Of Human Bondage | Critical Review by William Morton Payne

This literature criticism consists of approximately 3 pages of analysis & critique of Of Human Bondage.
This section contains 642 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by William Morton Payne

Critical Review by William Morton Payne

SOURCE: A review of Of Human Bondage, in The Dial, Vol. LIX, No. 701, September 16, 1915, pp. 219-21.

In the following excerpt, Payne commends Maugham for creating a sustained interest in his protagonist, but criticizes him for missing "the broad effects" and "large issues of a human characterization."

Mr. W. Somerset Maugham, a successful playwright, has turned his activities in the direction of fiction-writing, the result being Of Human Bondage, an immensely lengthy work of the biographical type, setting forth the story of a young man's life from childhood to the age of thirty or thereabouts. The following extract will show why it takes six hundred and fifty compact pages to accomplish this setting forth:

When Philip arrived there was some difficulty in deciding on which evening he should have his bath. It was never easy to get plenty of hot water, since the kitchen boiler did not work, and it was impossible for two persons to have a bath on the same day. The only man who had a bathroom in Blackstable was Mr. Wilson, and it was thought ostentatious of him. Mary Ann had her bath in the kitchen on Monday night, because she liked to begin the week clean. Uncle William could not have his on Saturday, because he had a heavy day before him, and he was always a little tired after a bath, so he had it on Friday. Mrs. Carey had hers on Thursday for the same reason. It looked as though Saturday were naturally indicated for Philip, but Mary Ann said she couldn't keep the fire up on Saturday night, and with all the cooking on Sunday, having to make pastry and she didn't know what all, she didn't feel up to giving the boy his bath on Saturday night: and it was quite clear that he could not bath himself.

The upshot of all this complication was that Mary Ann relented, and grudgingly agreed to Saturday night. Even this description leaves Tuesday and Wednesday unaccounted for, which we rather resent, since we would like to be told all about it. It is obvious that a writer who works with this method of detailed photographic realism can "go far," and the story runs to nearly three hundred thousand words. We began it in Chicago, took it upon an ocean voyage, and it was still with us upon our return. Nor did it prove lacking in sustained interest. When a novelist thus sets out to chronicle everything about his hero's life, he can hardly fail to leave us with the feeling of intimate acquaintance. But he can easily miss, as Mr. Maugham does, the broad effects and the large issues of a human characterization. The only thing of this sort that we get from Of Human Bondage is a most depressing impression of the futility of life, an impression similar to that produced by The Old Wives' Tale of Mr. Arnold Bennett. Our hero's life is not romantic. When he gets out of school, he tries accountancy and fails. Then he tries art in the Paris schools, and fails again. Then he tries medicine, barely scrapes through to a diploma, and is in sight of marriage and a country practice when the book of his life is closed for us. Before this consummation, he has entanglements with various women, including a long and enslaving infatuation for a girl of repellent vulgarity—a waitress in a cheap restaurant who graduates into the life of the streets. She, too, is an amazingly real person, as are many others whom we encounter in this narrative, which may perhaps best be described as an album of unretouched photographs. The book is far from being, in the publishers' phrase, "compellingly great," but, allowing once for all its inartistic method, it is at least a noteworthy piece of creative composition.

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This section contains 642 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by William Morton Payne