i>It is not very comfortable to have the gift of being amused at one's own absurdity. (p.350)
What beautifully flawed and frustrated characters Maugham created in Of Human Bondage! This book pulled me in quickly and I loved walking alongside Philip Carey, a boy born with a clubfoot and orphaned at a young age, as he struggled into adulthood. Every character in this story, whether a major player or a minor one, is so real and raw -- they are all alive and despicable in their own authentic ways.
Philip is sent to live with his religious and conservative uncle and aunt, he struggles to find a sense of self and fumbles through school being bullied and confused. It is an illusion that youth is happy, an illusion of those who have lost it (p.109).
His uncle and aunt are painted in such vivid sadness, Philip watches them and learns to want more out of life. Philip realised that they had done with life, these two quiet little people: they belonged to a past generation, and they were waiting there patiently, rather stupidly, for death; and he, in his vigour and his youth, thirsting for excitement and adventure, was appalled at the waste. They had done nothing, and when they went it would be just as if they had never been.(p.118)
To say he is in a constant state of identity crisis is an understatement. He goes from being an assistant at an accounting firm, to being an artist in Paris, to being homeless and starving in London, to being a doctor.... as someone who still contemplates what she wants to be when she grows up, I related to Philip's inability to find his place in the world. His sense of never belonging, of never being good enough resonates throughout his life.
When he falls in love, he does so terribly. Mildred is a character who is so ugly and chaotic, so hateful and mean, that I looked forward to her appearances throughout the book. Unrequited love is a constant theme - Norah loves Phillip but Phillip loves Mildred but Mildred hates Phillip and loves Griffiths who hates Mildred. It's a wonderful web of tragedy of which Philip is unable to escape. He had though 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" (p.253)
The on-again-off-again of Mildred and Philip is frustrating. She treats him like an ATM and he takes it. She's a wretched woman I loved to hate, and apparently so did Philip. He hated, despised, and loved her. (p.274)
This book is exquisite. Beautifully written and wonderfully alive. It was no surprise to learn after the fact that this book is almost entirely autobiographical. Maugham's mother died at a young age and he was sent to live with a religious uncle, just as Philip was. He was teased in school for a speech impediment, as Philip was teased for his clubfoot. Maugham had homosexual inclinations and so many times in this book there are minor acquaintances and crushes that Philip has on males - though it's subtle. The insight in which Maugham is able to portray with Philip is astounding - the shame, the lack of self worth, the confusion.
Philip learns, as we all eventually must, to live in the present and to appreciate life. To take pleasure in the small things, to find purpose in the people you love and the people who love you back. This book is dark. It's lonely. It's painful. It's absolutely amazing. Reply