One of the most widely read novels of the 20th century, W. Somerset Maugham's masterpiece, Of Human Bondage, gives a harrowing depiction of unrequited love. Philip Carey, a sensitive orphan born with a clubfoot, finds himself in desperate need of passion and inspiration. He abandons his studies to travel, first to Heidelberg and then to Paris, where he nurses ambitions of becoming a great artist.
Philip's youthful idealism erodes, however, as he comes face-to-face with his own mediocrity and lack of impact on the world. After returning to London to study medicine, he becomes wildly infatuated with Mildred, a vulgar, tawdry waitress, and begins a doomed love affair that will change the course of his life.
First published in 1915, the semi-autobiographical Of Human Bondage combines the values left over from the Victorian era with the prevailing irony and despair of the early 20th century. Unsentimental yet bursting with deep feeling, Of Human Bondage remains Maugham's most complete statement of the importance of physical and spiritual liberty, a theme that resounds more loudly than ever today.
Public Domain (P)2011 Tantor
I had looked forward to listening to this but found the narration so inappropriate that I had to give up after 6 hours. The book itself is, presumably, a subtle portrayal of the childhood and youth of an often unlikeable character. Since the story is unremittingly centered around this one character I imagine that it is quite a demanding read and requires some careful interpretation. Here it is read as though it is a "Billy Bunter" story; with an over-dramatised, whining, upper-class accent imposed on the main character and caricatured female 'voices' imposed on all the women characters. This makes it a ridiculous and pointless story. I am sorry to be critical of an actor but feel strongly that "buyers should be aware".
I really hated the first half of this book. And it's a long half. I got to Chapter 76 before anything really engaged my attention. The hero is hugely flawed and utterly infuriating, but somehow by the time I got to the end I was actually rooting for him. I'm going to have to reflect on the reference to 'bondage' - and probably read a bit more about what Maugham was referring to. I'm sure there's more to think about than just the story itself.
I found the language quaint, and it was nice to hear words I used in my childhood restored to their glory. I had to look up some terms that I think have gone out of use completely now.
The pace of the story was frustrating. Dwelling for a chapter or two on some minor deliberation, and then skipping 2 years in a sentence. This annoyed me, and was one of the reasons I struggled with the first half.
The narration was excellent - good strong characterisation and some lovely humour. I'd just finished another book narrated by him, and it struck me how different the style was here. Full marks.
So now I'm going to go and think about this book... You will need stamina and determination to get through it, but on balance I'd say it would be worth it.
"You won't want it to end!"
Simple in writing but it draws you in and makes you relate and remember experiences, feelings and situations in yourself and friends that are similar to the best and worst characters in the story. It wraps up a little quicker then I expected after such a long audio but it's probably the best book I've heard to date and has had me thinking and rethinking situations, events in my own life. It was a fantastic listen!
"Good Story of a Wounded Man"
This is an excellent Bildungsroman, if you don't mind a central figure who is more buffeted by the ideas and actions of others that the active agent in his own life.
The reading is good, except for the voice adopted for the Mildred character. That was like something out of a much more comic performance.
Main character provokes very little sympathy, and narration is not suited to audiobooks (as other have commented, narrator faded off dramatically at the end of sentences).
"One of the best stories"
I cannot believe that the novel was published in 1915. Humans haven't evolved very much in the last 100 years as i could relate so well to the emotions expressed in the book!
"Great book, reader not good for the car"
The performance was good, except he drops his voice at the end of sentences, so it's no good unless you're in a very quiet place. Even then , I didn't catch everything
"Reader is terrible"
I loved the Razor's Edge and the reader there was wonderful but I will NEVER read another book narrated by Crossley. He varies his volume extremely and drops very low and soft at the end of some words, so much so that I cannot follow his rendition. I had to ask for a credit and get the other reader.
First Work Out of Maugham's Self-Loathing, Chauvinistic Closet
This superb 1915 novel which nearly earns 5 stars. Reading it was a strain until the protagonist Philip Carey went to Paris to study art, after which I found it fascinating, then infuriating and ultimately affirming. That is to say, I loved the parts about art and Paris and his relationship with Fanny Price, the poor and talentless soul who committed suicide; I detested his main love interest (a unilateral infatuation of the first degree) in Mildred Rogers, the Cockney waitress who used and abused him without pity, and his pathetic lapses into co-dependency on her. Thus, I was heartened by Philip's ability to finally escape the chains of fear and self-hatred caused by losing his parents young, having a clubfoot and being attached by "love" to an awful leach.
Now, to my title Misogyne Bondage:
The enterprise of comparing this novel with his other three major novels, The Painted Veil, The Moon and Sixpence and The Razor's Edge, as well as his most acclaimed short story, "Rain," has been terribly illuminating. As I contemplated, I saw a peculiar pattern in Maugham's female leads (in these works, at least) and was reminded of an essay by Christopher Hitchens that I read in his brilliant collection Arguably: Selected Essays, in which Hitchens reviewed the Maugham biography Somerset Maugham: A Life, by Jeffrey Meyers. See C. Hitchens, "W. Somerset Maugham: Poor Old Willie," The Atlantic, May 2004. After re-reading this essay and traveling back through my memory of the four novels and short story, I am convinced that Maugham was a misogynist sparked by his self-loathing as a closeted homosexual.
“Maugham worked assiduously to create a persona for himself in life. And the life was, according to this admirable biography, a good deal more exquisite, dramatic, torrid, and tragic than any of the works. Born and brought up in France, Maugham lost his parents when quite young and from then on was farmed out to mean relatives and cruel, monastic boarding schools. The traditional ration of bullying, beating, and buggery seems to have been unusually effective in his case, leaving him with a frightful lifelong speech impediment and a staunch commitment to homosexuality.”
“An ideal way to “lock in” homosexual disposition is probably to spend time as a gynecologist in a slum district of London—which, astonishingly enough, is what the fastidious young man did. Though he would ultimately abandon medicine, he passed considerable time delivering babies in the abysmal squalor of Lambeth, on the south bank of the River Thames. As part of his training he witnessed cesarean births in the hospital, where death was not uncommon.”
C. Hitchens, "Poor Old Willie," supra.
Reviewing each of his four major novels and his most renowned short story, one is struck by the common thread: the females are all weak, wanton and/or wicked. These women are the type of which George Bernard Shaw so mordantly quipped in his play, "Mrs. Warren's Profession": "She may be a good sort but she is a bad lot."
Mildred Rogers and Fanny Price (who only appeared briefly) from the instant novel are discussed above. In the short story, "Rain" (1921), the prostitute Sadie Thompson is violated by a missionary intent upon saving her soul and after finding the missionary dead from suicide, the narrator observes that Sadie has returned to "the flaunting quean" they had first known when coming to American Samoa. "Quean" means "a low woman; a wench; a slut."
In The Razor's Edge (1944), Sophie Macdonald, a childhood friend of the protagonist Larry Darrell, becomes an alcoholic, opium addicted "slut" after losing her husband and child to a tragic car accident. On the eve of the wedding of Larry and Sophie (whom he's trying to save from a life of debauchery), Larry's pre-war girlfriend, the wealthy, wicked Isabel (who wants Larry for herself), leads a sober, fragile Sophie back to the path of destruction by effectively handing her a bottle of expensive vodka.
In The Moon and Sixpence (1919), Blanche Stroeve, wife of a Dutch painter who is a friendly comrade of the Gaugin-based antihero, abandons her husband for "Gaugin," who quickly casts her aside once she's served her purpose as a model and short-term concubine, after which she kills herself.
Finally, in The Painted Veil (1925), Kitty Garstin Fane, the heroine, is a flighty and self-centered "low woman" who, shortly after marrying Dr. Fane, embarks upon a lurid, torrid affair lasting two years and only laughs when initially faced with Dr. Fane finding out. Notably, this is my favorite Maugham novel, probably because he gives Kitty redemption. While this may seem the exception to my thesis, I'd point out that Kitty is like the others in her sexual promiscuity, a trait that seems particularly deplorable to misogynists.
Does this take away from the brilliance of Maugham's works or mean that he doesn't remain on my list of favorite authors? No. But, I do believe that being forced by then-existing societal norms to hide his homosexuality significantly contributed to his self-loathing, in turn leading to his negative outlook toward women. Were our culture more advanced, as it is now progressing, maybe Maugham would not have felt compelled to conceal his sexual preference and would not have been so fundamentally adverse to females and, as a consequence, might have been more kind to the superior sex (IMHO) and penned novels with more positive female characters or at least given his seriously damaged female characters more redeeming arcs, such as he did in The Painted Veil.
I don't do this for a living so I cannot afford to spend any more time revising or cleaning up this review, so please forgive any errors or if I have offended anyone.
This is one of those classic books I could never read but enjoyed listening to it. It was work to stay with it at times but I am glad I did. Never an exciting listen but a deep look into a empty lonesome life.
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