Books that have film Adaptations · Classic English Literature.

Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham.

Somerset Maugham, author of Of Human Bondage.
Somerset Maugham, author of Of Human Bondage.

Maugham was so good at capturing human failings in his books. This book is multi-layered and interesting – you can’t just pin it down in one explanation. It’s the story of a shy man, Phillip Carey, who has a club foot and has to deal with the bondage that life brings – love, life, loss, death and money. There was a film made in the 1930s based on the book, starring Leslie Howard and Bette Davis.

Phillip drifts through life – artist, clerk, doctor. He has his share of romantic entanglements and comes across as both human and gutless at the same time. We see Phillip’s battles with his inner conscience. He is sometimes selfish, and sometimes greedy. He falls for waitress, Mildred Rogers, and she manipulates him endlessly for money and affection when she returns to him with another man’s child. He also wants to qualify as a doctor, but battles grief, poverty and despair along the way.

The book is long (about 600 pages) so patience is required if you want to read this weighty bildungsroman. Sometimes my attention wandered but it was worth it in the end. Maugham also had the tendency to make his male characters rather weak in comparison with his female ones. Apparently it was because he was bisexual and saw women as sexual rivals.

In the 1934 film adaptation, Mildred dies at the end but here it is not explicitly stated. It probably did happen out of the book’s timeline but the tiny clues are there. They are brief, but they are there. He doesn’t really condemn his characters for their vices but probably saw them as a natural progression of ‘the way of things’.
Over all, a good book. Maugham’s works probably never got the high esteem that they deserved. This won’t be my ‘favourite’ book, but it’ll be on my top 10 list for sure.

MY RATING: **** / *****

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