Finishing this book releases me from the Bondage of an unfinished assignment

Thirty years ago, my Thematic Writing teacher — Mr. Mickelson, I think, but it might have been Miss Sharp — assigned me to read Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham.

I’m happy to report I’ve completed my assignment. On my Kindle, no less!

Of Human BondageAs part of my PopSugar 2015 Reading Challenge, one of the books I was to read was “a book you were supposed to read in school but didn’t.” I know I didn’t read Of Human Bondage because I dutifully reported it in my diary as “a book I was supposed to read for Thematic Writing.”

It’s the coming of age story of Philip Carey from the time of his birth the late 19th century in England until about age 30. An orphan with a club foot, he is brought up by his strict and religious aunt and uncle who hope he enters into a pastoral profession, but he yearns to travel the world freely.

Philip ends up studying in Germany, painting in Paris, hating accounting in London and, finally, taking up medicine. In the meantime, he meets all sorts of people who Maugham generally describes as homely and disgusting in some way. Most horrifying is Mildred, a bitchy waitress (and later, hooker) who repeatedly takes advantage of Philip’s adoration and kindness.

This book is written in formal English (no Valley Girl speak here) and it’s interminable. I can see why I didn’t finish it (or even bother to start it) 30 years ago. But it kind of grew on me. I didn’t care for the way Maugham chose to make his protagonist so indecisive: “He was afraid that Sally by speaking would break the spell, but she said never a word, and he wanted to hear the sound of her voice.” Did Philip want her to speak or not? And I absolutely hated Mildred and longed for Philip to hate her, too, but alas, it was not to be. But Maugham covers a lot of philosophical ground about faith, art, beauty, money and the meaning of life, so this book is a thinker (and believe me, only thinkers are the type to tackle a 30-year-old English assignment). And, I’m happy to report (because I actually got to the end), it has a happy ending (surprise!).

Remarkably, one of the characters commits suicide and twice, Philip seriously considers taking his own life. Also, there’s Mildred as a painted lady and brief references to venereal disease and teenage pregnancy. This is a book assigned to high schoolers to read? I mean, I would let my teenager read it (how impressive would that be!), but I can imagine some parents freaking out.

With Of Human Bondage, I’ve read 38 books this year, which puts me squarely nine books behind schedule to accomplish my goal of 63 books. With three months left in the year, it’s not looking good. But hey, I finished one of my high school reading assignments today, so I’m feeling totally, like, rad, um, ya know?

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2 responses to “Finishing this book releases me from the Bondage of an unfinished assignment

  1. Hello Monica – I love Somerset Maugham’s writing! Some of his short stories are actually better, I think, from an entertainment point of view; but I did enjoy OHB. And I think your review was spot on. One of those books I am glad I read, but won’t be rushing to re-read. Unlike other classics such as Crime and Punishment or Conrad’s Heart of Darkness – man, what a waste of hours those were (oh, the tedium!).

    I am not keeping up properly, so forgive me if you have already posted on it, but the best book by far I have read this year is The Book Thief. Worth every minute you invest in it. I know it’s being made into a movie – not sure if I will watch it, I loved the book so much. It’s enchanting, moving and a compelling piece of storytelling set in WWII Germany. Worth a try to help you reach this year’s target!

    Best,

    Annette

    X

    Sent from my iPad

    • Ah, Annette! So good to hear from you! I think it’s interesting how our reading tastes overlap so frequently. My husband insists we saw Movie version of The Book Thief, but I don’t remember the plot so I’ve added it to my To Read list. I love recommendations, so thank you. Your description reminds me a little of All The Light We Cannot See — have you read it? I liked it very much, and so might you. Take care, my friend!

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