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Thread: Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham

  1. #1
    practical experience, FTW cmi0616's Avatar
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    Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham

    Pardon me for the rant. Also, this post might not even seem coherent to those who have read the novel in it's entirety, as I am only 400 pages into it and there might be information towards the end that renders these complaints moot, but in the mean time:

    I rarely complain about characters in novels. My take on it usually is that they're not real people, and if they are unlikeable little asshats it's usually because the author intended it to be that way. Fictional characters are the writer's creation and serve a distinct purpose that is typically to move the story forward or, at the very least, to make some sort of point.

    However, reading Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham, Philip Carey has come to infuriate me. Because it's a roman-a-clef, one suspects that the protagonist should be a sympathetic person, and as far as I can tell, that was Maugham's intention. However, I can't help but notice that I sincerely hope Philip dies of some terrible, painful illness (along with Mildred, by the way).

    Here's my main problem: the symptoms of Philip's "love" for Mildred seem to imply that Philip hasn't the slightest clue of what love is. And when I say that, I mean it quite literally. It seems as though he would define it as some sort of dark emotion that involves a lot of hatred and condescension. After all, he repeatedly speaks of how much he dislikes her. Mildred is constantly referred to as "vulgar" or simple. He doesn't seem to find her physically attractive dwelling, for pages and pages and pages, on her pale skin and her other "anemic qualities". She is a very cold person, who almost seems averse to granting Philip any sort of happiness despite agreeing to be with him. Not only is the relationship an un-realteable one, but it would seem as though such a "romance" of any kind would be impossible in reality. The two don't actually seem to feel anything but contempt for one another at all.

    However, time and time again, Philip seems to decide that he's fallen in love with Mildred. At the same time though, he hates her. He can't stand being around her even when she agrees to enter into a relationship with him, and he throws away his healthy, happy relationship with Norah (and, may I just say, poor Norah!) for another shot at Mildred, who justly takes his money and runs off with another man.

    And then after Mildred leaves him again (and this is what really made me wish death upon Philip Carey), the kid has the balls to go back to Norah and expect her to be waiting for him.

    In my opinion, Maugham either had a deep, vehement self-loathing, or was unable to properly tell the tale of this roman-a-clef due to his homosexuality and the era the story took place in.

    Either way, Philip Carey has quickly become my least favorite character in literary history. Whatever pity I felt for him at the beginning of the book has vanished and turned into a wish for his head.

    Anyways, I hope this made some sort of sense. I also hope my violent rage hasn't scared you and you people still want to be my friends.

    Last edited by cmi0616; 01-08-2013 at 08:32 AM.
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  2. #2
    I Pride with my Grandson! KTC's Avatar
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    (-: I read this book once a year. I love it and I love Philip Carey. I also love that different people love different books.

    We come to each book we read with a packet full of baggage. I get what you're saying about Philip...I get your frustrations. I, however, did not see them as frustrations.

    I do think that some of the false wall of love experienced in this work is due to Maugham's homosexuality. I also read The Summing Up and a few of his other novels. He seemed pretty mixed up when it came to love. I think that was what attracted me to Philip, actually.

    I don't know why I love the book, to be honest. It just hit me deep.
    "Iím putting this book right up there alongside Laurie Halse Andersonís, TWISTED, and John Greenís, LOOKING FOR ALASKA. Not to be missed. Highly recommended!" ~ From a review of BURN BABY BURN BABY.


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  3. #3
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin
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    The movie was fantastic, mostly because Bette Davis was in it.

  4. #4
    I think that's the point. I never got the feeling that you were supposed to like any of these characters, especially not Philip when he became involved with Mildred. It seemed like an addiction.

    I wonder if it would've made a difference if she was attractive and cold, rather than weird looking and cold. I don't know. I felt like Philip always had Mommy issues, and was rather gay, anyway.

    Just read to the end. It will make sense.

  5. #5
    bushed Bushrat's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by thebloodfiend View Post
    I think that's the point. I never got the feeling that you were supposed to like any of these characters, especially not Philip when he became involved with Mildred. It seemed like an addiction.
    That's how I feel, and it's one of the reasons I love the book so much--because it's not your run-of-the-mill set of characters with everybody slotted into clear-cut categories. To me, his characters feel very real because of it.

  6. #6
    practical experience, FTW cmi0616's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by thebloodfiend View Post

    I wonder if it would've made a difference if she was attractive and cold, rather than weird looking and cold.
    I was not under the impression that she was an attractive women. Philip, upon seeing her, dismisses her physical qualities, and goes as far as to describe her chest as "boy-like". He repeatedly talks of her "anemic qualities," throughout the book, her pale skin and thin lips.
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  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by cmi0616 View Post
    I was not under the impression that she was an attractive women. Philip, upon seeing her, dismisses her physical qualities, and goes as far as to describe her chest as "boy-like". He repeatedly talks of her "anemic qualities," throughout the book, her pale skin and thin lips.
    Neither was I. I'm wondering if it would've made a difference if she was.

    I know, for a while, it pissed me off that she was such a horrible person and not that attractive. I mean, I could've understood staying with such a horrible person if they were at least hot. But Philip is kind of masochist, anyway. I don't think he has a single healthy relationship with a woman.

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