Of Human Bondage

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“Of Human Bondage” by W. Somerset Maugham
(First publication: 1915 / This edition: Vintage Books 2000)
Taken during a late lunch with Mom and Aunt at Tha Maharaj

The only way to live is to forget that you’re going to die. Death is unimportant.
The fear of it should never influence a single action of the wise man. (p.466)

This is one of my favorite books.

I just finished this book last night. It’s a pretty heavy book, literally, so I was putting off getting it for a while. A bit intimidated by books over 600 pages, I guess. (STILL need to get Anna Karenina and Brothers Karamazov!) Plus, it was kind of a hassle for me (and my mom) when we go out, since it was too big to put in my purse. Oh the commitment.

SO. My philosophy teacher from high school suggested this to me back in March this year. I was telling him about my frustrations with the constant feeling of “I’m running out of time”, and he told me about Julian Barnes’ “The Sense of an Ending” and then mentioned “Of Human Bondage”.

It was so so so good. It became a priority each day—I just wanted to get back to reading it! It took about a week for me to finish and now I wish it was 1,400 pages instead (it’s exactly 700 pages). I loved it. There wasn’t a single page where I wasn’t amazed by the writing or where I wasn’t emotionally involved with all the events and happenings. I didn’t really know what to expect at first. The summaries I’ve read on Goodreads and whatnot gave me a feeling of a troubled man tortured by masochistic affairs, so I thought maybe it’d have the same vibe as Lolita (or is Humbert Humbert sadistic? or masochistic? or both?…a whole big different topic!).

The story follows the life of a man with club-foot—from his birth to when he finally gets married. Overall, I guess you can say that the plot is not really “unique”: handicapped man, deceased parents, moved in with relatives, bullied by everyone, mean girl who plays around with him and uses him, etc. But it’s actually so much more than that. You get to know this man, Philip, so deeply that you feel everything he’s feeling and understand how his mind works whenever he is struggling or when he’s celebrating. You go with him to school where he desperately wants to be “one of the popular kids”; you travel with him to Paris in search of the “artistic life” or, differently, the “life of an artist”; you live with him in London being repeatedly humiliated by a woman who despises him but takes advantage of his love; you struggle with him in his days of poverty. You feel the existential frustrations he is tormented by…and as for me, personally, I feel that I can relate to so many of his feelings—which makes me think that everyone will probably be able to relate to him at some point too.

There are many characters he gets involved with and each one is so unique that no matter how “minor” they are, you can’t get them out of your head. Every character has their own opinions on life—the meaning, the purpose, the value. The writer covers how each character views every essential part of life, such as money, work, love, and religion.

I think that if Philip (the main character) and I were to have a discussion, we’d both confess that we feel (and sometimes are tormented by) this: “Sometimes I can hear my bones straining under the weight of all the lives I’m not living.” (Jonathan Safran Foer) What I got out of reading “Of Human Bondage” was a sense of understanding and acceptance of “life”, people, relationships, and differences of perspectives.

I highly recommend this book to anyone that might feel that too (“…bones straining…”). It’s a long book, but if anything, this book confirmed what I’ve been suspecting about myself the past 2-3 weeks: that I don’t enjoy short stories as much as long ones. I like knowing the characters inside and out, and to be able to anticipate what they will think and do.

…..

Here are some of my favorite lines:

[a scene at a hospital]
But on the whole the impression was neither of tragedy nor of comedy. There was no describing it. It was manifold and various; there were tears and laughter, happiness and woe; it was tedious and interesting and indifferent; it was as you saw it: it was tumultuous an passionate; it was grave; it was sad and comic; it was trivial; it was simple and complex; joy was there and despair; the love of mothers for their children, and of men for women; lust trailed itself through the rooms with leaden feet, punishing the guilty and the innocent, helpless wives and wretched children; drink seized men and women and cost its inevitable price; death sighed in these rooms; and the beginning of life, filling some poor girl with terror and shame, was diagnosed there. There was neither good nor bad there. There were just facts. It was life. (p.82)

You will find as you grow older that the first thing needful to make the world a tolerable place to live in is to recognize the inevitable selfishness of humanity. You demand unselfishness from others, which is a preposterous claim that they should sacrifice their desires to yours. Why should they? When you are reconciled to the fact that each is for himself in the world, you will ask less from your fellows. They will not disappoint you, and you will look upon them more charitably. Men seek but one thing in life—their pleasure. (p.240)

(Can I just point out here how perfect this is for my blog? “Flowers between pages”)
When I read a book I seem to read it with my eyes only, but now and then I come across a passage, perhaps only a phrase, which has a meaning for me, and it becomes part of me; I’ve got out of the book all that’s any use to me, and I can’t get anything more if I read it a dozen times. You see, it seems to me, one’s like a closed bud, and most of what one reads and does has no effect at all; but there are certain things that have a peculiar significance for one, and they open a petal; and the petals open one by one, and at last the flower is there. (p.368)

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13 thoughts on “Of Human Bondage

  1. I agree! I read it last year,and it surprised me so much!
    Well,I bought it because I thought I could learn some things from it,but it exceeded my expectations.The thing with this book is that it grows on you; as Philip goes through adolescence and enters adulthood,you somehow become his companion,as the book is so huge.

    And yes,the book is so quotable.When I wrote a post about my favourite lines from the book,there were 5 different ones – which says much about the book’s quotability.

    Oddly enough I read Anna Karenina just after finishing it!

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    1. Yes! It definitely exceeded my expectations and I know that it’s a book I’ll keep returning to. And yes, I feel like I’ve become so close to him and I wish I could see how he is “now” after settling down and whatnot at the end of the book.

      This was my first Maugham. Have you read any others by him that you’d recommend? 🙂

      I plan on getting Anna Karenina soon! What did you think of that one? 🙂

      And thank you for visiting my blog! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Unfortunately I have so many books to read that I haven’t read anything else by Maugham.The thing is,Of Human Bondage is regarded as Maugham’s best work,so I don’t feel the urge to read his other books which might not appeal to me as much.I think I might give his short stories a go though.

        As for Anna Karenina,it is magnificent.I cannot speak for others,but when I finished it,I could tell why it is regarded as arguably the best book ever written.Here’s something I wrote 1 year ago about the book: https://eyeoflynx.wordpress.com/2014/04/06/why-you-should-read-anna-karenina/

        I hope it’ll convince you to pick the book! 😉

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Btw,is it me,or did you mark your blog as private? I can’t access it now.
        Obviously,if it was meant to be this way,then no worries; otherwise,I just thought it would be great to see what book a fellow bookworm is reading. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Ahh I see, I see. Yes, I’m considering getting his other books but at the same time, I don’t want to be disappointed if they are not as good as Of Human Bondage. I’m thinking of checking out “The Razor’s Edge” or “The Painted Veil” though. And I have heard his short stories are good as well. Oh so many books, so little time!

      And thank you for sharing your Anna Karenina post with me! I’m convinced and I WILL get it soon! 🙂

      I’m very new to blogging so still trying to figure things out :/ Not so tech-savvy haha. I hope I haven’t put it on private accidentally—I hope you can access it now. And you’re the first person to visit my blog actually 😛 , so I’m glad we are connected! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hmm,nope still nothing.It says the blog is protected and that I should request access from the owner (you).Don’t worry,I too got confused with quite some things when I joined WordPress!

        Oh I really love discovering new people on wordpress and seeing what they read and think about books.I especially enjoy meeting people who read at least some classics or modern classics,as they’re quite rare here! So yep,you can expect that I’ll stay connected.As time will pass,you’ll meet even more people holding similar interests. 🙂

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  2. I think I would greatly enjoy Maugham. Thanks for the review. Hope you have read the otherr recommendation of your teacher, Sense of an ending too. It is tragically breathtakingly beautiful

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    1. Yes, I read “Sense of an Ending”—I think I got it a day after he told me about it. It made me feel so depressed in this strange way… I’m not sure how to describe it. Will definitely have to re-read that one again soon.
      I hope you’ll read this one soon! I love “Of Human Bondage” so much!

      Like

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