Why you should read ‘Of Human Bondage’ (S.Maugham)

One of the many illustrations by Michael Kirkham for the Folio Society edition of ‘Of Human Bondage’.This one is my favorite.

Synopsis: We follow Philip Carey from the age of nine: through his unhappy, orphaned childhood; his abortive attempt to be an artist in Paris; a tormented affair with a woman he loves but cannot respect; to working as a doctor and deciding ‘the simplest pattern, that in which a man was born, worked, married, had children and died, was likewise the most perfect’.

Why you will like Of Human Bondage :

1.A Book About Life
What is the meaning of life?Such is the question that keeps coming back and forth in Philip Carey’s mind as he paves his way through life’s joys and woes.Philip’s own experiences along with those of all his acquaintances will gradually lead him to solve one of life’s most elusive enigmas.Its storyline might be about the bondage between people,but Of Human Bondage essentially causes us to put our lives in doubt.In this book,Philip’s gain will be your gain.

2.The Language
Prior to reading this book,I only knew Somerset Maugham as a successful and celebrated playwright.I thus harbored the fear that the book might have been written in a grand and pompous language as often were the plays of the early 20th century.To my surprise,the English in Of Human Bondage is so simple that one can easily devour at least 20 pages at once.

3.The Sincerity of Words
One cannot but notice the sincerity pervading through Maugham’s words in this book.Philips’s feelings in regard to his club-foot or to life’s intricacies as a whole,for example,are conveyed with such purity that it becomes easy to relate oneself to him;he is more than a mere fictional character.Of Human Bondage is a honest and therefore,perfect rendition of Somerset Maugham’s life.

4.The Cast
As I said previously,it is in meeting a vast array of characters that the meaning of life gradually unfolds itself to Philip.Strikingly these characters belong to a different scenery and each has a unique story.Additionally,some characters tend to disappear from Philip’s life only to reappear wholly changed at a latter stage.Such diversity of experience ensures that the book never gets boring.It is also worth mentioning that once the role of a character comes to an end,another one will emerge into Philip’s life and and play an active part.

5.The Sustained Emotional Power
Philip Carey is a goodhearted individual and the fact that we get an insight of his feelings all long the story makes it easy for us to sympathize with him.Naturally thus,we are deeply moved when he is distressed.But Philip is not the only one character who evokes pathos in this book: among those who also do are Cronshaw,Mildred,Hayward and Fanny Price.As a result,you can barely go through 20 pages in this book without being moved.There are also flashes of humor which emanate from Philip’s wittiness and which are intelligently used by Maugham as ‘comic reliefs’.In this light,we recognize Maugham’s personal touch as a playwright.

6.The Pace
In Somerset Maugham’s own words,Of Human Bondage ‘is a very long novel’.Given the many career changes which Philip decides upon and the wide range of characters he crosses path with,it could not be otherwise.Yet the pace at which events follow is not in the least boring.Each episode in Philip’s life is made of at most 10 very short chapters.This queer structure is such that you will go on reading without taking notice of the book’s mammoth size.

Why you might not like Of Human Bondage:

1.The Size
The book is as big as or bigger than Moby Dick.The size is not a drawback per se,but if you are used to reading short or mid-sized books like The Great Gatsby,To Kill a Mockingbird or Lord of the Flies,you might want to read a bigger book before having a go at the ‘mammoth’ Of Human Bondage.

2.No Thrill.
Of Human Bondage is hugely emotive but not at all thrilling.I think I would let you know about that lest you pick this book with the wrong expectations.In essence,the book only follows the life of a man from his childhood to his adulthood and thus has one of the dullest storylines in all literature.

Verdict: I’ve read many exceptional novels,but none has taught me about life as much as Of Human Bondage did.It is a beautifully-written book and I opine that it is not enough recognized as a great classic.It might look dull at first – I remember that after reading the first 10 pages,I was wondering how I would ever finish that book – but once you get into the story,everything will be fine.As for the size,you shouldn’t see it as a drawback,for Of Human Bondage is so big a book that it will be your companion for many weeks and you will find yourself growing attached to it.All in all,this book is a must read if you are young and seeking personal growth!

 

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9 thoughts on “Why you should read ‘Of Human Bondage’ (S.Maugham)”

  1. I’ve been meaning to give this one a try for quite long time now, and yes, I must admit it’s been the size of it which always put me off. (Though I did manage to make it through Moby Dick at one point, so big books don’t normally scare me.) I have read Maugham’s The Painted Veil and really liked it though, which is why I’m still keeping Of Human Bondage on my reading list. Its time will come, I’m sure!

    1. Then I’m sure you’ll like it,even though Of Human Bondage is strongly autobiographical and thus not so much a story as The Painted Veil.
      Thanks for commenting! Much appreciated!

  2. Here is a caution – after reading “Of Human Bondage” you might not like reading other books at all at least for a very long time or might even find them shallow (that’s what happened to me). If you have to have read one read book in your lifetime then this is the one for you.

    1. Luckily I didn’t feel this way,although I couldn’t read a book for 1 week as I was still pondering over what this book taught me! I hope you’ve recovered from that feeling,as there are too many good books in the world of literature to be satisfied with 1 book only.

      Judging by your comment,I guess you’ve liked Of Human Bondage,and I’m glad that you stumbled upon my post,as there aren’t many people around here who know this book.I just hope that you’ve liked what I wrote. 🙂

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