Of Human Bondage | Critical Review by R. Ellis Roberts

This literature criticism consists of approximately 3 pages of analysis & critique of Of Human Bondage.
This section contains 652 words
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Critical Review by R. Ellis Roberts

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.

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This section contains 652 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by R. Ellis Roberts