“Of Human Bondage” by William Somerset Maugham

Yesterday I checked my Goodreads stats and I am about 12 books behind my yearly goal. I have to say that “Of Human Bondage” by William Maugham did not contribute to my reading speed. It is a bulky book of 800 pages from 1915 so it took me quite a while to get into the groove and to get used to its writing style. I really liked it by the end though.

“Of Human Bondage” centers around Philip who is an orphan with a club foot. In the first chapter, his mother dies and he goes to live with his uncle and aunt at the vicarage. We then follow Philip through his teenage years at the religious school, his adolescent years in Germany, his early 20s in Paris as well as his studies and work as a doctor later in life. The book also explores his relationship with others, for instance, his toxic relationship with his on-and-off girlfriend Milfred as well as his friends from different layers of society.

There were a few things that came to my mind when I was reading the book. The first one is that it must have been tough to be a writer in 1915. “Of Human Bondage” has a lot of cultural references, for instance, to different artwork or to different cities around the world. This is not something you could Google at the time in minutes – you needed to educate yourself and read a lot to be able to write quality literature. I find writers of that time admirable for the mere effort that it required to educate themselves.

The other thing is how interesting it must have been to live at that time. In the book, Philip would often go on holidays but to book these holidays you need to hear from someone of a hotel and then write to that hotel to get a reservation which might take weeks. Or how you would go and spend the whole day reading in the public library – this is something unimaginable in our fast-paced world.

The main thing that I liked about “Of Human Bondage” is the protagonist Philip and the whole journey of his “becoming himself”. We get to know Philip when he is quite young, at the end of around 10 and up to his 30s – we basically follow him through all of his formative years. I liked Philip’s character because he is an explorer. He tried religion and it did not work for him, and then he tried art and it was not quite it and then he tried accounting and it was not it until he found doctoring. I loved seeing a journey like this – I feel like modern society makes us think that you just have one thing in life that you do and that’s it. You are meant to find your passion and follow it. That’s the message that we are getting most of the time. I think that while it is true that some people are able to find their passion and mission in life right away, for others it might take longer and many different ways and tries until they get where they are meant to be. That’s why the character of Philip is so exciting and intriguing – his life takes unpredicted turns and these are fun to follow. Here are some of my favourite quotes as usual:

***

“You will find as you grow older that the first thing needful to make the world a tolerable place to live in is to recognise the inevitable selfishness of humanity. You demand unselfishness from others, which is a preposterous claim that they should sacrifice their desire to yours. Why should they?”

***

“Of late Philip had been captivated by an idea that since one had one life it was important to make a success of it, but he did not count success by the acquiring of money or the achieving of fame; he did not quite know yet what he meant by it, perhaps variety of experience and the making the most of his abilities.”

***

“It was one of the queer things of life that you saw a person every day for months and were so intimate with him that you could not imagine existence without him; the separation came, and everything went on in the same way, and the companion who had seemed essential proved unnecessary. Your life proceeded and you did not even miss him.”

***

“Thinking of Cronshaw, Philip remembered the Persian rug which he had given him, telling him that it offered an answer to his question upon the meaning of life; and suddenly the answer occurred to him: he chuckled: now that he had it, it was like one of the puzzles which you worry over till you are shown the solution and then cannot imagine how it could ever have escaped you. The answer was obvious. Life had no meaning. On the earth, a satellite of a star speeding through space, living things had arisen under the influence of conditions which were part of the planet’s history; and as there had been a beginning of life upon it sp, under the influence of other conditions, there would be an end: man, no more significant than other forms of life, had come not as the climax of creation but as a physical reaction to the environment.”

***

“But Philip was impatient with himself; he called to mind his idea of the pattern of life: the unhappiness he had suffered was no mare than part of a decoration which was elaborate and beautiful; he told himself strenuously that he must accept with gaiety everything, dreariness and excitement, pleasure and pain, because it added to the richness of the design.”

***

This was fun! On to the next one!

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