I have just completed reading Of Human Bondage, volume I, by Somerset Maugham. It was published in 1915 and is the story - probably substantially autobiographical - of a young man growing up and having great difficulty finding direction in life. I thought it extremely accurate in portraying the excruciating embarrassment of so many situations which were probably even more so in that era than today, since etiquette was more exacting in those days. The hero of the book has to contend with some distinct misfortunes that I personally was spared - a small physical handicap, early death of parents, being sent to boarding school - but I could recognise much of the material as, in one way or another, inevitable concomitants of childhood, adolescence and early adulthood. The human encounters are very well described with all their inner dilemmas that cannot be voiced. It also bring out well the manner in which feelings can abruptly change: one desperately wants something, eventually gets it and then feels that it is not what one wanted; one feels well disposed toward somebody, then feels slighted by them, rejects them, but they do not notice, feels repentant the next day, and so on. It also shows how attractions between people frequently do not have any necessary connection with compatibility nor with one's concept of what one needs or wants. There are a number of interesting discussions of life philosophy here and there, including comments on the nature of art which are worth reflecting upon, as well as portrayal of the effects of class and other social divisions. None of the characters in the book emerges as an exemplar or paragon of virtues - they are all immensely human. Some are tragic, but one feels that their tragedy is only the normal condition carried to an excess. It brings out how we tend to live by rules that do not serve and ideas that often fail to meet the case, as “Phillip looked at his own work. How could you tell whether there was anything in it or whether you were wasting your time? It was clear that the will to achieve could not help you and confidence in yourself meant nothing.” Life is a puzzle with no perfect solution, but a hundred styles of playing the game.

In some ways the book gives perspective upon a social world of a hundred years ago that has passed away, but the human material in it is perennial and, in some ways, stands out more clearly in the more mannered society of those days. Maugham has been rather out of fashion for a while, but I think this book is something of a "classic" that will survive the vicissitudes of fashion.

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I'm inspired to read this as I ponder a morass of emotions that are disrupting my life and thoughts.....still. 

Ah, Jan, thinking of you.

I love to read novels that show me something new about human nature, or remind me of how we are - 'oh yes, I'm like that' or 'that's what that person was up to'. I love Raymond Carver the American short story writer for this. He just seems to know how people tick. 

Yes, though it can be very embarrassing :-)

It can :)

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