Monday, August 15, 2011

Heather's Perspective on Of Human Bondage

I am blogging this through a haze of a variety of medications, so forgive me, imaginary followers, if I am a bit confusing at times this evening. I am currently taking children's strength decongestant, Tylenol, Penicillin, half a sleeping pill every night, and as many cough drops as I can handle without choking on the Menthol. Aside from having the privilege of sitting next to a pile of tissues and cough drop wrappers, I am also not in the best mood. My school counselor is testing my patience by enrolling me (the student ranked 9th out of 453 students, who is stressed out enough as it is) in an online course and an extra class that I did not sign up for. On top of that, I'm not going to have one of the teachers I was really counting on having. And I've missed two days of swim practice, which is two days too many, and because of my dad's ability to plan secret vacations, I must miss two more this week.
Again, not in the best mood, but I will try to let go of any grudges against my counselor, father, and cold so as not to upset you poor, imaginary readers with the tales of my recent woes.
It took me nearly a week of reading in every spare second of my time to finish Of Human Bondage. I am not accustomed to this length and was quite frustrated when it took longer than the usual three days of buckling down to finish a book. I was further surprised when I discussed the book with my peers and found that I am the only one who enjoyed it.
The book takes place from 1885 onward. Think Jane Eyre. This story had basically the same plot. Kid's parents die, kid lives with aunt and uncle, kid gets sent to boarding school, kid hates boarding school until s/he makes some friends. I guess that is where the similarities end. Philip, the main character, leaves the school early to become a clerk. He discovers that he hates the job and decides to become an artist. He discovers that he's not a very good painter, and decides to become a doctor. He loses all of his money in the stock market and lives in poverty for a few years, until his uncle dies and leaves Philip enough money to finish his doctoring schoolishness and become an actual doctor. The book ends after Philip becomes engaged to a girl he does not love.
There are some things that happen in between that have nothing to do with his career. While at a painting school in France, Philip befriends Fanny Price, a girl who everyone else hates. She begins to love him, and kills herself when she no longer has money for food. Apparently, this was a common tradition back then. Her death really affected Philip, and he spent the rest of the book reminiscing the day when he saw her body hanging from the ceiling, wondering why she hadn't asked him for food or money.
Later, he falls in love with a waitress named Mildred. She's a perfect brat and treats him horribly, then marries another guy who has more money than Philip. She finds out that the other guy is actually already married and can only keep her as a mistress (Sister Carrie much?). Then she gets pregnant so the guy leaves her, and she comes crawling back to Philip, who houses her and continues to love her. Then she meets his best friend, decides that she loves him, and runs away when she finds that his best friend doesn't return her affection. Philip finds her months later and discovers that she is a prostitute. He no longer loves her, but again houses her and takes care of her child, until she tries to have sex with him. He refuses, and she thanks him for all his money and dedication by tearing up anything of value that he owns. They meet again later; Philip finds out that Mildred's baby has died and she is deathly ill.
Upon reading my description, I can't help but think that this book was pointless. A fun read, but pointless. Philip finds the "meaning of life" at some point in the book after a long struggle of looking for it. When I think of his conclusion, the phrase "dry philosophy" comes to mind, and nothing else. The meaning of life, according to Philip, was something like... Life is pointless, we are insignificant, and we'll only be happy if we choose to be that way, because we only matter in our own minds. Essentially, existentialism. 
Usually, when I read a good book, I can sort of slip myself into the character's shoes. Experience their experiences. Think their thoughts. Etc. I could not do so with this book. I was constantly aware of the fact that the book has an author. I did not like that feeling; I usually like being one with the character and forgetting that the author exists (this is coming from someone who hopes to be a future published author... How sad). The author also felt the need to constantly remind me that Philip is shy. Philip, however, did not act very shy, in my opinion. I suppose Maugham believes that if you say something over and over, it will make what you say true. I think that's an actual philosophy...
I like the girl that Philip becomes engaged to (with the gallant, romantic proposal: "Say, Sally, I wonder if you'll marry me"), though. She is clear-minded and NOT really irritating, unlike Mildred.