Summing Up Maugham's OF HUMAN BONDAGE

BOOK | FICTION | LITERATURE
OF HUMAN BONDAGE
by W. Somerset Maugham

RATING: ★ ★ ★ ★

W. Somerset Maugham

W. Somerset Maugham

I suppose the easiest, and quickest, way to sum up Maugham’s OF HUMAN BONDAGE would be to write something along the lines of “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation,” which is certainly the case for the story’s protagonist, Phillip Carey.

If, however, that was all I wrote, then not only would I be overly brief in this review (which probably is not a bad thing), I would also be overly unoriginal since we all know the above quote belongs to the great Henry David Thoreau.

Unfortunately, because I do not have Thoreau’s genius for writing simply (which requires skill and patience that most writers, to include me, do not possess), I will have to deploy many more words than just Thoreau’s for my own summing up of Maugham’s masterpiece.

But what Thoreau wrote so poetically is undeniably what the essence of Maugham’s story is about:

 

Carey, born with a clubbed foot and who grows up to be shy and insecure because of it, lives a life yearning to be someone he can never be, to love someone whom he can never love, and to be somewhere other than where he happens to be.

His yearnings, we find, go mostly unfulfilled.

What I enjoy most about the story is Maugham’s descriptive ability. His writing magically places me deep within the England and the Germany and the France of the early twentieth century. I can hear the cart wheels rolling along the cobble-stoned streets. I can see the crowded, smoke-filled cafe. I can taste the absinthe and feel the immediate allure and rush as it blissfully numbs away the bite of reality.

What I enjoy least about the story is Carey’s excessively drawn-out infatuation with Mildred Rogers, the cruel and insensitive simpleton who fancies herself to be of a station in life much higher than the one she is unable to escape, no matter how hard she tries. While she does not have the capacity to improve her lot in life through earnest devices and effort, she does have enough smarts about her to understand early on in her relationship with Carey that she has a power over him from which he is also unable to escape no matter how hard he tries. She uses and abuses Carey with her power so often and for so long that I found myself becoming impatient and bored with, not only Carey’s unbelievable weakness, but with the story as a whole. However, by that point, I was already deeply hooked, addicted to the tale and desperate to know whether Carey would find a way to ween himself from his deadly addiction to Rogers, or if he would die unfulfilled and, as Oliver Wendell Holmes writes in his poem “The Voiceless,” with his music still in him.

While I find the tortuous, one-sided love affair between Carey and Rogers to be a bit too much, through it I am reminded that any unhealthy dependency, be it our dependency on love, on money, on drugs, or on whatever, often takes us down a long and troubling path that, if we stay on it, will eventually lead us to the point of our destruction. And it usually is not until we nearly reach that point that we are finally able to realize just how destructive our dependency, our yearning, really is. Only then, if we are lucky or blessed or both (for unfortunately, many are unable to stop before reaching the point of their destruction and continue helplessly, fatally on), can we find the strength to separate ourselves from that which is destroying us and begin on a path to recovery.

But I guess that’s how life goes, and how it has always gone throughout the desperate ages — if we do not somehow find a way to come to peace with our satiated yearnings, our unrequited desires, they will most likely be the sad and desperate songs we sing until we finally, and at last, are placed within our cold and lonely graves.

~~~~

Rating System:
★ = Unreadable
★ ★ = Poor Read
★ ★ ★ = Average Read
★ ★ ★ ★ = Outstanding Read
★ ★ ★ ★ ★ = Exceptional Read
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About Kurt Brindley

He is tall but he hopes to accomplish more in life than just that...
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9 Responses to Summing Up Maugham's OF HUMAN BONDAGE

  1. Pingback: Butter | Kurt Brindley ✍ ✄ ✍

  2. Enjoyed your review Kurt. Of Human Bondage, that I read ages ago, is a work that remains in one’s mind as a reference point not only as a cautionary tale about the very real bondage humans can fall into with each other but also as a descriptive of that particular human psychological frailty whereby one literally loses oneself to another in a kind of metaphysical self-abandonment. For the power of the writing, as I seem to recall, and its clear-eyed understanding, I’d give it five stars, or maybe 4 1/2 – since Cormac McCarthy has always to have ascendency.

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    • Yeah, I first read OHB back in my early twenties. I reread it again (this review is actually a couple years old – posted it again since it’s review day and since no one read it back then) because I didn’t really remember what it was about but it had always left me with this surreal, unsettling feeling. I like it a lot – 4 stars is pretty high for me – but THE MOON AND SIXPENCE is by far my favorite of his. You can get for free if you, or anyone else, are interested here.

      I’ve only read THE ROAD by CM. I thoroughly enjoyed it – no other book creeped out like that one – but, even though I’d give it at least a 4, maybe a 5, it obviously wasn’t enough to make me go out and read any of his other stuff. Guess I need to read some of his other work to see what all the hoopla is about. “No Country for Old Men” is an okay movie but the movie adaptation of his play “The Sunset Limited” is really good.

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  3. mcasale2014 says:

    This book is not nearly as much fun as the title makes it sound like it is!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. lpishere says:

    Tried reading some of his writing years ago but I don’t think I was open enough to it. Will try again on your recommendation. Great sketch by the way! Really like the attitude of the chin.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I don’t know if you saw my comment to Paul, but my favorite of Maugham’s is The Moon and Sixpence. I would recommend that before OHB, especially if one is an art enthusiast. There is a link to a free Kindle version of it. But OHB really is worth the read as well. He’s an amazing writer.

      I’m glad you like the sketch. Thank you for the kind words. I believe I drew it from his memoir THE SUMMING UP, which is a recommended read for anyone, but especially for writers. As for the chin, yeah, it speaks to his sassy nature quite well. There are a couple interview videos of him out there. He’s very old school British – prim and proper – and I got a good laugh out of the interviews.

      Liked by 1 person

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