Short summary - Of Human Bondage - William Somerset Maugham

British literature summaries -

Short summary - Of Human Bondage
William Somerset Maugham

The beginning of the XX century. Nine-year-old Philip Carey remains an orphan, and he is sent to be raised with his uncle priest in Blackstable. The priest does not feel tender feelings for his nephew, but in his house Philip finds many books that help him forget about loneliness.

At the school where the boy was sent, classmates mock him (Philip is chrome from birth), which makes him painfully timid and shy - it seems to him that suffering is the destiny of his whole life. Philip prays to God to make him healthy, and that he doesn’t blame himself for the fact that a miracle does not happen - he thinks that he lacks faith.

He hates school and does not want to go to Oxford. Contrary to the wishes of his uncle, he seeks to study in Germany, and he manages to insist on his own.

In Berlin, Philip falls under the influence of one of his fellow practitioners, the Englishman Hayward, who seems to him extraordinary and talented, not noticing that the deliberate unusualness of that is only a pose for which there is nothing. But disputes between Hayward and his interlocutors about literature and religion leave a huge imprint on Philip’s soul: he suddenly realizes that he no longer believes in God, is not afraid of hell and that a person is only responsible for his actions.

After completing a course in Berlin, Philip returns to Blackstable and meets Miss Wilkinson, the daughter of Mr. Carey's former assistant, there. She is about thirty, she is coy and coquettish, at first Philip does not like her, but nevertheless she soon becomes his mistress. Philip is very proud, in a letter to Hayward, he composes a beautiful romantic story. But when the real Miss Wilkinson leaves, she feels enormous relief and sadness because reality is so unlike dreams.

Uncle, resigned to Philip's unwillingness to go to Oxford, sends him to London to study the profession of a jury accountant. In Philip, London is bad: there are no friends, and work is unbearable. And when a letter arrives from Hayward with a proposal to leave for Paris and do painting, it seems to Philip that this desire has ripened in his soul for a long time. After studying for only a year, he, despite the objections of his uncle, leaves for Paris.

In Paris, Philip entered the art studio "Amitrino"; Fanny Price helps him to get comfortable in a new place - she is very ugly and untidy, they can not stand her for rudeness and enormous conceit in the complete absence of drawing abilities, but Philip is still grateful to her.

The life of Parisian bohemia is changing the worldview of Philip: he no longer considers ethical tasks as fundamental to art, although the meaning of life is still seen in Christian virtue. The poet Kronshaw, disagreeing with this position, offers Philip to comprehend the true purpose of human existence to look at the pattern of the Persian carpet.

When Fanny, having learned that in the summer Philip and his friends were leaving Paris, made an ugly scene, Philip realized that she was in love with him. And on his return, he did not see Fanny in the studio and, absorbed in his studies, forgot about her. A few months later a letter arrives from Fanny asking her to come to her: she did not eat anything for three days. Arriving, Philip discovers that Fanny committed suicide. It shocked Philip. Guilty tormented him, but most of all - the senselessness of Fanny's asceticism. He begins to doubt his ability to paint and addresses these doubts to one of the teachers. And indeed, he advises him to start his life anew, because only a mediocre artist can turn out of him.

The news of the death of his aunt forces Philip to go to Blackstable, and he will never return to Paris. After parting with the painting, he wants to study medicine and enters the institute at the hospital of St. Luke in London. In his philosophical thoughts, Philip concludes that conscience is the main enemy of the individual in the struggle for freedom, and creates a new life rule for himself: you must follow your natural inclinations, but with due regard to the policeman around the corner.

Once in a cafe, he spoke to a waitress named Mildred; she refused to support the conversation, offending his pride. Soon Philip realizes that he is in love, although he sees all her flaws perfectly: she is ugly, vulgar, her manners are full of disgusting vulgarity, her rude speech speaks of the scarcity of thought. Nevertheless, Philip wants to get her at all costs, up to marriage, although he realizes that this will be death for him. But Mildred declares that he is marrying another, and Philip, realizing that the main reason for his torment is wounded vanity, despises himself no less than Mildred. But you need to live on: take exams, meet friends ...

Acquaintance with a young pretty woman named Nora Nesbit - she is very sweet, witty, able to relate to life's turmoil easily - restores his faith in himself and heals emotional wounds. Philip finds another friend, having contracted the flu: he is carefully looked after by his neighbor, Griffiths doctor.

But Mildred is returning - having learned that she is pregnant, her named man admitted that he is married. Philip leaves Nora and begins to help Mildred - his love is so strong. Mildred gives the newborn to her upbringing, not feeling any feelings for her daughter, but she falls in love with Griffiths and gets in touch with him. The offended Philip nevertheless secretly hopes that Mildred will return to him again. Now he often recalls Hope: she loved him, and he acted abominably with her. He wants to return to her, but finds out that she is engaged. Soon he heard a rumor that Griffiths broke up with Mildred: she quickly got tired of him.

Philip continues to study and work as an assistant in the outpatient clinic. Communicating with many different people, seeing their laughter and tears, grief and joy, happiness and despair, he realizes that life is more complicated than abstract concepts of good and evil. Kronshaw arrives in London, who is finally about to publish his poems. He is very sick: he suffered pneumonia, but, not wanting to listen to doctors, he continues to drink, because only after drinking does he become himself. Seeing the distress of an old friend, Philip carries him to himself; he soon dies. And again Philip is depressed by the thought of the meaninglessness of his life, and the life rule invented under similar circumstances now seems silly to him.

Philip draws close to one of his patients, Thorpe Atelni, and is very attached to him and his family: a hospitable wife, healthy, cheerful children. Philip likes to be in their house, bask in their cozy hearth. Atelny introduces him to the paintings of El Greco. Philip is shocked: it was revealed to him that self-denial is no less passionate and decisive than submission to passions.

Having again met Mildred, who now earns a living by prostitution, Philip out of pity, no longer experiencing her former feelings, invites her to settle with him as a servant. But she does not know how to manage the household and does not want to look for work. In search of money, Philip begins to play on the stock exchange, and he succeeds so first that he can afford to operate on his sore leg and travel with Mildred to the sea.

In Brighton, they live in separate rooms. Mildred is angry: she wants to convince everyone that Philip is her husband, and when she returns to London, she is trying to seduce him. But she doesn’t succeed - now Philip is physically disgusted with her, and she leaves in a rage, having organized a pogrom in his house and having taken away the child to whom Philip managed to become attached.

All of Philip’s savings went to move from an apartment that evokes heavy memories for him and, moreover, is too big for him alone. In order to somehow improve the situation, he again tries to play on the stock exchange and goes broke. Uncle refuses to help him, and Philip is forced to leave school, move out of the apartment, spend the night on the street and starve. Upon learning of Philip’s plight, Atelny takes him to work in a store.

The news of Hayward's death makes Philip think again about the meaning of human life. He recalls the words of the already dead Kronshaw about the Persian carpet. Now he interprets them like this: although a person weaves a pattern of his life aimlessly, but, weaving various threads and creating a picture at his discretion, he should be satisfied with this. The uniqueness of the picture is its meaning. Then the last meeting with Mildred takes place. She writes that she is sick, that her child has died; in addition, having come to her, Philip finds out that she returned to her previous studies. After a painful scene, he leaves forever - this mess of his life finally dissipates.


Having received an inheritance after the death of his uncle, Philip returns to college and, after graduating, works as an assistant with Dr. South, and so successfully that he offers Philip to become his companion. But Philip wants to go traveling, "in order to find the promised land and know himself."

Meanwhile, the eldest daughter of Atelne, Sally, likes Philip very much, and once at the collection of hops he gives in to his feelings ... Sally says that she is pregnant, and Philip decides to sacrifice himself and marry her. Then it turns out that Sally was mistaken, but for some reason Philip does not feel relief. Suddenly he realizes that marriage is not self-sacrifice, and that giving up fictitious ideals for the sake of family happiness, if it is a defeat, it is better than all victories ... Philip asks Sally to become his wife. She agrees, and Philip Carey finally finds the promised land that his soul has long sought.