August 15, 2005

Of Human Bondage

The title says it all. Of Human Bondage is full of suffering, but strangely enough I wasn’t depressed in the least while reading it. It was somewhat exhilarating to be honest…

The language used is plain and matter of fact; this makes what it describes more compelling to me. I’ve heard that Anna Karenina is a great tragedy, but I was not affected by it. But this book touches a nerve…

You know, doing the opposite of what people do to each other for most of this book will give you a very pleasant life indeed. But people are not like that; you can’t help but hurt the ones you know.

Near the start of the book, there is an incident which sets the pace for the stuff that follows: Philip (our protagonist) is barely nine years old. His father died some time ago, and his mother has just died. He’s a small, club-footed, pitiable fellow. At nine he’s terribly conscious of the fact that others pity him, and can’t resist deliberately showing his suffering on this occasion. I can’t really describe it, hope you get the drift…

Philip’s youth is horrible, but he turns out OK-ish. He’s awfully shy, and hides it with a calm, unruffled exterior. And he’s got a gift of hitting people where it hurts the most; almost an instinct. He’s lonely like hell.

“He did not know how wide a country, arid and precipitous, must be crossed before the traveller through life comes to an acceptance of reality. It is an illusion that youth is happy, an illusion of those who have lost it; but the young know they are wretched, for they are full of the truthless ideas which have been instilled into them, and each time they come in contact with the real they are bruised and wounded.”

The book’s long; if I write a synopsis here the post will be long enough to put people to sleep. Needless to say, somewhere near the half-way point, he falls desperately in love with a girl; someone who does not care for him at all. He can’t find anything to like about her, but can’t get her out of his mind. In the author’s own words:

“He had thought of love as a rapture which seized one so that all the world seemed spring-like, he had looked forward to an ecstatic happiness; but this was not happiness; it was a hunger of the soul, it was a painful yearning, it was a bitter anguish, he had not known it before. … When she left him it was wretchedness, and when she came to him again it was despair. “

What follows next is worse. Each and every action taken by each character heightens their suffering. This book made me feel real pain for the characters, I was wishing at each and every juncture that they don’t do something which I know they’ll end up doing.

But near the end things turn out well, Philip develops a hardened attitude and a confidence in himself that you can’t help but admire. The end’s exquisite to say the least.

Read the book through to the end and you’ll have read one of the finest works ever written. Probably.

“It was not very comfortable to have the gift of being amused at one’s own absurdity.”

If the book can make me feel emotional, it’ll sure as hell affect most people out there. There’s nothing wrong with a sad tale; most of the good stories in life are sad. And there’s also nothing wrong with a happy tale. No reason a story can’t be both at the same time.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Never read somerset Maugham. have come across some of his quotes though , very witty. Ranjani

Ankit said...

Well, this was my first Maughm book; I had barely heard of him before picking it up.