye to Miss Watkin, knowing full well, of course, that she will feel sorry for him. And she does. Then, announcing that he must go home, Philip limps out of the room:

[MISS WATKIN]: His mother was my greatest friend. I can't bear to think that she's dead.

[OTHERS PRESENT]: Poor little boy, it's dreadful to think of him quite alone in the world. I see he limps.

Yes, he's got a club-foot. It was such a grief to his mother.

Thus, in two chapters (covering less than five pages) Maugham has presented two dramatic scenes—with the objectivity of a dramatist who is restricted to the conversations and actions of the characters of a play. And Maugham has made the important alteration from the earlier version, transforming Stephen's stammer into Philip's clubfoot, a handicap that would have a greater dramatic impact upon the audience.

Chapter 3 (slightly over five pages in length) finds Philip returning to his home, meeting his uncle, and—as in the earlier version—visiting his mother's room for the last time: "Philip opened a large cupboard filled with dresses and stepping in, took as many of them as he could in his arms and buried his face in them. They smelt of the scent his mother used. Then he pulled open the drawers, filled with his mother's things, and looked at them…." Here Maugham captures the psychological situation of a bereaved child, still in shock, unable to accept the reality of his mother's death—especially in a culture that speaks of death and dying euphemistically ("gone to heaven"): "It was not true that he would never see her again. It was not true simply because it was impossible. He climbed up on the bed and put his head on the pillow. He lay there quite still."

The importance of this dramatic presentation to Maugham's development as a writer—with the objective, external narrator and with the unfolding of Philip's character through dialogue—can not be overemphasized. One of Maugham's earliest critics, Ward, noted Maugham's method of involving the reader in the drama of Philip's quest for meaning: "One has never heard of Philip Carey spoken of by readers with anything but compassion, and that compassion must have been realized in them as they read. The secret is that Philip … does not indulge in self-pity…. He accepts, and acceptance of one's own suffering must bring tolerance toward it…." Considering the novel to be "Maugham's most complete statement of the importance of physical and spiritual liberty," [Robert] Calder [in W. Somerset Maugham and the Quest for Freedom, 1972] expresses an admiration similar to Ward's: "His achievement is a novel which finds its power in absolute sincerity and honesty. Maugham has managed consummately to use an artificial framework, yet convey real life." Of course, the objectivity of the Maugham persona is not new. Of this persona Calder observes: "the aloof character of the Maugham persona owes its origin to this professional characteristic … the discipline inherent in his studies helped him to avoid the moralizing or sentimentalizing … the objectivity which a doctor develops in order to treat his patients without causing an unbearable emotional strain on himself was combined with Maugham's natural reticence to give him a detachment which he retained throughout his career."

Whether one regards Maugham's medical training as the major factor behind the clinical, objective narrative style or simply Maugham's basic temperament and approach to life, the result is the same. In contrast to eighteenth- and nineteenth-century narratives—in which the narrator (of, for instance, Tom Jones, Waverley, David Copperfield) not only provides descriptions but also interpretations of each event, motives of characters, etc.—Of Human Bondage presents events and characters largely without interpretation by the narrator. In fact, the reader is not urged to adopt any definite conclusions; events and characters are rarely interpreted. Rather, like the Persian rug, what meaning the reader ultimately finds in the novel he or she must put into it. The existential crisis that Philip inevitably faces is also faced by the reader. And whether or not the reader's conclusions are the same as Philip's, he or she must nevertheless struggle toward meaning—as Philip struggles. In fact, Philip is not an altogether admirable character: self-centered, overly sensitive, frequently depressed, generally pessimistic, often tending toward masochism. Nevertheless, as readers, we never forget the dramatic scene opening the novel. And Philip's sensitivity is psychologically sound: handicapped children orphaned early in life often interpret life as Philip does. As Richard Cordell has observed [in Somerset Maugham: A Writer for All Seasons, 1969], we all have experiences similar to those of Philip: Maugham "leads a reader to ask himself questions about good and evil, reward and punishment, justice and injustice, fact and superstition, the good life and the wasted life."

Maugham exploits his skill with dialogue in this novel. All but three of the one hundred twenty-two chapters follow the same pattern as the first three discussed above: succinct description, explanation, background as preparation for the sound of voices; then conversation, voices, dialogue. Maugham had served out his apprenticeship in the theater so well that each chapter reads as if it were a scene in a play. And the scenes consequently have an authenticity about them that rings through the very tone and dialectal style of the characters. The reader hears what the characters speak, rather than being told what they say—thereby coming to know them more fully and their relationship to each other.

Even in these three chapter/scenes (6, 7, 31) in which there are no sounds of a voice or voices, the narrator provides important background information and thereby prepares the reader for subsequent conversation. In chapter 6, for example, the narrator explains how one day at the vicarage is very much like another. He includes a description of bringing the Times to the vicar in the morning and the careful system of passing it afterward from one individual to another in the household—according to rank, of course (a device that Maugham later will use effectively in a short story entitled "The Outstation"). Important information is also included about key individuals in the parish. And, as he had done already in Mrs. Craddock and would do again in Our Betters and Cakes and Ale, Maugham captures the distinctiveness of the Kentish setting with a particularity and genuineness that he does not achieve with such setting as Paris, London, Chicago, Tahiti, Borneo—settings that are rendered more abstractly. (Of course, since Kent was his boyhood English home, this is another instance of Maugham's need to ground his fiction in his own experience.) For example, after finishing her business at the bank, Mrs. Carey—accompanied by Philip—would typically go upstairs to see the sister of the banker, Mr. Wilson, the richest man in town. And while they visited, Philip would sit in the dark, stuffy parlor watching goldfish swim in a bowl. A further example is the section in which the narrator describes the regularity of the serving of dinner at the vicarage and the usual Sunday afternoon activities. Dinner was at one o'clock and consisted of beef or mutton, except on Sunday, when they ate one of their own chickens. In the afternoons Philip did his Latin, mathematics, and French lessons, and was taught piano. Rarely did they ever have guests for tea. But when they did the guests were always Josiah Graves, the curate, and his sister, and Dr. Wigram and his wife. And when they played games, Mrs. Carey was careful to allow her husband to win because he hated losing.

Finally, the narrator completes his portrait of daily life at the vicarage with a description of the system for taking baths, a system that had to be altered when young Philip arrived. Naturally the vicar insisted that "Philip should be clean and sweet for the Lord's Day." After eighteen years of service in the house, Mary Ann protested that she would rather quit than be put out by having to bathe him. And Philip naturally insisted on bathing himself. But because she couldn't "abide a boy who wasn't properly washed," Mary Ann agreed. The narrator's description is a close approximation of Mary Ann's remarks of protest: "she'd work herself to the bone even if it was Saturday night."

In chapter 7, another chapter without the literal sound of a voice, the narrator provides the reader with a portrait of Sunday, the most important day of the week in Philip's strange new English home, "a day crowded with incident"—from getting up "half an hour earlier than usual" to going to bed after a full day. Despite the absence of dialogue at the very beginning of the chapter, the narrator gives the reader a description of the sound of a voice, a description that captures the flavor and atmosphere of the vicar's home: "No lying abed for a poor parson on the day of rest, Mr. Carey remarked as Mary Ann knocked at the door punctually at eight." On Sunday Mrs. Carey takes longer to dress, prayers are more extensive, and breakfast more substantial. Afterward Mr. Carey prepares the bread for communion and Philip is allowed to help.

The narrator provides a close substitute for dialogue in describing the verbal exchange between the characters. For instance, the narrator describes Mr. Carey's reactions: "It was extraordinary that after thirty years of marriage his wife could not be ready on Sunday morning"; "They knew that he must have an egg for his voice, there were two women in the house, and no one had the least regard for his comfort." The result, of course, is that Maugham achieves the breadth and range of a purely descriptive chapter, but also he accomplishes much of the depth and authenticity of a scene with dialogue.

During the sermon, Philip became "bored" and "if he fidgeted Mrs. Carey put a gentle hand on his arm and looked at him reproachfully." And, typical for a boy of his age, he "regained interest when the final hymn was sung." In the afternoon, after a "substantial dinner," Mrs. Carey would rest in her room and Mr. Carey would lie down on the drawing room sofa "for forty winks." At five o'clock tea Mr. Carey would eat an egg "to support himself for evensong": "Mr. Carey walked to church in the evening, and Philip limped along by his side. The walk through the darkness along the country road strangely impressed him, and the church with all its lights in the distance, coming gradually nearer, seemed very friendly." When they return, supper is ready and Mr. Carey's slippers are waiting for him in front of the fire, "by their side Philip's, one the shoe of a small boy, the other mishapen and odd." The scene comes to an end with Philip, "dreadfully tired," going up to bed: "he did not resist when Mary Ann undressed him. She kissed him after she tucked him up, and he began to love her."

In the third chapter in which the reader does not hear the sound of voices, chapter 31, it is Christmas Eve in Germany; Hayward, Philip's aesthete friend, has just left Heidelberg for Italy. The narrator gives the reader an account of Philip's ambivalent attitude toward Hayward: "Though much under Hayward's influences … he resented the shadow of a sneer with which Hayward looked upon his straight ways." In this chapter also we have a close approximation to the sound of a voice: "They corresponded. Hayward was an admirable letter-writer, and knowing his talent took pains with his letters…. He proposed that Philip join him in Italy: 'He [Philip] was wasting his time at Heidelberg. The Germans were gross and life there was common; how could the soul come to her own in that … landscape?'" Again the narrator gives the reader a close approximation to the pointed, reprimanding question that Hayward could very well have put to Philip. The narrator provides the reader with certain information: that Hayward's letter made Philip restless, that Philip received an introduction to philosophy under Kuno Fischer at the University of Heidelberg, and that preparations were under way for Philip to return to England. The narrator further tells of a letter in which his aunt informs Philip that Miss Wilkinson, Mrs. Carey's friend who made the arrangements for Philip's year in Heidelberg, would be at the vicarage when he returned and would spend a few weeks there. Finally, the narrator tells the reader that Philip "had been thinking of nothing but the future; and he went without regret." Maugham's use of dialogue, of the sound or approximate sound of the voice is a major strength of this novel. It gives authenticity and concreteness to the characters and settings.

Furthermore, throughout the novel Maugham carefully prepares the reader for Philip's bondage of passion, principally through Philip's relationship with Miss Wilkinson and Fanny Price and the bondage of passion that these individuals have to Philip. These relationships foreshadow Philip's subsequent bondage to Mildred.

Returning home from Heidelberg Philip is greeted by a genuinely joyous Aunt Louisa and Miss Wilkinson, a governess by profession, whom he had never met before. He and she quickly become friends and spend much of the day together: talking, and walking; and she gives him voice lessons. Although she is much older, their relationship soon becomes quite flirtatious. One day she tells him a story about an art student living above her apartment who kept writing her passionate love letters. Finally, she received one of his letters saying he was coming that very evening to make passionate love to her. As she read the letter in her apartment she imagined how he would ring the door bell and how she would refuse to answer. Just then, she looked up. He was standing there in front of her. She had forgotten to shut the door.

The story affects Philip strangely. He soon begins to work up his courage to kiss her. He determines to make full conquest of Miss Wilkinson and persuades her, without much difficulty, to receive him in her bedroom one night. Driven more by sheer determination than desire, Philip meets her in her room and they make love. For Miss Wilkinson ("Emily," as she insists upon Philip calling her), it is a genuine love she feels for him. And Philip shows himself an "eager" but detached lover. "He was deliciously flattered to discover that Miss Wilkinson was in love with him…. When he kissed her it was wonderful to feel the passion that seemed to thrill her soul." From their first meeting he determined that "he ought to make love to her…."

Yet Philip is ambivalent; the thought of Miss Wilkinson and the anticipation of making love to her are much more exciting than Miss Wilkinson herself or the act of making love: "When he thought of it at night in bed, or when he sat by himself in the garden reading a book, he was thrilled by it; but when he saw Miss Wilkinson it seemed less picturesque." "He could not imagine himself burying his face in Miss Wilkinson's hair, it always struck him as a little sticky." Nevertheless, he thinks it "would be very satisfactory to have an intrigue, and he thrilled with the legitimate pride he would enjoy in his conquest. He owed it to himself to seduce her." Even on the night of this seduction, his conquest is accompanied by a large dose of disgust at his less than ideal lover:

She had taken off her skirt and blouse, and was standing in her petticoat. It was short and only came down to the top of her boots; the upper part of it was black, of some shiny material, and there was a red flounce. She wore a camisole of white calico with short arms. She looked grotesque. Philip's heart sank as he stared at her; she had never seemed so unattractive; but it was too late now.

Sensing this incompatibility early in their relationship—her caring more for him and being bound by passion to him while he remains more detached and aloof—she talks with Philip about the month of leisure that they have ahead of them and their future after that. "And then you go to freedom and I to bondage," she remarks.

Another relationship that Maugham uses to prepare the reader for Philip's bondage to Mildred is that of Fanny Price to Philip. After a brief and unfortunate try in London at the accounting profession, Philip proposes trying his hand at art in Paris. At first his aunt and uncle are shocked. Mr. Carey is dead set against it, but Mrs. Carey has sympathy for Philip and even persuades Philip to use her own savings to help finance his study in Paris. And it is there, in an art class, that Philip becomes acquainted with Fanny, a hard working but untalented student of art.

She was a girl of twenty-six with a great deal of dull gold hair; it was handsome hair, but it was carelessly done, dragged back from her forehead and tied in a hurried knot. She had a large face, with broad, flat features and small eyes; her skin was pasty, with a singular unhealthiness of tone, and there was no colour in the cheeks. She had an unwashed air and you could not help wondering if she slept in her clothes.

Mrs. Otter, who is in charge of the studio where he will study, has placed Philip next to Fanny. "She's a disagreeable, ill-natured girl, and she can't draw herself at all, but she knows the ropes, and she can be useful to a newcomer if she cares to take the trouble." But Clutton, one of the most talented of the painters, warns Philip: "You've made an impression on Fanny Price. You'd better look out."

Philip's friendliness is mistaken by Fanny as affection, and as he fails to meet her expectations, she becomes first jealous of everyone else, then angry, and finally depressed. She wants him to see her drawings. But when he does, the narrator tells the reader:

He was panic-stricken. He did not know what to say. It was not only that they were ill-drawn, or that the colour was put on amateurishly by someone who had no eye for it; but there was no attempt at getting the values, and the perspective was grotesque. It looked like the work of a child of five, but a child would have had some naïveté and might at least have made an attempt to put down what he saw; but here was the work of a vulgar mind chock full of recollections of vulgar pictures.

Somehow, though, he is able to lie and tell her that he likes them. But when Philip decides to spend the summer in Moret with Lawson and Ruth Chalice, Fanny flies into a rage:

"How filthy! I thought you were a decent fellow. You were about the only one here. She's been with Clutton and Potter and Flanagan, even with old Foinet—that's why he takes so much trouble about her—and now two of you, you and Lawson. It makes me sick."

"Oh, what nonsense! She's a very decent sort. One treats her just as if she were a man."

"Oh, don't speak to me, don't speak to me."

"But what can it matter to you?… It's really no business of yours where I spend my summer.

I was looking forward to it so much…. I didn't think you had the money to go away, and there wouldn't have been anyone else here, and we could have worked together, and we'd have gone to see things."

Fanny's reaction—given her situation, passion for Philip, state of mind—is psychologically sound, as is her next impulse: to hurt him in every way she can:

"and I can tell you this—you can work here for a thousand years and you'll never do any good. You haven't got any talent. You haven't got any originality. And it's not only me—they all say it. You'll never be a painter as long as you live."

"That is no business of yours either, is it?"

"Oh, you think it's only my temper. Ask Clutton, ask Lawson, ask Chalice. Never, never, never. You haven't got it in you."

It is important here to note not only the intensity of Fanny's passion but also the extent to which Maugham is relying upon his own experience. Lawson, Philip's artist friend who will accompany him to Italy, is, as Richard Cordell has observed, modeled after Sir Gerald Kelly, Maugham's lifelong friend and painter of several portraits of him. And the reputation and behavior of Ruth Chalice, who will go with them on this journey, so closely parallels that of Sue Jones (with whom Maugham has just ended a frustrating eight years) that there can be little doubt that she is a model for the character. The narrator tells the reader:

They did not wish to leave the starlit night, and the three of them would sit on the terrace of Ruth Chalice's room, silent, hour after hour, too tired to talk any more, but in voluptuous enjoyment of the stillness. They listened to the murmur of the river. The church clock struck one and two and sometimes three before they could drag themselves to bed. Suddenly Philip became aware that Ruth Chalice and Lawson were lovers. He divined in it the way the girl looked at the young painter, and in his air of possession; and as Philip sat with them he felt a kind of effluence surrounding them, as though the air were heavy with something strange. The revelation was a shock. He had looked upon Miss Chalice as a very good fellow and he liked to talk to her but it never seemed to him possible to enter into a close relationship.

This relationship, then, is one that Maugham knew well from experience and could therefore portray with credibility. The character of Ruth Chalice also anticipates Mildred, who is equally free with her affections, and to whom Philip will have a hopeless bondage of passion. Philip at this point is so envious of Lawson's love that he wishes "that he was standing in his shoes and feeling with his heart … fear seized him that love would pass him by." Philip wishes for "a passion to seize him, he wanted to be swept off his feet and burn powerlessly in a mighty rush he cared not whither." And of course Philip's wish will be too fully granted.

Returning from Italy, Philip resumes his study of art. He begins to doubt his ability. Then he remembers Fanny Price—whom he has not seen since returning—and her strength of will: "If I thought I wasn't going to be really good, I'd rather give up painting…. I don't see any use in being a second-rate painter." And one morning he receives a letter.

Please come at once when you get this. I couldn't put up with it any more.

Please come yourself. I can't bear the thought that anyone else should touch me. I want you to have everything.

F. Price

I have not had anything to eat for three days

When Philip finds her she "was hanging with a rope round her neck, which she had tied to a hook in the ceiling fixed by some previous tenant to hold up the curtains of the bed. She had moved her own little bed out of the way and had stood on a chair, which had been kicked away. It was lying on its side on the floor. They cut her down. The body was quite cold." Realizing that she loved him, Philip is haunted not only by this portrait of failure and futile determination, but also by her bondage to passion, passion for art and for him.

Mildred is a waitress in the A.B.C. tea shop Philip and other medical students at St. Luke's Hospital often frequent. Despite her rather unattractive appearance Mildred becomes more and more the object of Philip's interest. When she first speaks to him, he is elated. He draws a picture of Mildred and gives it to her. He even works up his courage enough to ask her to a play. Her indifferent acceptance will be repeated many times during their relationship: "I don't mind." And after the evening out she continues to react in the same cold manner:

"I hope you've enjoyed yourself?"

"Rather."

"Will you come out with me again one evening?"

"I don't mind."

This coldness continues through these early days of their relationship.

"I say, I do awfully want to call you Mildred."

"You may if you like, I don't care."

"And you'll call me Philip, won't you?"

"I will if I can think of it. It seems more natural to call you Mr. Carey…."

"Won't you kiss me goodnight?" he whispered.

"Impudence!" she said.

Finally Philip appeals to her: "I say, don't be beastly with me, Mildred. You know I'm awfully fond of you. I think I love you with all my heart." He soon realizes how helpless he has become: "He wanted passionately to get rid of the love that obsessed him; it was degrading and hateful. He must prevent himself from thinking of her. In a little while the anguish he suffered must grow less." And it is when he becomes aware of his bondage that Philip recalls the bondage that Miss Wilkinson and Fanny Price must have experienced—and Maugham thus clarifies the foreshadowing purpose of those relationships—"His mind went back to the past. He wondered whether Emily Wilkinson and Fanny Price had endured on his account anything like the torment that he suffered now. He felt a pang of remorse." And even here Maugham dramatizes Philip's remorse with the approximation of the sound of his voice: "I didn't know then what it was like, he said to himself."

Philip therefore becomes increasingly aware of his bondage to Mildred. And Maugham provides the parallel bondage of Mildred to Griffiths, Philip's friend who had nursed him back to health during a recent illness.

"It's not worth while sacrificing everything for an infatuation that you know can't last. After all, he doesn't care for anyone more than ten days, and you're rather cold; that sort of thing doesn't mean very much to you."

"That's what you think."

And even though Philip is unable to exercise reason about his own bondage, he is able to understand Mildred's: "If you're in love with him you can't help it. I'll just bear it the best I can." The incompatible relationship is here again evident and the one who loves most is victimized:

"Are you awfully unhappy?"

"I wish I was dead," she moaned. "I wish I'd died when the baby came [by Miller, her earlier love]."

And Philip reflects to her: "'It is awful, love, isn't it?' he said. 'Fancy anyone wanting to be in love.'" Later Mildred replies: "I'm sick with love for him. I know it won't last, just as well as he does…."

At this point Philip portrays behavior that can only be termed masochist:

"Why don't you go away with him?"

"How can I? You know we haven't got the money."

"I'll give you the money."

Later Philip is able to see more clearly and rationally the parallel between his situation and Mildred's. He admits that trying to force Mildred to love him was attempting the impossible: "He did not know what it was that passed from a man to a woman, from a woman to a man, and made one of them a slave: it was convenient to call it the sexual instinct; but if it was no more than that, he did not understand why it should occasion so vehement an attraction to one person rather than another." He had not after all attracted Mildred sexually. Nothing he did seemed to influence her: "Because Mildred was indifferent to him he had thought her sexless; her anemic appearance and thin lips, the body with its narrow hips and flat chest, the languor of her manner, carried out his supposition; and yet she was capable of sudden passions which made her willing to risk everything to gratify them." He was puzzled by Mildred's attraction to Miller and Griffith, both of whom had no permanent attraction to her. But beyond this position of imbalance and of being the victim, there is a similar tendency in both Mildred and Philip toward masochism:

He tried to think out what those two men had which so strangely attracted her. They both had a vulgar facetiousness which tickled her simple sense of humour, and a certain coarseness of nature; but what took her perhaps was the blatant sexuality which was their most marked characteristic. She had a genteel refinement which shuddered at the facts of life, she looked upon the bodily functions as indecent, she had all sorts of euphemisms for common objects, she always chose an elaborate word as more becoming than a simple one: the brutality of these men was like a whip on her thin white shoulders, and she shuddered with voluptuous pain.

It amuses Philip that his friends, observing his expressionless face, think him strong-minded and deliberate:

They thought him reasonable and praised his common sense; but he knew that his placid expression was no more than a mask, assumed unconsciously, which acted like the protective colouring of butterflies; and himself was astonished at the weakness of his will … when passion seized him he [like Mildred] was powerless. He had no self-control. He merely seemed to possess it because he was indifferent to many of the things which moved other people.

In the final stages of Philip's bondage he comes to conclusions about the meaning of life and relationships. After Mildred leaves with Griffiths, a relationship that is certain to fail, Philip does not see her again for some time. When one day he happens to see her on the street, "His heart stood still. He saw Mildred. He had not thought of her for weeks … his heart beating excitedly he followed her. He did not wish to speak to her, but he wondered where she was going at that hour; he wanted to get a look at her face." Of course, he soon learns that she has taken up prostitution. Philip talks to her, learns that the baby is being taken care of, that she must walk the streets to survive. He wants to help. He wants to take care of her. Taking her and the baby to his own apartment, Philip spends pleasant days taking care of them. The end of these days comes when Philip, after prolonged suffering and pain, realizes that he can exercise reason and thereby free himself of the passion that bound him.

"I do love you, Philip," she said.

"Don't talk damned rot…."

"It isn't, it's true. I can't live without you. I want you…. I love you Philip. I want to make up for all the harm I did you. I can't go on like this, it's not in human nature…."

"I'm very sorry, but it's too late…."

"But why? How can you be so cruel?"

"I suppose it's because I loved you too much. I wore the passion out."

Enraged, Mildred finally shouts: "Cripple."

Philip's relationship with Sally is significant for the novel and as a reflection of Maugham's life. The daughter of Mr. Athelny, a friend whom Philip met while working, Sally is the oldest daughter of a large family. Their relationship develops quite naturally during Philip's frequent visits to the Athelny home.

He liked to see her deft movements, and she watched him too now and then with that maternal spirit of hers which was so amusing and yet so charming. He was clumsy at first [he is helping her with the sewing], and she laughed at him. When she bent over and showed him how best to deal with a whole line their hands met. He was surprised to see her blush.

There is a calmness about this relationship that contrasts sharply with his tense relationship with Mildred.

Philip's evaluation of his relationship with Sally, both as a reflection of Maugham's life and as yet another attempt for Philip to find meaning in life, is significant. Following an affair with Philip, Sally fears that she is pregnant. He "despised himself, all he had aimed at so long within reach at last, and now his inconceivable stupidity had erected this new obstacle." Like Maugham, Philip longed to travel to have the freedom that comes with realizing one's dreams: to go to Spain, "the land of his heart … to be imbued with its spirit, its romance and colour and history and grandeur." And now "this thing had come." He reasoned (now free from the bondage of passion) that it would be "madness to allow such an accident to disturb the whole pattern of his life…. He would do what he could for Sally; he could afford to give her a sufficient sum of money. A strong man would never allow himself to be turned from his purpose. Yet he simply could not. He knew himself." Sally "had trusted him and been kind to him. He simply could not do a thing which, notwithstanding all his reason, he felt was horrible." His wedding present to Sally would then be his high hopes. Philip would sacrifice for her: "Self-sacrifice! Philip was uplifted by its beauty, and all through the evening he thought of it."

There can be little doubt that at this point in his life Maugham was experiencing some of the same emotions. After being rejected by Sue Jones in 1913, Maugham turned to Syrie Wellcome. As [Ted] Morgan points out [in Maugham, 1980]: "On the rebound from Sue Jones, he had found a woman who appeared to worship every word that dropped from his lips…. One evening after dinner at a restaurant they went back to her apartment and made love for the first time." This was in 1914. It soon became accepted thereafter that Maugham was her lover.

Admitting that the ending of Of Human Bondage was for him personally a "turning my wishes into fiction," Maugham states that for some time he "had amused my imagination with pictures of myself in the married state." Similarly, Philip imagines himself married to Sally: "He pictured to himself the long evenings he would spend with Sally in the cosy sittingroom, the blinds undrawn so that they could watch the sea; he with his books, while she bent over her work, and the shaded lamp made her sweet face more fair. They would talk over the growing child, and when she turned her eyes to his there was in them the light of love." And even the anxiety associated with a pregnancy (without the benefit of marriage) is paralleled in Maugham's own experience: "The affair escalated when Syrie suggested one day that they should have a baby…. Maugham was tempted by this offer…." And despite the fact that Syrie was not yet divorced and had been a mistress to Selfridge, a wealthy London businessman, she argued "so persuasively that Maugham yielded."

The ending of the novel, Maugham states [in The Summing Up], readers "on the whole have found … the least satisfactory part." Of course, the reader is moved to a greater extent and is more thoroughly convinced by the relationship of bondage of many individuals—chiefly Philip for Mildred—earlier in the novel. But it must not be forgotten that the relationship between Philip and Sally is essential in the general movement of the novel and especially in relation to Philip's search for meaning in life. Even in the imagery of the final scenes of the novel the reader senses Sally's affinity to nature and the fulfillment associated with harvest:

A hop-garden was one of the sights connected with Philip's boyhood and the toast-houses to him the most typical feature of the Kentish scene. It was with no sense of strangeness, but as though he were at home, that Philip followed Sally through the long lines of hops. The sun was bright now and cast a sharp shadow. Philip feasted his eyes on the richness of the green leaves. The hops were yellowing, and to him they had the beauty and the passion which poets in Sicily have found in the purple grape. As they walked along Philip felt himself overwhelmed by the rich luxuriance. A sweet scent arose from the fat Kentish soil, and the fitful September breeze was heavy with the goodly perfume of the hops.

In fact, realizing earlier that life had no intrinsic meaning, he now begins to discover how to accept one's situation in life and to find meaning:

He accepted the deformity which had made life so hard for him; he knew that it had warped his character, but now he saw also that by reason of it he had acquired that power of introspection which had given him so much delight. Without it he would never have had his keen appreciation of beauty, his passion for art and literature, and his interest in the varied spectacle of life. The ridicule and the contempt which had so often been heaped upon him had turned his mind inward and called forth those flowers which he felt would never lose their fragrance. Then he saw that the normal was the rarest thing in the world. Everyone had some defect…. They were the helpless instruments of blind chance. He could pardon Griffiths for his treachery and Mildred for the pain she had caused him. They could not help themselves.

When Philip is freed from the anxiety of Sally's possible pregnancy, he discovers that he can put, not find, meaning in life, can surrender to happiness and accept defeat of his selfish desires to travel and seek adventure:

"I was going to ask you to marry me…."

"I thought p'raps you might, but I shouldn't have liked to stand in your way."…

"But don't you want to marry me?"

"There's no one else I would marry."

"Then that settles it."

No longer a victim of passion but exercising his own reason, Philip gives pattern and meaning to a life that has no intrinsic goodness or purpose. Ending the novel with dialogue, Maugham's final description of Trafalgar Square indicates a hopeful future (as no doubt he saw for his own life with Syrie Wellcome and their child, Liza): "Cabs and omnibuses hurried to and fro, and the crowds passed, hastening in every direction, and the sun was shining."

Joseph Dobrinsky (essay date October 1985)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 10161

SOURCE: "The Dialectics of Art and Life in Of Human Bondage," in Cahiers Victoriens & Edouardiens, No. 22, October, 1985, pp. 33-55.

[In the following essay, Dobrinsky discusses the ways in which Maugham's views on art and life are represented through his characters' actions in Of Human Bondage.]

Due stress has been laid on the philosophic enlargment and formal progress that set this mature work [Of Human Bondage], written between 1912 and 1914, far above its unpublished rough copy of 1897, The Artistic Temperament of Stephen Carey. Both draw on, and yet swerve from autobiography, but too much could be made of the change of title to assume a shift from an artist hero to an everyman. In fact, the juvenile text had poked fun at the protagonist's intellectual snobberies and, on lines reminiscent of Thackeray's Pendennis, shown him to barter his artistic ambitions for a good match and the status of a countrysquire. Some of those ironies will be seen to have found their way, mutatis mutandis, into the ampler novel of apprenticeship. And, significantly, it should be kept in mind that the book's initial title, Beauty for Ashes, crossed out on the opening page of the manuscript, was only given up at a late stage, when the author, on his own admission, found "it had been recently used." I submit that Maugham's probe into the connections of art and life is not confined to the Montparnasse episodes. The way in which their novelized treatment of the problematics of the creative call anticipates the more central enquiries in The Moon and Sixpence and in the later artist novels, Cakes and Ale and Theatre, has been aptly commented upon. But into the bargain, and perhaps inevitably in a writer's fictionalized record of much of his own psychological growth, a many-faceted meditation on the art and life polarity underlies the fable. Its range, topical emphases and, partly unwitting, disclosures are the subjects of the present study.

What, in Maugham's conduct of this ample theme, is conventional and what is specific should be told apart.

His first target, the hero himself, as a passionate reader in boyhood of fairy-tales and romances, later confronted with the disenchantments of adult life, may be said to follow a via trita of realistic fiction. In this mode, Maugham's focus on the least romantic aspects of sex and the grim "facts" of destitution, disease, unidealized death, reveals affinities with, respectively, the manner of Samuel Butler and the pet themes of the French naturalists. But the charges of imitativeness sometimes levelled at the author should at least be qualified. For instance, the physical unattractiveness of most of the women in the novel (except for the notional Sally Athelny) may well have something to do with the novelist's own homosexual proclivities; while, for his descriptions of hospital scenes and life in the slums, he was able to draw on his first-hand—at times, distinctively humorous—juvenile observations. By and large, the autobiographical foundations of most of the story help to revive, particularize and enrich the old motifs.

In terms of Zeitgeist, the eye-opening experiences of the hero are thus faithfully related, in turn, to the moral ethos of the late Victorian province, to the aesthetic spirit of the nineties, and, during the telescoped episodes in Paris, to the rise of Impressionism and after. Beyond its historical interest, under the signature of a reminiscing witness of much of what is told, this period piece element is a factor of plausibility. Meanwhile, since he has clung closely to the essentials of his own psychological development—not only is Philip, like the Stephen of the earlier version, an uprooted and ill-loved orphan but also a cripple, estranged from his fellows by the limp that transmutes his creator's stammer—, Maugham has been able to draw less sketchily on self-analysis. With regard to the boy's (inherited) love of books—"he formed the most delightful habit in the world, the habit of reading—"a major thematic see-saw is thus ushered in:" he did not know that he was providing himself with a refuge from all the distress of life; he did not know either that he was creating for himself an unreal world that would make the real world of everyday a source of bitter disappointment." Patently, a 'He' for an 'I', whose special concerns will be seen to break through.

For instance, the exposure of Philip's "idealism" is steeped in aesthetic ironies. This is even true of the (veracious) stages in the hero's loss of faith. When, as a boy in Kent, challenging the biblical literalism of his adoptive parents, he is said to shrug off the Book of Books as a first specimen of deceptive romance—"The text which spoke of the moving of mountains was one of those that said one thing and meant another."—the concurred-in stricture typically shows little patience with symbolic modes of writing. Then, at King's School (whose most famous pupil in the XIXth century has been Walter Pater), Philip's sensitiveness to "the beauty of faith" is tacitly referred to the author of The Renaissance: "the desire for self-sacrifice burned in his heart with such a gemlike glow." The Heidelberg chapters take up this motif. As an arch aesthete over-admired by his young compatriot, Hayward favours Roman Catholicism for the superior music of its Masses, the inspiring odour of their incense, and out of respect for the elegant prose of Cardinal Newman's Apologia: "Read it for the style—he advises Philip—not for its matter." Even though dictated by a variety of motives, Philip's ultimate repudiation of Christianity, his agnostic epiphany, as it were, is triggered off by Weeks's eye-opening epitome of their fellow-lodger's true creed: "He believes in the picturesque." A short cut from a Victorian nephew's jeers at "the beauty of religion" to his gradual and, I submit, incomplete jettisoning of the religion of beauty!

Hayward is pushed to the forefront in his embodiment of a misguided aesthetic as well as vital choice. On this double count, his thematic role in the whole novel should not be underrated. Even his futile death will be seen to lead his one-time admirer to his main philosophic enlightenment. Meanwhile, at the Heidelberg stage, this enriched and caricatured counterpart of Ellingham Brooks, a real-life acquaintance of the young Maugham, is insistently ridiculed as a spokesman for intellectual attitudes recanted by the middle-brow novelist of 1912. With his "faintly supercilious expression," his boundless admiration for Marius the Epicurean, his worship of the "fetish of culture," Hayward is pictured as a parrot-like exponent and aping practitioner of most of the tenets of the Art for Art's sake doctrine. On top of his fervour for Newman and Pater, the list of his literary and artistic admirations confirms him as the latter's uncritical disciple by admitting Flaubert, Arnold, Ruskin, Goethe, Botticelli into his Olympus. Parenthetically, the addition of G.F. Watts and Burne-Jones among the favourites of this effeminate figure of fun indiscriminately enrols the Pre-Raphaelites in the aesthetic set, from the simplifying point of view of a robuster creed. But, on Hayward's encumbered altar, the combined presence of the Rubáiyat of Omar Khayyám and Meredith's Richard Feverel—later derided for its idealized portrayal of love—sustains another assault. The ex-Cambridge man's verbosity and orotund speech—characterized by a "great flow of words," the disdainful assumption of a "vulgarity in plain words," and a delight in "the ring of his sentences" are related to the vagueness of his ideas and to a weak man's self-comforting attempt to euphemize the coarser realities. The indictment of "the Life Aesthetic," in its dangerous recoil from the vulgarities of ordinary existence, most patently merges with a rejection of an ornate style in the passage that precedes Philip's visit to, and horrified retreat from the red light district in Heidelberg. For Hayward had, tantalizingly, shown him

a sonnet in which passion and purple, pessimism and pathos were packed together on the subject of a young lady called Trude … and thought he touched hands with Pericles and Pheidias because to describe the object of his attention he used the word hetaira instead of one of those more blunt and apt, provided by the English language.

Beyond the educational motif—the need for a young man to face squarely the facts of life, in the narrow and broader senses—the issue is thus raised of the choice of a style apt to render their truth.

Two short developments, the first on "the New Drama"—enlisting Hayward as an aesthetic snob, anxious to keep up with the latest fashions—, the second, on Philip's discovery of Schopenhauer, attack another form of artificial fiction. Its appeal for a young Victorian, confined so far to a literature virginus puerisque, lies in its "sordid intensity," its daring account of the world as "a place of pitiless woe and darkness." Ibsen, especially, comes under fire, he is charged with a stereotyped characterization, a solemn tone and, in his dialogues, a bent for melodrama:

To Philip it was real life … a strange life, dark and tortured, in which a fair face concealed a depraved mind … the honest were corrupt, the chaste were lewd … There was no laughter … the characters expressed themselves in cruel words that seemed wrung out of their hearts …

In contrast to this inverted romanticism, too grimly focused on the ugly, the author conjures up the family atmosphere of a German tavern, to which the young man, still under the spell of grim performances, fails to respond: "There was a pleasant homeliness in the scene, but for this Philip had no eyes." Thus, in anticipation of his own ending, the novelist self-reflexively relates a more balanced vision to a soberer genre and to a plainer speech.

The polemical bias is patent here. Ostracized by the intelligentsia for renouncing the aesthetic manner and the higher drama, as a popular writer of "artificial" plays, Maugham is paying them back in their own coin by challenging the truthfulness of their favourite modes. This counter-attack will culminate in the vitriolic portrait of Leonard Upjohn, the highbrow critic whose elegant disquisitions on the life and works of Cronshaw will establish his own, parasitical fame. The polemicist can be seen sharpening his claws for the onslaughts to come in The Moon and Sixpence or, even more devastatingly, in Cakes and Ale. Yet, this settling of accounts within the Republic of Letters is not the whole story. Between the lines of the Heidelberg chapters, the mature writer derides, in retrospect, and seeks to exorcise two patent temptations of his own long years of literary apprenticeship: a (not quite extinct) partiality to fine writing and a (not fully mastered) fondness for the extremes of naturalism.

The record of Philip's unglamorous loss of innocence introduces another set of variants on literary misrepresentations of "the truth." Met after his return to Kent, his partner in love, Miss Wilkinson, a ridiculously coquettish spinster long past her prime, is also a fiction addict. She proves to be a romancer of her own humdrum life as a governess on the Continent. When, to make up to Philip, she hints at a short-lived affair with a French art student, her naïve suitor, whose image of love depends on his readings, is, of course, unable to draw the line between the probable facts and their fantastication, "to him the very soul of romance." But the irony is double-edged: "In his ingenousness be doubted her story as little as he doubted what he read in books." Fiercely debunked, on Butlerian lines, are a lyrical treatment of the tender passion and the idealized portrayal of heroines:

He had read many descriptions of love and he felt in himself none of that uprush of emotion which novelists described … (He) had often pictured to himself … the alabaster skin of some lovely girl and he had thought of himself burying his face in the rippling masses of her auburn hair … He could not imagine himself burying his face in Miss Wilkinson's hair, it always struck him as a little sticky.

Later on, Fanny Price and Mildred Rogers will flesh out this naturalistic retort. Meanwhile, broad ironies lead up to a parodic purple patch that once more enrols the compliant Hayward. In response to Philip's vaingloriously embellished account of his adventure, the latter, writing back from Italy, will rant on "that enchanted garden [in which] you wandered hand in hand like Daphnis and Chloe amid the flowers." Anxious to knock down a whole row of ninepins at one blow, Maugham then swerves from likelihood in ascribing to this dilettante the discrepant assumption that good literature will spring fully armed from the depths of the heart: "because you love, you write like a poet … your prose was musical from the sincerity of your emotion." Another literary target emerges in the delineation of the governess. Having long been employed by an upper-class family in Paris, she boasts of being acquainted with the authors of Sapho and of Bel Ami; and she ludicrously sprinkles her speeches with mispronounced phrases out of French fiction: "C'était une fatalité." This opens the way to an indiscriminate dismissal of literary imports from across the Channel—"Philip had read French novels" in their stereotyped British connotation of strong meat. Somerset Maugham, who knew better, must have been carried away by his satirical verve. In fact, his cosmopolitan culture steals across, blurring his exposure of literary romance, for the quote ascribed above to Miss Wilkinson is suspiciously close to Charles Bovary's last, bewildered comment. Besides, Philip's morning oath to himself that he will kiss the old maid at night-fall—"it would be easier in the dark"—is plainly a bathetic variation not on a cheap serial but on no less a masterpiece than Maugham's acknowledged favourite, Le Rouge et le noir.

However, the book that bears the brunt of the novelist's adverse criticism is the genuinely sentimental, then highly popular Scènes de la vie de Bohème, lent to the "enraptured" Philip by the governess. This fairy-tale account of the artistic life serves as an ironic preamble to the stark realism of the chapters in Paris. But the sternness of the main editorial comment may surprise the reader. After a tilt at the undistinguished prose and irresponsibility of "Murger's ill-written and absurd masterpiece," in accord with the bantering tone of the episode, the author bursts into a sarcastic litany on "that picture of starvation which is so good-humoured, of squalor which is so picturesque, of sordid love which is so romantic"; then he seems to ascend a Victorian pulpit: "It is only when you return to the book with a sounder judgment that you find how gross their pleasures were, how vulgar their minds; and you find the utter worthlessness, as artists and as human beings of that gay procession." Under the signature of Somerset Maugham, what considerations may have dictated such an outburst? urged this resurgence of a moralistic standard, elsewhere disowned in the literary field? The hint of an answer is found in the last clause and in its word-order: "(their) utter worthlessness, as artists and as human beings." One may well, it appears, jeer at love, explode its illusions; but art, true art, should not be trifled with.

For all his intellectual seclusion and vital sterility, Hayward had been granted a major extenuating circumstance: his possession of "one gift which was very precious. He had a real feeling for literature and he could impart his own passion …" No such indulgence is extended to the many "Philistines" in the cast.

Their thrashing begins during the scenes set in Kent, in which the life at the vicarage is given as representative of the cultural backwardness of the late Victorian province. The vicar and his wife are scoffed at for their lack of aesthetic discernment, their limited interest in, or moralistic approach to the fine arts. Those shortcomings appear with regard to no less than four of the Muses: in the scoffing account of a music-party during which "Mrs. Carey sang When the Swallows Homeward Fly or, Trot, Trot my Poney"; in the sneering remarks that the vicar himself "had long lost the habit of reading but liked to look at the illustrations" of the books that filled his library and that, "partly on account of his profession, partly because he thought it would be vulgar, [he] never went to see plays"; lastly when, with but a slight transposition of Maugham's remembered conflict with his adoptive parents, the Careys, "frankly shocked at Philip's idea of being an artist," are supposed to voice the social and moral prejudices of their Age and class: "He should not forget … that his father and mother were gentlefolk; and painting wasn't a serious profession; it was Bohemian, disreputable, immoral." King's School, conjured up in its provincial middle-class environment, proves to be another abode of Philistia, denounced as a typical late Victorian public-school. Not unnaturally, the main body of the boys there place sports far above learning. But Philip's brief alignment on this ethos is mockingly referred to his idealization of the popular-qua-commonplace Rose: "He thought him the most wonderful fellow in the world. His books now were insignificant." As for most of the masters, they had already come in for castigation as intellectual sticks-in-the-mud, exposed in their mistrust of the new Head's eccentric interests: "he talked of German philosophy and of French fiction." This broader and more modern culture thus provides the standards on which the satire rests.

On similar assumptions, Londoners are not spared. In the course of his apprenticeship at the Accountant's Office, Philip finds himself patronized by a fellow articled clerk, a Watson, whose father belongs to the "beerage," and whom he expressly, and not without grounds, "look(s) upon as a Philistine." This conceited and dandified old Oxonian is a regular reader of The Sportsman, a fan of music-hall performances and, busy as he is chasing the girls, "set(s) no store on his protégé's culture." The accountant, who bears the no less emblematic name of Carter, is clearly an upstart and an egregious snob, who shares Watson's "barbarian" ideals: his study-walls are "decorated with sporting prints" and his whole conversation bears on the pleasures of hunting and his (dubious) claims to gentlemanliness. Yet, even then, the lower classes are dragged into the dock. Brutally, with regard to Thompson, a cockneyish clerk who "sneered at Philip because he was better educated than himself"; with condescending leniency, in the character-sketch of Goodworthy, the kind but unrefined managing-clerk who, on a professional trip to Paris, introduces the young man to the Moulin Rouge and the Folies-Bergères labelled as "a vulgar Paris," in which he finds delight, though from the vantage-point of a superior English morality. France will again be used as a cultural touchstone in the scathing caricature of Albert Price, Fanny's brother, "a rubber merchant" whose grammar is shaky and French non-existent. This Victorian-businessman, conventional even in the choice of his Christian name, had, self-complacently, allowed his eccentric sister to starve, in the name of virtue and probability: "Me and Mrs. Price told her Paris was no place for a girl. And there's no money in art." Yet, having paid his way across the Channel to attend the black sheep's funeral, he would not miss an opportunity to get acquainted with "those places in Montmartre which are celebrated from Temple Bar to the Royal Exchange." These skirmishes prepare us for the full scale attack against the "populace" launched on the occasion of Philip's term of shop-assistantship and for the sarcastic treatment of the waitress Mildred.

Depending on second-hand knowledge for the episodes at Lynn and Sedley's, Maugham has been all the more careful to establish the social environment and spirit of such a place. With probable reminiscences of Zola's Au Bonheur des Dames, and Wells's Kipps, for some English specificities, he has, in his own, terser way, shown the drudgery inherent in a shop-assistant's daily duties, hinted at the meanness of the lives led by an underpaid staff, touched upon the commercial strategy of a big Department Stores in London. But his account of the hierarchies within the establishment is distinctive in its sharp focus on the lack of taste, the deficiencies in culture and the social solecisms of the whole set. The people at the top are bounders. Mr. Gibbons, the "buyer," whom Philip is humiliated to have to apply to for his job, asserts his elegance by sporting "a white geranium surrounded by leaves" in the lapel of his professional frock coat. The general manager, who speaks "with a cockney twang," indulges in "a great many words" and wears "a bunch of football medals" dangling from his watch chain, smugly assumes that his new recruit (whose stay in Paris has been mentioned to him) "found that art did not pay." Sampson, the buyer of costumes, who seeks to ape continental fashions, prides himself on his smattering of French and, probably nominal, acquaintance with Maxim's. Under his management, Parisian chic is crudely plagiarized to cater for insular vulgarians. An instance of these is ridiculed in the burly person of a Miss Antonia, a popular singstress, with "the breezy manner of a comedienne accustomed to being on friendly terms with the gallery boys of provincial music halls." Seeking a new costume to wear on stage, "something striking" she is delighted with the "combination of violent, unusual colours" that Philip, in deliberate caricature of French designs, has devised to suit her flashy plebeian tastes. To cap this emphatic demonstration, Maugham has devoted a whole chapter to describing one of the "social evenings" of the staff. The protagonist, not daring to sneak away, attends it from end to end, with a sinking heart. Much of the evening is filled by crude amateur performances given by the employees: the playing of popular pieces by a self-taught lady pianist; the singing of sentimental ditties; the recital of a facetious poem … While it recalls Dickens by its broadly comic presentation of lower-class characters and unsophisticated audiences, the scene is undickensian in its superciliousness. Among the attendants are found, for instance, a Mrs. Hodges, as rustic as her name indicates, who picks her teeth with her silver brooch, and a blatantly un-Jane-Austenish Miss Bennett, the red-faced, overdressed and underbred "belle" of the stores who, besides her capacity to drain two or three bottles of ginger beer in a single session, "liked dancing and poetry better than anything in the world." Even more than the nature of Philip's work—his dress-designing activities are perceived as a commercial parody of the pursuit of Art—it is this trial by vulgarity, this sense of a cultural exile, that brings Philip to the appalled awareness of his vital failure. Back in his dormitory, he then attempts "with all his might not to think of the life he [is] leading." And the climax of his "despair" is reached when, on meeting Lawson, a former friend of his artistic days, in a London street, he feels bound to break away from all that this painter continues to stand for.

Earlier in the book, the main, battered target of the cultural satire had been Mildred Rogers. Between the long-haired "stoodent" (as she calls him) and this aggressively low-bred and absurdly genteel, cockneyish member of the servant-class—who smoothly sinks from waiting in a cheap café into street-walking—the intellectual and aesthetic gap is shown, at every turn, to be unbridgeable. Only once does Somerset Maugham remember to distance himself, on this topic, from his fictional counterpart. This occurs on the occasion of the ill-matched couple's first visit to a music-hall: "Philip was a very cultured young man and he looked upon musical comedy with scorn. He thought the jokes vulgar and the melodies obvious … but Mildred … applauded rapturously." But, even then, the raillery is double-edged, and the young man's later summary of Mildred's character as that of "a vulgar slut" is amply substantiated. At the very height of his masochistic passion, Philip, we are told, "saw her exactly as she was … her mind was common; she had a vulgar shrewdness which revolted him…." And his tacitly endorsed remarks are scarcely more complimentary when, towards the close of their relationships, he observes that "she had not even the power of attending to what she was herself saying" or that "Her mind was of an order that could not deal for five minutes with the abstract." With Proustian irony, such deficiencies had put her intellectualistic wooer at a disadvantage in the days of his infatuation. Having "no talent for small talk." He had then, in frantic search of conversational topics, stooped to "read[ing] industriously The Sporting Times." But, on this ground, how could he vie with spontaneously lowbrowed rivals, like the "flashy and jovial young man … with the spruce look of a commercial traveller" who takes her to the Tivoli? or with Miller, the heavily moustached, German-born salesman, whose "vulgar smartness of … appearance" is a claim for the waitress's admiration? or again, with the charming but "empty headed" Griffith who "never read a book" and "had never a thought that was fine?" The fact that this student of medicine stands higher on the social scale highlights the cultural theme. As for Mildred, she is repeatedly exposed for her assumedly representative semiilliteracy. On one of his earliest visits to the teashop, Philip finds her "immersed in a novelette" belonging, the comment suggests, to the "regular supply of inexpensive fiction written to order … for the consumption of the illiterate"; and he notices that she "outline(s) the words with her lips as she read(s)." An idea of the trash thus imbibed is hinted at when it appears that the books she most admires for being "so refined" bear the signature of Courtenay Page. This happens to be the pen-name used by Norah Nesbit for the hack-writing which, on her own jocular admission, has gained her "an immense popularity among kitchen-maids. They think me so genteel." In echoing the cliché and taking for granted the "extravagances of cheap fiction," Mildred joins the ranks of the romancers, but with the special defencelessness that goes with a dull mind and a lack of critical sense.

To genuine literature and to painting, this figurehead of low-class ignorance proves at best indifferent, at worst antagonistic. Jealous of Philip's engrossment in serious books, at the time when she shares his London flat, she keeps interfering with his reading; then, in the Brighton episode, she remonstrates with him on dubious popular assumptions—"You'll addle your brain, that's what you will do"—and reproaches him for being "so unsociable." The prospect of going to Paris attracts her when she remembers that "a friend of hers had passed her honeymoon [there] and … spent all day at the Louvre," meaning, of course, not Philip's favourite Gallery but "the Magasin … where you could get the very latest things for half the price." Once settled in his Kennington flat, she (vainly) undertakes to make him take down the nudes on his walls, which she deems indecent: "Disgusting, that's what I call it to have drawings of naked people about." When, in revenge for his rejection of her sexual advances, she wrecks the place before going away, it is thus logical, as well as symbolic, that she should spare none of his works of art. The tearing of his portrait and of his own drawings may be held to be ad hominem. But she also destroys "the photographs, Manet's Olympia and the Odalisque of Ingres," reconciled under the vandal's "coalhammer," together with "the portrait of Philip IV." As for the invidious volumes, they have been left with "long gashes on the backs," like stabbed enemies, and she has taken special "trouble to tear pages out of the unbound French ones." Philip's final response is revealingly rooted in intellectual arrogance. More in disdain than in anger, "He did not think of her with wrath but with an overwhelming sense of boredom." Yet, if we trust the ending of the tale, with a pox upon the … crashing bore!

Since both Hayward the arch aesthete, and Mildred, the blatant Philistine had been living, "in fragments"—E.M. Foster's then recently coined phrase in Howards End—their early deaths (the former from enteric fever; the latter from syphilis) image an obvious revenge of the body against, in the first case, too exclusive a life of the mind; in the second, a vulgar affectation of refinement. Yet the two vital fallacies are not on a par. Hayward has only proved to be his own enemy; while Mildred is also a destroyer of others, a femme fatale. Specifically, in the case of Philip, her sensual appeal, depicted as perverse, had, as it were, sucked dry his earlier aesthetic and intellectual interests: "Love was like a parasite in his heart … it absorbed his existence so intensely that he could have pleasure in nothing else … now beauty meant nothing to him … no picture called up in him a thrill of emotion … new books were meaningless." In consequence, once he has overcome the shock of losing this ghoul to the superior attractions of Emil Muller, the student who, "for six months [has] been starved for beauty," sets to a banquet of the soul. In company with Hayward, on a timely visit to London, he rediscovers the charms of the city, the delights of the National Gallery, the joys of ardent debates on art and literature. Admittedly, the two intellectuals are chaffed: the deserted lover for his overexcitement, "in sudden reaction from the life he has been leading"; the older man, as usual, for his docile switching of cultural snobberies. Yet, all along this chapter-long hymn to beauty, Philip plainly voices his creator's beliefs, notably on the relevant and, as will be seen central issue of art's power to "liberate the soul from pain." On the Edwardian mode, but with extenuating succinctness, the author steps in, to enthuse on the landscapes of the metropolis with a wealth of artistic and literary references from both sides of the Channel. We thus foresee that, in Maugham's coming variant on the Goethian fuller life, one fragment may appear "more equal" then the other.

This sentiment, out of chapter L, must be seen in context and in the light of its fuller phrasing.

It echoes the hero's change of heart towards the end of his two years as would-be painter in Montparnasse. By crossing the Channel like a Rubicon, under the unauspicious encouragement of the romantic Miss Wilkinson and illomened applause of the dilettantish Hayward, Philip hoped to conquer genius at one stroke, in a Murger-like Bohemia. Instead, he has been a witness to the drudgery, the hardship and uncertainties that, according to Maugham, attend the artist's call. The suicide of the dedicated but destitute and ungifted Fanny Price—the first of the symbolic deaths in the novel—has illustrated the self-destructive absurdity of believing that creativeness depends on will alone. Clutton impersonates another variation on the vital sacrifices demanded by the exclusiveness of an artistic endeavour. A still young, possibly talented painter, he is shown, gradually, to cut himself from all personal relations in the fervour of his single-minded quest. But what, wonders the pragmatic hero, if he should not make his mark? "[He] saw him in twenty years, bitter, lonely, savage and unknown." This "tragedy of failure" experienced by clear-sighted second-raters, is then embodied by Cronshaw, a minor decadent poet in his fifties, still a brilliant talker, but bibulous, and living in penury with a slatternly French mistress. This deglamourized poète maudit will later die of cirrhosis, in dire poverty. It is in recoil from this gallery of human wrecks—capped by the character-sketch of Foinet, the elderly teacher at the Academy, soured by the realization of his mediocrity—that Philip reaches a diagnosis and prescribes for himself an alternative course. The diagnosis of course adumbrates the characterization of Strickland, central to the next novel: "in the true painters, writers, musicians there was a power which drove them to such complete absorption in their work as to make it inevitable for them to subordinate life to art … they were merely dupes of the instinct that possessed them." Meanwhile, it is on the rebound, that the present protagonist is made to advocate an antithetic mode of self-fulfilment: "he had a feeling that life was to be lived rather than portrayed and he wanted to search out the various experiences of it and wring from each moment the emotion that it offered."

Though Philip will be shown to outgrow this late nineteenth century emphasis on extending the boundaries of sensations—the last romantic fallacy to be disowned—, the art-versus-life issue is thus no longer faced in terms of discernment but in the prospect of a life-choice. And I submit that the inner tensions that energize the theme will deflect its treatment. Maugham, the living author behind the scenes, was wedded to his creative endeavour; a frequently acknowledge datum, deplored as a bondage or, on the contrary, seen as a privilege—"The artist is the only free man" [The Summing Up]—, according to his moods. In this view, the defiant, topically self-apologetic motif that nobody can live on love alone, even if it be the love of art, must be seen as subsidiary. It is contradicted in the scornful handling of Lawson, the comparatively gifted yet unoriginal portrait-painter who, as his name intimates, compromises with the tastes of the British Establishment, on his way to the Royal Academy. From the same exacting vantage-point, Stroeve, the moderately successful-quaconventional painter of The Moon and Sixpence, will be characterized as a figure of fun, with overtones of cathartic self-satire. The major issue of the later novel, only touched upon here, in the case of Clutton, but underlying, I submit, the progress of Philip, is that of reconciling a genuine artistic urge with an existence outside the Ivory Tower. Saddled with his creator's biographical background and contemplative bias, the protagonist is sent to explore a daydreamt counter-slope:

"It did not seem to me enough only to be a writer (Maugham was to admit on looking back). The pattern I had designed for myself insisted that I should take the utmost part I could in this fantastic affair of being a man. I desired to feel the common pains and enjoy the common pleasures that are part of the common human lot … I was determined to get whatever fulfilment I could out of social intercourse and human relations … But it was an effort and I have always returned to my books and my own company with relief. [The Summing Up]"

The words italicized offer as good as a running commentary on the wish-fulfilment vein that, to the author's own, and most critics', discomfort, prevails in the present novel's last section. The sketches of homely family happiness and a village-doctor's self-realizing life are pictures in the fire, only burning, as may sadly appear, with a paste-like glimmer.

Even at the stages at which Somerset Maugham has sought to prepare us for his protagonist's change of tack, the conflict between idea and sensibility can be discerned. Thus, a visit to the Louvre allows for a contrast between Fanny Price's exclusive absorption in the exhibits and Philip's revived interest in the coming of Spring, but the parable is unwittingly undermined. The scenery that draws the young man's eyes away from the landscapes on the walls is itself framed by "a window that looked out on the Tuileries, gay, sunny, and urbane, like a picture by Raffaëlli!" Back in London, Philip's reported thoughts on the impact of Mildred's first desertion point towards a special instrumentality: "Under the influence of passion he had felt a singular vigour, and his mind had worked with unwonted force." Is not the "Sacred Fount" motif thus stealing through? Leaving out for later comments the ambiguous scenes in the British Museum and in front of a Whistler-like sunrise on the Thames, I shall only offer one more illustration. Catching his last sight of Lawson in Piccadilly, the hero, on the verge of his second life, makes up his mind to turn "down a side street," an emblematic as well as literal turning-point. And yet, the authorial comment on his disinclination ever to talk to the painter again weakens the point: "art appeared to him unimportant. He was occupied with the forming of a pattern out of the manifold chaos of life, and the materials with which he worked seemed to make preoccupation with pigments and words very trivial. Lawson had served his turn. Philip's friendship with him had been a motive in the design he was elaborating…." In their combination, the idea of a "pattern" formed out of "chaos"; the image of "materials" to be improved (a familiar one with Maugham as self-reflexive writer); the notions of a character who had "served his turn" and of "a motive" within a "design" in process of elaboration sound metafictional with a vengeance! Thus defined, the art of living prolongs the very creed it claims to repudiate, on lines already sketched much earlier in the book: "[Philip's] conduct of his life as a whole … was his means of self-expression." Scratch the "doctor" and you'll find a writer.

In fact, the two existential alternatives embraced in turn by the protagonist, when groping towards the "simplest pattern," happen to correlate two antithetic modes of fiction-writing: life as a romance and life as a novel.

To the first mode could be referred Philip's hankering after exotic experiences in Spain and the East. Like Maugham himself, who was yet to visit Asia and the South Seas, his counterpart must have been an eager reader of Loti and of Stevenson. His idealizing vision of those distant lands draws on both, in turn, with some authorial self-irony: "his fancy was rich with pictures of Bangkok and Shangaï, and the ports of Japan: he pictured to himself palm-trees and skies blue hot … the scents of the Orient intoxicated his nostrils…." And Philip's approved change of mind will thus be described on the novel's penultimate page: "… what to him were the pagodas … and the lagoons …? America was here and now. It seemed to him that all his life he had followed the ideals that other people, by their words or their writings, had instilled into him, and never the desires of his own heart." The very "words" used are, of course, those of Goethe, and the last "instilled ideal" comes straight from his "writings," to complete the apprenticeship of an English Wilhelm Meister. One literary theme supersedes another.

The treatment of Spain and its glamour is complicated by Maugham's close acquaintance with the actual range of this land's artistic production and the diversity of its provinces. Within Philip's all-sweeping repudiation of his dreams of travel, given as escapist, a mythicized Iberia is cast off in the lump: "What did he care for Spain and its cities, Cordova, Toledo, León." But this jars with the earlier, better informed disquisitions ascribed, somewhat improbably, to the hero's second-hand knowledge. El Greco—the only unchallenged artist-hero in the whole novel—had been extolled for his profound insights, by which the young man had planned to profit on a cultural journey to Toledo. An equally authorized commentary, only a few pages before the hero's volte-face, had drawn a pondered contrast between, on the one hand, "Andalusia … too soft and sensuous and a little vulgar" and, on the other, the sterner, more bracing appeal of "the windswept distances of Castille and the rugged magnificence of Aragon and León." This eulogy of the robust ideal in a sober environment distinctively merges with aesthetic considerations. According to Athelny, whose views on things Spanish foreshadow some essays in Maugham's Don Fernando, little is to be learnt in Seville, discredited by its associations with the too sentimental Murillo and the too romantic Théophile Gauthier. Whereas the value of the message of Toledo can be measured by the greatness of its famous painter. There follows a four-page record of Philip's train of thought, on scrutinizing a photographed landscape by the said El Greco. And again, the stated existential issue—"He felt … he was on the threshold of a new discovery in life"—mingles with, and becomes subordinate to an enquiry on the goals of true art: the admired picture is claimed to transcend crude mimesis, so as to encompass "a reality greater than any achieved by the masters in whose steps humbly he had sought to walk." And the offered synthesis of the two concerns—the vital and the artistic—revealingly reverts to the contemplative: "here was something better than the realism he had adored; but certainly it was not the bloodless idealism which stepped aside from life in its weakness; it was too strong; it was virile; it accepted life in all its vivacity, ugliness and beauty, squalor and heroism … it was realism carried to some higher pitch." For better or for worse, the Georgian novelist is about to explore a reality beyond naturalism.

The correlation between life-styles and styles of writing has a private reference. To Andalusia, now mocked as a too romantic, effeminately voluptuous locale, Maugham had devoted his first, imitative, over-written, travel-book, The Land of the Blessed Virgin, which he was sternly to describe in retrospect as "an exercice in style … wistful, allusive and elaborate … [with] neither ease nor spontaneity" [The Summing Up]. Similarly, Philip's reveries of travel sound like deliberate parodies of the decadent manner, in the sonorous vagueness of their rhapsodies: "visions of tropical sunshine and magic colour, and of a teeming, mysterious, intense life. Life! That was what he wanted … what rich jungles … might he not visit?… he could go up and down the world … learning the beauty, and the wonder and the variedness of life." As against this representation of life as a purple patch—with the decadent emphases on the out-of-the-way, the luxuriant, the picturesque, the fervid—a counter-model had been offered to the still immature hero in the pivotal scene at the British Museum. On entering the place, Philip was still blinkered by the extreme naturalistic preconceptions acquired in Heidelberg under the impact of the New Drama, and reinforced in Paris, with tacit reference to the school of Zola, on the occasion of his horrified visit to the Bal Bullier. What he could only see in the visitors about him was a physical and moral ugliness as well as a meanness, at variance with the search for beauty:

Their hideousness besmirched the everlasting masterpieces … their features were distorted with paltry desires … There was no wickedness in them but only pettiness and vulgarity … he saw in them all the sheep or the horse or the fox or the goat.

Indeed, the very author of Of Human Bondage had led us round such a menagerie just before, in his handling of the employees at the Department Stores. But a more balanced vision is now suggested by "the groups from the Parthenon" whose

Simplicity was infinitely touching … [their] restraint made the survivor's grief more poignant … There was one stone which was very beautiful, a bas-relief of two young men holding each other's hand; and the reticence of line, the simplicity made one like to think that the sculptor here had been touched with a genuine emotion.

Then Maugham, inconsistently, resorts to a periphrasic style as if to play down the hellenistic specificity of the subject that has stirred his hero: "an exquisite memorial to that than which the world offers but one thing more precious, to a friendship." But, though easier to preach than always to practise, the illustrated creed seems to advocate a classical mode of artistic expression; a clear, stripped, yet harmonious rendering of universal themes (death or love), whose effects are achieved through calm understatement. The author's own mature ideal of prose—to be described in The Summing Up as a combination of "lucidity", "simplicity" and "euphony"—seems thus heralded. As for the main temptation to be exorcised, it had been embodied again by Hayward, whose obliging death had brought about his former disciple's illumination. Over and above the fallacies of a darkly romantic pessimism—with which the deceased had only been marginally associated—it is what he centrally stood for, aestheticism in art as well as life, that is being disowned.

Within this scheme, Athelny, a more reliable mentor, since he rejects the enervating, Hayward-like "spirit of Andalusia", plays an important role. He is made to urge a reconciliation between, on the one hand, an indispensable interest in artistic and literary beauties and, on the other, a coming to terms with ordinary, practical aims, the needs of the body and the claims of a natural morality. But the second arch of the bridge will mainly be imaged by the rest of his family group to which he parabolically introduces Philip.

It is as an in-patients' clerk at St Luke's Hospital that the hero gets acquainted with this eccentric man in his late forties, one of the lighter "cases" entrusted to his medical observation. Thorpe Athelny, whose Saxon forename and surname both smack of allegory, makes a living as a commercial advertiser but is a cultured man, a reader of unusual books, a translator of Spanish poetry who, on the strength of a long stay in Spain, expertly descants on the painters and writers of the Golden Age. The friendship that springs up between the two men is rooted in their common intellectual and aesthetic fervour, among the Philistines in the ward. The home of the Athelnys, into which Philip will then find his way, helps to characterize its main tenant. Built by Inigo Jones, it has become "shabby" and "insanitory" and must soon be pulled down, but it possesses a magnificent balustrade and admirable ceilings, highly valued by Athelny: "Sanitation be damned, give me art … I have got nine children and they thrive on bad drains." Such data and the Skimpolish remark just quoted might have led to the denunciation of another dilettante, sacrificing the comfort of his family to a grasshopper philosophy. The more so, as this artistic type, even to the tips of the tapering, ivory-white fingers of which he is so proud, shows several features satirized in others, earlier in the novel. Like Hayward, he favours Roman Catholicism on purely aesthetic grounds, can "never say anything without an oratorical flourish," writes "in (a) formal manner … studded with pompous epithets," likes to adorn the truth, as when he boasts of his aristocratic origins "from a wish to impress…." Like the American tourists in Paris, ridiculed earlier for their romantic conventionality, he is apt to dress like a character by Murger, reminding Philip of "the comic Frenchman in the pages of Punch," and, again, "his bombast … his emphasis … the same bohemianism" expressly establish his kinship with Cronshaw. Even his professional record of false starts, his instability, his drone-like behaviour during the hop-picking, the too effeminate care he takes of his "graceful hands" are only made light fun of. The focus is on the qualities that ensure his vital success: a (reciprocated) fondness for his common law wife and flourishing children, on whose behalf he sticks to a thankless job; the "independence of thought" that he shares with the late Cronshaw, while adding to it "an infinitely more vivacious temperament"; the generosity he extends to the poverty-stricken protagonist and which excludes the possibility of "any mean motive" for his boastings; his unassuming sociability in dealing with the hop-pickers in Kent. Maugham seems to have played down his spontaneously censorious response in order to sustain his argument that the worship of art need not be incompatible with love, morality of a kind, good fellowship, and the enjoyment of simple pleasures … Yet, all along, and even in the family-scene that, literally, brings the point home, the aesthetic standard prevails: "The life of [Philip's] new friend … seemed now to have the beauty of perfect naturalness"; and, by implicit contrast to the evil aura of Mildred, sitting next to Philip, "it was evidently the beauty of their goodness which attracted him." By itself the adverb may stand as a comment. Unchallenged in the text, this oblique justification of virtue might well have come under the pen of the older Walter Pater.

Exit Thorpe Athelny. Enter the rest of his household: the kind, homely mother; with, for good measure, her nine offspring. While the eight younger ones, remembered "in a bunch," are indeed treated as a chorus, the eldest, a bonny lass, will soon step forth into the lights, to join Philip in a love-duet.

The happy home discovered by the orphaned student in its tantalizing sanctities is by no means conventional. It represents the superior success of a left-handed ménage, breaking down the barriers of class in a Butlerian note of defiance, yet with special emphases. Athelny's legitimate wife, an irreproachable and well-to-do bourgeoise, had bored him so much that he had fled their elegant villa in Kensington to set up house with their own maidservant. The portrayal of the, now matronly "Betty" bears out the rightness of his second choice. A distinctly mellowed version of Butler's Ellen, she has proved an accomplished housewife; a good cook of country dishes; a cheerfully efficient mother for their nine surviving children, brought up on sound lower-class lines of obedience and service; a motherly concubine, ministering to the comforts of the breadwinner. The lucky man still admires the handsomeness of her figure which—for a plain reason?—reminds him of "Rubens' second wife." However, this mythically robust Flemish-English wench, who expressly fleshes out the perfect helpmate—"That is what a man wants in a wife, the halcyon"—also serves the aesthetic theme. The lady, whom she had advantageously superseded in Athelny's bed and kitchen was a blue-stocking. She used to give literary parties, "was very fond of lectures on Sunday afternoons … read the right books, admired the right pictures and adored the right music…." By contrast, her unintellectual successor speaks for good sense and the wisdom of a generous heart, both bequeathed, with the rest of her gifts, to her eldest daughter. A thematic shift has taken place. Cronshaw's low-born mistress, admittedly French, had been outlined as a slovenly slut, a living testimonial to the artist's decline, almost on a par with the absinthe of which he proved overfond. As for Mildred, like Betty a member of the English servant-class, we have seen with what contumely her commonness and demeaning companionship had been scourged. Whereas the no less ungrammatical plain speech of Betty, to be echoed in that of her daughter, and even their common shrugging off of intellectual and aesthetic concerns, are now referred to the counter-claims of unsophisticated "nature," in challenge of what Lawrence was to call "the mental life."

On the typically Edwardian return-to-the-earth motif that develops within the parable, we need not dwell. A Kentish farmer's daughter, the second Mrs Athelny is a country-lass transplanted to London and yet unspoilt. She has kept a connection with her native county. Every late Summer, with her husband's blessing and cheerfully ineffective participation, she takes her family to do the hop-picking on the Isle of Thanet. This, we are asked to believe, "renewed their contact with mother earth … gave them a new strength," ensuring that the children, still characterized in a body, remained "merry, boisterous, healthy and handsome." It is in this pastoral setting, "scented [in September] with the goodly perfume of hops," and "amid conditions which needed only a blue sky to be as idyllic as the olive-grove of Arcady," that Sally Athelny, adding the bloom of her innocent youth to the congenial traits she shares with her mother, acts out her scène-à-faire as Philip's responsive love-partner.

The two avatars of the girl's forename prefigure her emblematic role. This Maria del Sol—her Micawberish genitor's pompous, yet apt label—has been duly anglicized into "Sally" by her no-nonsense mother. Though she serves her apprenticeship with a sempstress in Regent Street, a useful training for a housewife, this paragon in the making looks out of place in the metropolis, "like a cornflower in a shop among orchids and azaleas." In context, we gather that she stands above the artificial beauties of the decadent environment par excellence; that she puts to shame the fleurs du mal of the modern city, including the chlorotic Mildred. This "Sally" belongs to a gardenalley. So much so that, when Philip, among the Kentish fields, impulsively folds her in his arms, he seems to embrace a full-fledged local Persephone: her voice's "low richness was the voice of the country night itself"; "She seemed to carry with her scents of the new-mown hay, and the savour of ripe hops, and the freshness of young grass." Even more comprehensively, her "exquisite homely naturalness" conjures up the thought of "a cottage garden with the dear flowers which bloom in all men's hearts." Their ensuing enumeration includes, with special, though unmeant relevance, "London Pride" and "love-in-a-mist!"

At every turn of this eulogy of artless nature, literature and art claim their own. The notion of the stimulating earth comes, of course, from Wordsworth, Maugham's favourite English poet, though, for him, an uninspiring model. The memory of Hardy's Wessex may have contributed to his hero's conviction that this farmer's grand-daughter "would blossom under the softer skies of Dorset to a rarer beauty." Express reminiscences of Shakespeare's Jessica and Lorenzo mingle with the scents of the fields to kindle the man's desire. The "quiet smile" of the enigmatic Sally seems Gioconda-like. Her arm, though stroked in the dark, has "the skin that Rubens painted…." Thus, there is a more then intended appropriateness in the fact that the climactic meeting occurs in the National Gallery. As he then sits waiting for his girl-friend, the hero, about to propose, "looked at [no picture] in particular but allowed … the beauty of their lines to work upon his soul. His imagination was busy with Sally." Such verbal contiguities extend the relevance of the later statement that the engaged couple "walked out of the gallery."

Nor is this the only respect in which the hero's wedding with "a perfect picture" proves to be a marriage of convenience. The very hymn to a wholesomely innocent sexuality on the part of Sally, obeying, we are told, "the healthy instincts of the natural woman," exalts "an affection that had in it something maternal and something sisterly," an archetypal yet formidable compendium of charms. For—or because of?—all that, the male partner cannot feel love for her and, after the first embraces, seems even to have lost his sexual desire: "She was a splendid animal … and physical perfection filled him always with awe." The author's homosexual bias may well have reasserted itself in this lamely rationalized recoil. At any rate, we are asked to believe that the young lovers' intimacy once established in the flesh happily develops not so much beyond as outside sex, on rather improbable terms of comradeship: "They met with a handshake and parted as formally … Never a word of love passed between them." This "picture of the marriage I should have liked to make," Maugham's retrospective account of the present dénouement in The Summing Up, does not only connote a marriage of true minds. The praise of Sally's habitual silence, in clear contrast to Mildred's garrulity, is more than a cliché of male chauvinism. Earlier in the plot, this anti-Mildred had once come to sit next to Philip, and urged him to go on with his reading, while she plied the needle in a respectful hush. Accordingly, his prospect of a happy connubial life will bring to his mind the thought of "long evenings … in the cosy sitting room … he with his books while she bent over her work." In this further respect, the National Gallery offers a fitting frame for their betrothal. In the same way as "It always comforted him to get among pictures," the company of this beau ideal had appeared "curiously soothing," holding for the orphan the expectation of "a fair haven" against "the loneliness and the tempest." On such distinctive lines, this "odd girl" represents the artistic doctor's—as, covertly, the clinical author's—daydreamt "rest."

This cutting of the losses has brought us round to the initial title of the book, whose ultimate relevance is sustained in the two pathetic fallacies that frame the tale. The first had established a gloom matching the (autobiographical) report of a mother's death: "The day broke gray and dull" The second, in capping the fiction of the good, restoring marriage, marks a rebirth of hope in the acceptance of the ways of ordinary men: "crowds passed hastening in every direction and the sun was shining." Yet the imagined retort is idiosyncratic. The brighter landscape, internal, we assume, as well as external, is "looked at" from "the balustrade" of the gallery from which the unlikely couple have just emerged. The very motif of a coming to terms with the prose of life thus ends in a scene of calm contemplation, whose purpose and spirit may now be summed up.

Half-way through the book, in authorized challenge of Hayward's barren formalism, Philip had referred the value of literature—standing for all the arts—to its effects upon its frequenters, in so far as it may foster a blossoming of the minds and souls: "the petals open one by one" But, beyond this educational theme, the more recurrent, and original emphases bear on the acquirement of an inner "strength," or the conquest of a saving "comfort" against the blows of fate. Both notions belong to a defensive panoply, though by no means in a dodging spirit. The appreciation of beauty in all its forms—"there was art in the manner in which he looked upon nature"—offers the best of shields against confronted pain. Even against the most poignant of all. For the lack of such a support, the Philistines in the British Museum are sadly disarmed: "all those mean, common people … must part from those they loved, the son from the mother, the wife from the husband; and perhaps it was more tragic because … they knew nothing that gave beauty to the world." Whereas, the authors' counterpart at long last finds solace in his ability "to stand above the accidents of his existence." This will be ultimately tested within a repetition-cum-variation of the most crucial of his (inherited) "accidents." The ordeal that reopens the wound, is a succinct yet pathetic version of the real-life episode which had moved Somerset Maugham to write his first novel, Liza of Lambeth. At the close of his probation as an obstetric clerk in the slums, Philip is unable to save a young mother from death in childbirth, while "the boy who was her husband" watches the tragic scene in dumb "bewilderment." This modified repeat of his boy hood trauma now shows the hero standing at a remove, in sympathetic but self-possessed observation. And what follows seems to encapsulate the whole process of Philip's release from his mourning. As he walks home, the cathected images haunt him—"[He] could not get out of his eyes the dead girl lying on the bed, wan and white, and the boy who stood at the end of it like a stricken beast." But the spectacle of a sunrise over the Thames soothes his soul: "He was overwhelmed by the beauty of the world. Beside that nothing seemed to matter." This aesthetic vision proves therapeutic on Schopenhauerian lines. And the preceding rejection of social pity—"pity was inane … They did not pity themselves. They accepted their fates"—would sound callous indeed, if it did not echo a deep private issue: the need to overcome a gnawing self-pity.

The theme of the artistic vocation, overtly dropped on Philip's renunciation of painting, remains in the background. In Bohemia, he had felt less conscious of his estranging infirmity, like an ugly duckling raised, for a while, to cygnet status among the swans. But the chosen pattern of the "novel of apprenticeship" called for a volte-face. Back in London, and on his way to a more ordinary life, the protagonist has his club foot operated upon. Yet, the incompleteness of the dramatized cure—"he would always limp"—cannot be fully accounted for by Maugham's realistic adherence to his clinical knowledge. It looks as though the notion of social adjustment went against the grain with the novelist in the prompter's box. Hence his perfunctory report of the operation. And the conflicting pride in exile which, under the guise of a welcome acceptance, finds its way back even into the penultimate chapter: "He accepted the deformity which had made life so hard for him … by reason of it he has acquired [his] power of introspection … Without it he would never have had his keen appreciation of beauty, his passion for art and literature and his interest in the varied spectacle of life." And …? Imperfectly buried under the Bildungs, an aborted Kunstler-roman lies in the missing clause.

Archie K. Loss (essay date 1990)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2075

SOURCE: "Major Themes: Bondage and Troubled Grace," in Of Human Bondage: Coming of Age in the Novel, Twayne Publishers, 1990, pp. 15-20.

[In the following excerpt, Loss argues that Of Human Bondage meets the criteria for a bildungsroman and examines Maugham's twin themes of bondage and grace in regards to Philip's relationship with Mildred.]

Implicit in the concept of the bildungsroman is the idea of growth. It is not enough that the main character should simply experience a succession of adventures or suffer from the pangs of unrequited love; he must grow in understanding and sense of responsibility as a result of his adventures or loves. In the broadest sense, that is what the bildungsroman is about: following the main character to the point at which he is ready to assume responsibility for his life.

Of Human Bondage follows this pattern. It begins with the death of Philip's mother when he is a boy of ten and ends with Philip in his late twenties, his medical training complete, ready to assume adult responsibilities, his bride-to-be by his side. Thematically, it shows the growth of Philip's sense of reality, of his ability to distinguish what is true from what is false in the world around him and in his innermost being. It is only when Philip is able to reconcile to some extent the contradictions he perceives in himself and in the world that the novel achieves its end. To reach that goal, Maugham develops two major themes.

The first of these centers on the idea of bondage. Philip's relationship with Mildred is the primary vehicle for the development of this theme. Philip's bondage to Mildred is both physical and emotional—physical in the sense that he needs to have her by his side or be with her even if she doesn't want him around, emotional in the sense that whether he is with her or not she dominates his thoughts and actions as if she were actually there. From the beginning of their relationship, when Philip finds he cannot keep himself from going back to the tearoom where she works as a waitress, till the penultimate episode in their career, when Mildred, having had an affair with Griffiths, leaves Philip with the hated epithet "cripple," his feelings are the same.

Even after Philip realizes (fairly early in the relationship) that his attraction to Mildred is sick, he is still bound to her. Philip never has sexual relations with Mildred, yet he wants to assume the role of provider to her and father to her baby. In the terms of psychopathology, Philip is both a masochist and a voyeur. As a masochist, he needs to suffer to justify a love relationship. As a voyeur, he enjoys creating an opportunity for Mildred to have pleasure with another man. Even the love of a woman who genuinely cares for him—Norah Nesbitt—is not enough to change the pattern of his behavior. Before that can change, he has to hit bottom emotionally and economically.

The bondage theme also appears in relationship to other characters. Philip's Aunt Louisa lives in bondage to his Uncle William, the Vicar of Whitstable. Catering to his every whim, denying herself things she needs, Louisa is almost a parody of the wife as doormat so common to Victorian fiction. Hayward, Philip's friend from Heidelberg days, lives in bondage to a false ideal: an aesthetic view of life that prevents him from acting. He is the eternal dilettante, fluttering like a butterfly from flower to flower. Fanny Price, whose devotion to art is so misplaced and whose failure provides such a lesson to Philip in his Paris years, lives in bondage to an ideal she can never realize. Foinet's advice, savage as it is, is right: she is no artist, and chooses suicide over admitting the truth of his judgment. Cronshaw, another Paris friend who greatly influences Philip's view of the world, is in bondage to alcohol and a way of life that will ultimately destroy him. Cronshaw shows the dark side of the Bohemian life that appealed to Philip so much in his reading. These characters and others illustrate the pervasiveness of the bondage theme.

At the same time Philip puts himself into a state of bondage, however, he seeks independence. At King's School, he will not agree to try for an Oxford scholarship despite his admiration for the headmaster, Perkins, because he does not want to be ordained. Time and time again, in decisions about his studies and career, he asserts his independence from his uncle, who despairs of exerting any influence over him. Philip ultimately chooses medicine as his profession, much as he had tried art, because he believes it will give him the freedom he needs to survive. At the end of the novel, on the other hand, he almost decides against marriage because he is afraid it will limit his horizons and keep him from doing what he wants.

In describing Philip's ruminations on the subjects of marriage and personal freedom, Maugham makes use of the phrase "a more troubling grace." It occurs late in the novel, in chapter CVI, after Mildred has left Philip for the last time and he has come under the hedonistic influence of Thorpe Athelny. Running through the novel as a metaphor of Philip's frequent confusion of purpose is the image of a Persian carpet, first suggested to him in Paris by Cronshaw. In such a carpet, Cronshaw suggests, one might find the meaning of life. Philip, pondering his fate, thinks of that carpet again:

In the vast warp of life …, with the background to his fancies that there was no meaning and that nothing was important, a man might get a personal satisfaction in selecting the various strands that worked out the pattern. There was one pattern, the most obvious, perfect, and beautiful, in which a man was born, grew to manhood, married, produced children, toiled for his bread, and died; but there were others, intricate and wonderful, in which happiness did not enter and in which success was not attempted; and in them might be discovered a more troubling grace.

The "more troubling grace" of Philip's thoughts suggests at least a halfway point between the bondage of his relationship to Mildred and the ideal of a relationship, like the Athelny's, in which a lifetime is spent with a single partner. Like that ideal, Philip's more troubled grace is also an alternative of sorts to the absolute meaninglessness of life to which he has by now assented, after the death of Cronshaw and his friend Hayward ("There was no meaning in life, and man by living served no end. It was immaterial whether he was born or not born, whether he lived or ceased to live. Life was insignificant and death without consequence.") Instead of the bleak prospect of a life totally without meaning, Philip can envision at least some figure in the carpet, "intricate and wonderful, in which happiness did not enter and success was not attempted."

Given these thoughts of Philip's is it reasonable for him to choose the pattern that is "the most obvious, perfect, and beautiful, in which a man … married, produced children, toiled for his bread, and died," especially since he has made other plans and Sally is in fact not pregnant? In other words, is the ending of the novel honest? Or is Maugham pandering to his reading audience, giving it what he thinks it wants rather than what, logically, it should have? Every reader has to make his or her own decision on this matter.

Inevitably, in reaching that decision, the reader will be influenced by what he or she knows about Maugham's own attitudes toward marriage, love, and life. Of Human Bondage is an autobiographical novel: "fact and fiction are inextricably mingled," Maugham wrote in his foreword; "the emotions are my own, but not all of the incidents are related as they happened, and some of them are transferred to my hero not from my own life but from that of persons with whom I was intimate." But to what extent does Philip Carey constitute Maugham's alter ego?

In terms of his physical characteristics and psychology, Philip is remarkably similar to his creator, though some details may have been altered. To cite only one example, Maugham suffered from a stammer that made ordinary spoken communication extremely difficult for him, especially when he was a child. In Philip's character, that difficulty is transformed into a clubfoot that makes him self-conscious and the butt of jokes at school.

Other matters can be addressed more readily now that a definitive biography of Maugham has appeared, with Ted Morgan's Maugham (1980). Morgan had access to materials that Maugham did not wish his executors to make available to anyone, and he also had the advantage of researching and writing his biography at a time when many of Maugham's friends and colleagues were still alive. His book illuminates many characters and scenes from Of Human Bondage and helps to shed light on some of the novel's more ambiguous passages. It also helps the reader to establish the chronology of events in the novel as compared with those of Maugham's life.

One aspect of Maugham confirmed by Morgan's biography enters into Philip's character in subtle ways. Throughout most of his early adult life, Maugham was bisexual, attracted, often simultaneously, to men and to women. As he approached his marriage with Sylvie Barnardo, for instance, he began an affair with Gerald Haxton that was to outlast the marriage and contribute to its demise. In the novel, Philip shows no overt homosexual behavior, though at times he obviously feels considerable attraction to men. This attraction constitutes a kind of subtheme of the novel and may account in part for the dissatisfaction one feels at its ending.

For many characters other than Philip, it is apparent that Maugham drew directly from his own experience. Uncle William and Aunt Louisa, for example, are precise portraits of Maugham's real-life uncle and aunt. Equally precise, apparently, is the portrait of Etheridge Hayward, based on Ellingham Brooks, whom Maugham actually met in Heidelberg. For other characters, however, there is no key. Most notable among these, the model for Mildred remains unknown. One can imagine that in creating characters as in describing events Maugham employed the freedom he suggests in his foreword, in some cases perhaps for reasons that had nothing to do with aesthetics.

In terms of chronology, the novel follows Maugham's early life fairly closely, though certain events are transposed or omitted, creating gaps of several years. In the novel, Philip's father is already dead by the time his mother dies; Philip becomes an orphan on his way to the vicarage at Whitstable within a few pages of the opening of the book. In real life, Maugham's father outlived his mother by several years. Maugham's mother died in 1882 (in Paris, not London), his father in 1884; in the novel, Philip's mother dies in 1885.

Another difference occurs later in the novel, when Philip decides to study art in Paris. Although artists were to occupy Maugham's attention in more than one story, he was never an art student and did not live in Paris during the corresponding period of his life. At the time Philip is in Paris, the young Maugham was already a medical student in London. Maugham did spend a year-and-a-half in Heidelberg, but, on the other hand, only one month studying accounting as compared with Philip's year.

As interesting as such connections are, however, Of Human Bondage must ultimately be judged on its own merits as a novel; works of art are independent of the lives of their creators, no matter how closely they are allied. In the pages that follow, we will read the novel as a work of fiction with the major themes of bondage and troubled grace. If to some extent this reading repeats the events of the story, it should be kept in mind that any treatment of a novel so heavily chronological, built out of a series of incidents in the life of its main character, must itself be chronological and summary. Let us hope, however, that out of such a review will emerge the generalizations important to a critical judgment of the novel. Let us hope, too, that this reading will improve the enjoyment of the novel for a generation of readers now more than eight decades removed from the characters and events it describes.

Further Reading

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Last Updated on February 4, 2016, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 243

Bibliography

Sanders, Charles. "W. Somerset Maugham: A Supplementary Bibliography." English Literature in Transition 15, No. 2 (1972): 168-73.

Lists and annotates fifty-one articles on Maugham from 1908 to 1972.

Biography

Calder, Robert. Willie: The Life of W. Somerset Maugham. London: Heinemann, 1989, 429 p.

Scholarly biography prepared with the assistance of Maugham's companion-secretary Alan Searle.

Criticism

Clinton, Farley. "Maugham's Bondage." The National Review XVIII, No. 8 (22 February 1966): 174-76.

Brief analysis of Maugham's career, in which Clinton notes the writer's diligence and his "keen sense for what the reading public would find touching, funny, or bizarre."

Curran, Trisha. "Variations on a Theme." In The English Novel and the Movies, edited by Michael Klein and Gillian Parker, pp. 228-34. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1981.

Discusses two film adaptations of Of Human Bondage: John Cromwell's 1934 version, starring Leslie Howard and Bette Davis, and Ken Hughes's 1964 version, starring Laurence Harvey and Kim Novak.

Young, B. A. "The Grand Old Man Malgré Lui." Punch CCXLIV, No. 6391 (6 March 1963): 353.

Argues that analysis of Maugham's work is pointless if one accepts—as the author maintained—that it was written purely for entertainment.

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Of Human Bondage