Of Human Bondage | Critical Essay by Forrest D. Burt

This literature criticism consists of approximately 30 pages of analysis & critique of Of Human Bondage.
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Critical Essay by Forrest D. Burt

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."

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