From the Bookshelf: Of Human Bondage, by W. Somerset Maugham

Since Christmas, I have had a dilemma.  As I mentioned earlier, I purchased the 11 volume set of history books by Will and Arial Durant, The Story of Civilization.  My concern is how to fit them onto our already over-supplied bookshelves.  Currently, they dwell on top of one of the temporary sets of shelves (on the project list for replacement with something more presentable, though it has functioned quiet well on that project list for 20 years).  Thus, my plan is to start reading books which I consider “one more time in my life” reads.  Thus, Of Human Bondage seemed like a good place to start.

Somerset Maugham is an author I believe I should recognize and have read.  But, I haven’t.  I mentioned this to a well-read co-worker, who recalled being required to read Of Human Bondage in college.  Were it not a requirement, she would have not persevered.  But, it was memorable enough that she could carry on a knowledgeable conversation 30 years later.  I decided that I would give the 565 page novel 50 pages to entice me.

Honestly, I do not know when or from whence this volume showed up on our shelves. I did not purchase it, nor did my wife.  She suspects that a well-read friend passed it along with some other volumes (also on my once more time in my life list).  I finished those first, 50 pages, questioning why I would want to wade through 516 more pages of a late-19th century coming-of age story of a orphaned young-man in England.  While this is not my usual interest in a story, Maugham wrote so eloquently, I could not stop.  Moreover, I enjoyed his prose such that I began compiling quotes, which I shall foist on you now.  If you want this book, let me know before I send it off to the used bookstore.

pg. 67 – He tired of having to do things because he was told; and the restrictions irked him, not because they were unreasonable, but because they were restrictions. He yearned for freedom.

pg. 70 – …the local paper constantly reported the cases he had in the country court against this one and that, labourers he would not pay their wages to or tradesmen whom he accused to cheating him…

pg. 81 – …he had been taught to look upon Americans as wild and desperate barbarians.

pg. 83 – …there are two good things in life, freedom of though, and freedom of action. In France you get freedom of action: you can do what you like and nobody bothers, but you must think like everybody else. In Germany you must do what everybody else does, but you may think as you choose… In England you get neither: you are ground down by convention. You can’t think as you like or act as you like. That’s because it’s a democratic nation. I expect America’s worse.

pg. 91 – Philip was good listener; though he often thought of clever things to say, it was seldom till after the opportunity to say them had passed; but Hayward was communicative; anyone more experienced than Philip might have thought he liked to hear himself talk.

pg. 163 – They talked of a thousand things, and they all talked at once. No one paid the smallest attention to anyone else.

pg 165 – “What’s nature got to do with it? No one knows what’s in nature and what isn’t! The world sees nature through the eyes of the artist…. If we choose to surround objects with black line, the world will see the black line, and there will be a black line; and if we paint grass red and cows blue, it’ll see them red and blue, and by Heaven, they will be red and blue.”

pg 184 – The desire of them all was to have a mistress. It was part of the paraphernalia of the art-student in Paris. It gave consideration in the eyes of one’s fellows. It was something to boast about. But the difficulty was that they had scarcely enough money to keep themselves, and though they argued that Frenchwomen were so clever it cost no more to keep two then one, they found it difficult to meet young women who were willing to take that view of the circumstances.

pg. 190 – You have society on one hand and the individual on the other: each is an organism striving for self-preservation. It is might against might. I stand alone, bound to accept society and not unwilling, since in return for the taxes I pay it protects me, a weakling, against the tyranny of another stronger than I am; but I submit to its laws because I must; I do not acknowledge their justice; I do not know justice, I only know power.

pg.226. – “It is cruel to discover one’s mediocrity only when it is too late. It does not improve the temper.”

pg. 236. – … you did not act in a certain way because you thought in a certain way, but rather than you thought in a certain way because you were made in a certain way…. Each man was his own philosopher,…

pg. 243. – He found that it was easy to make a heroic gesture, but hard to abide by its results.

pg. 274 – He knew that all things are transitory and therefore that it must cease one day or another.

pg. 291 – … she wanted someone to pet, and scold, and make a fuss of; she had a domestic temperament and found pleasure in looking after his health and his linen.

pg. 295 – “Why d’you read then?”

“Partly for pleasure, because it’s a habit and i’m just as uncomfortable if I don’t read as if I don’t smoke, and partly to know myself. When I read a book I seem to read it with my eyes only, but now and then I come across a passage, perhaps only a phrase, which has meaning for me, and it become part of me;…”

pg. 326 – He had always a certain shyness in expressing himself by word of mouth, but he found he could tell her, pen in hand, all sorts of things it would have made him feel ridiculous to say.

pg. 345 – …that charm of his concealed an utter selfishness; he was willing to sacrifice anyone to his appetites.

pg. 354 – He did not know what it was that passed from a man to a woman, from a woman to a man, and made one of them a slave: it was convenient to call it the sexual instinct; but if it was no more than that, he did not understand why it should occasion so vehement an attraction to one person rather than another.

pg. 355 – It amused him sometime to consider that his friends, because he had a face which did not express his feelings very vividly and rather slow way of moving, looked upon him as strong-minded, deliberate, and cool…. He had no self-control. He merely seemed to possess it because he was indifferent to many of the things which moved other people.

pg. 362 – … she was right when she said he had never loved her. He was disappointed, irritated even, but his vanity was more affected than his heart.

pg. 368 – Most of them are under the impression that the hospital was an institution of the state, for which they paid out of the rates, and took the attendance they received as a right they could claim.

pg. 376 – … he used elaborate sentences, carefully balanced, and obsolete, resplendent words: it gave his writing an appearance of individuality.

pg. 378 – They acted according to their emotions, but their emotions might be good or bad; it seemed just a chance whether they led to triumph or disaster.

pg. 401 “… religion is a matter of temperament; you will believe anything if you have the religious turn of mind, and if you haven’t it doesn’t matter what belief were instilled in you, you will grow out of them. Perhaps religion is the best school for morality…. A man is more likely to be a good man if he has learned goodness through the love of God than through a perusal of Herbert Spencer.”
pg. 405 – (He) clamored for life as it stood; sordidness, vice, deformity, did not offend him; he declared that he wanted man in his nakedness and he rubbed his hand when an instance came before him of meanness, cruelty, selfishness, or lust; that was the real thing.

pg. 452 – It looked as though men were puppets in the hands of an unknown force, which drove them to this and that; and sometimes they used their reason to justify their actions; and when this impossible they did the actions in despite of reason.

pg. 485 – The effort was so incommensurate with the result. The bright hopes of youth had to be paid for at such a bitter price of disillusionment.

pg. 486 – … it seemed to him that the last burden of responsibility was taken from him; and for the first time he was utterly free. His insignificance was turned to power, and he felt himself suddenly equal with the cruel fate which had seemed to persecute him; for, if life was meaningless, the world was robbed of its cruelty. What he did nor left undone did not matter. Failure was unimportant and success amounted to nothing.

pg. 505 – Nothing interested him now but his health. He was set upon one thing indomitably and that was living, just living, notwithstanding the monotony of his life…

pg. 564 – It seemed to him that all his life he had followed the ideals that other people, by their words or their writing, had instilled into him, and never the desires of his own heart…. He thought of his desire to make a design, intricate and beautiful, out of the myriad, meaningless facts of life: had he not seen also that the simplest pattern, that in which a man was born, worked, married, had children, and died, was likewise the most  perfect? It might be that to surrender to happiness was to accept defeat, but is was a defeat better than many victories.

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About hermitsdoor

Up here in the mountains, we have a saying, "You can't get there from here", which really means "We wouldn't go the trouble to do that". Another concept is that "If you don't know, we ain't telling." For the rest, you'll have to read between the lines.
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4 Responses to From the Bookshelf: Of Human Bondage, by W. Somerset Maugham

  1. Laurie Graves says:

    Yearning for freedom! Don’t we all? Even as we age. I can see why you were drawn in.

  2. cindy knoke says:

    Remarkable quotations!

  3. KerryCan says:

    I know I read to read this, when I was in my teens or 20s, but gave up. Your quotes make it seems intriguing again.

  4. Pingback: From the Bookshelf: Stories of My Childhood? | hermitsdoor

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