Book Review: Of Human Bondage


Of Human Bondage- W Somerset Maugham
Of Human Bondage - W. Somerset Maugham

This is a book that will remain an eternal favorite. I’d picked it up from a friend, and have never wanted to return it. It speaks much about my nature, but I think you’d change your opinion if you read it.

For me, the book has a very Dickensian feel. It charts the story of Philip Carey, an orphan living with his uncle and aunt, his journey from childhood to adulthood. After his mother’s death, Philip is sent to live with his uncle, the vicar of Blackstable, a small village in East Anglia. Here he learns to live with his weak and childless aunt and his nearly religiously fanatic uncle. Philip finds escape from the boring life at the vicarage in his uncle’s collection of books. He spends his childhood in a boarding school, where he finds it difficult to fit in on account of his shy nature and club foot. Maugham plays upon this physical disability and it has a great bearing on Philip’s attitude towards life throughout the story.

The Dickensian feel is evident in the unfortunate childhood of Philip along with the physical disability he suffers, which strongly affects his personality.  Maugham shows us the child with a complex who grows to be a youth with a voracious appetite for knowledge and experience and how he matures to be a man who seeks only peace and contentment.

Philip Carey has to be one of the most intriguing, complex and, at the same time, identifiable character in the history of fiction. You sympathise with him, you hate him, you pity him, you mock him, you question him, you feel with him, for him at every turn of the page.

His characters are fallible, and he shows their humanness through that. He shows human struggle against nature and their own troubling hearts. The point where Philip questions the very human bondage of life and its obligations to the self to make something good of a life, takes the reader on a path of introspection that proves difficult to abandon. We see his characters try to make life better, more fruitful, more exciting or wring more meaning out of it through God, art, through service to others, through travel and knowledge..

Maugham doesn’t preach, doesn’t deliver a message. What he does is paint a picture, a picture on a grand canvas, with every tiny detail drawn in vividness, with each tone highlighting the gravity and humor of the situation, bringing every character to life with brushstrokes of a genius.

This book is said to be a classic and I pray people don’t fall vitim to the the popular adage which claims classics being books everyone has heard of but never read. Prove the old cliche wrong and pick this book up.

You can read the complete review here.

Lady Chatterley’s Lover- Book Review

Lady Chatterley's Lover- D H Lawrence
Lady Chatterley's Lover- D H Lawrence

Lady Chatterley’s Lover is probably the most controversial and most misunderstood novel of the twentieth century. The time in which it first came out was one of the primary reasons for its notoriety, but for the same reason it is also a highly commendable and one of the finest works of the time, proving Lawrence was a bold and brave man possessing courage to speak his mind within the realms of art, with the genius and understanding of a visionary.

The story revolves around a young married woman, Constance (Lady Chatterley) and her relationship with Oliver Mellors, gamekeeper of her husband’s estate and born to a class that’s beneath her and her husband’s social standing.

Constance,the protagonist, called Connie throughout the novel, who hails from a Scottish bourgeois family marries Clifford Chatterley, a baronet who prides himself on his membership in the aristrocracy, however a small part that may be. Following the first World War, Clifford becomes paralyzed from the waist down, which renders him impotent.

During their stay at Wragby Hall, she meets Oliver Mellors who goes on to be her lover in the story. Mellors comes across as a reticent man, who has a strong disdain for his rich masters. As Connie comes to know him, she realises that beneath his rough exterior and broad Derbyshire accent, there lies an intelligent, deep man with a noble heart and a sense of humor brimming with sarcasm.

Meanwhile in the novel, a new relationship begins to develop between Clifford and Mrs. Bolton, their middle-aged nurse who looks after him. Mrs.Bolton displays motherly affection and care for him,worshipping him for his success and intellect. While Connie and Mellors are moving away from dissatisfied relationships to a nurturing one, Clifford and Mrs.Bolton are heading towards a malicious and twisted one.

Though these relationships form the heart of the novel, the author explores the class and social conflict in the background. He depicts that through Mellors disregard for authority and Mrs.Bolton’s grudging admiration of Clifford.

The novel requires one to look beyond the narration, and into the characters’ minds and their words. On the surface, what is an adulterous affair, is also the rendering of one of the most beautiful relationships a man and woman can have. One that doesn’t discard passion for the meeting of minds, nor does it become mindless in the pursuit of primal desires. Lawrence describes the love making without euphemisms, without pretense and without any false modesty. He uses vernacular terms and words that are still black-listed. His work can be compared to that of Goya’s The Naked Maya which invited much ire and controversy. When the reader refuses to go beyond what he sees, he reduces a work of art to commonness or worse, to being obscene.

The book still faces censorship in many countries, a fact which still rankles free speech supporters. Even more obscene is the fact that even when the mainstream media is profligate, authorities still gun for works of art containing explicit material that might be central to the work or act as an instrument of art.

For those who have only heard of controversies of the book, it would do good to pick this one up and find out for yourself. The book is as dirty a book as Galileo was a madman for his heresies.

You can find the complete review here.