Of Human Bondage

Christmas is at our backs, at least it is in my neck of the woods. The eggy chocolate Easter offerings started appearing on the seasonal aisle where I worked on the night of  January 1st, early morning of January 2nd.

The vast majority of my blog has been binned; I was trying to juggle a dozen ideas, atrempting to make a grand 12 course meal fit for a king, with only a few measly morsels at my disposal.

I became rather overexcited, and lived off that small portion of silly excitement for longer than should be humanly possible.

It has been a very sobering and sober Christmas time. I feel blessed to have worked through the end of the calendar year. For a long time it has seemed silly to me that the new year should begin in winter and not spring. Easter seems to me to be the best  time to celebrate the new year, or 25th March. If Britain, upon leaving the EU, was to embrace new year appreciation on the first day of each spring, maybe it would become a new tradition, a rebirth of an old tradition.

I have lightly snacked on many books in the last couple of years. I feel it is time to devour some, and worry not if eating words too fast gives me indigestion. That is what I believe God gave me good walking legs for.

I do enjoy copying out passages from books.. and apart from The Kingship of Christ by G.K.A. Bell, Faith on Fire by Harry Bagnall, and a sprinkling of short stories and essays, I have not copied stories/books out in full.

I think within me there always was, and still is to a much lesser extent, some sort of emotional desperation to be completely out of my depth. To drown in my unassailable ambitions. To make myself seem foolish to strangers.  To make it plain and simple – I was foolishly desperate to prove that I was not a desperate fool. But I am a desperate fool who craves attention, who has too much pride for one’s own good. A prideful waster full of regret.

I’m so tired of the world, as I perceive it to be,  around me.  My motivation now is to create lots of new worlds. As flawed as I is as a human being this will mean the worlds will be no more and no less imperfect than this mind of mine that conceives them.

Patience is hard to come by, but working night shifts has been a wonderfully mixed blessing that has brought me down to earth with a thud, and  truly taught me the importance of hard work.

I’m tempted to ignore the news completely, or at least to refrain from showing interest in current affairs outside of my immediate jurisdiction.

It has been a couple of weeks since I sat at my makeshift desk and copied from a book on my computer.  The book I have at hand is Of Human Bondage. The preface has helped me just decide to slow down and take things one step at a time. Baby steps.. It seems to me that Baby-steps is a yucky expression, but that is where this bout of babbling ends……..

 

A novel first published in 1915, the following is copied from a 1973 reprint:

‘OF HUMAN BONDAGE

by W. Somerset Maugham

FOREWORD

THIS is a very long novel and I am ashamed to make it longer by writing a preface to it. An author is probably the last person who can write fitly of his own work. In this connection an instructive story is told by Roger Martin du Gard, a distinguished French novelist, about Marcel Proust. Proust wanted a certain French periodical to publish an important article on his great novel and thinking that no one could write it better than he, sat down and wrote it himself. Then he asked a young friend of his, a man of letters, to put his name to it and take it to the editor. This young man did, but after a few days the editor sent for him. “I must refuse your article,” he told him. “Marcel Proust would never forgive me if I printed a criticism of his work that was so perfunctory and so unsympathetic.” Though authors are touchy about their productions and inclined to resent unfavourable criticism they are seldom self-satisfied. They are conscious how far the work on which they have spent much time and trouble comes short of their conception, and when they consider it are much more vexed with their failure to express this in its completeness than pleased with the passages here and there that they can regard with complacency. Their aim is perfection and they are wretchedly aware that they have not attained it.

   I will say nothing then about my book itself, but will content myself with telling the reader of these lines how a novel that has now had a fairly long life, as novels go, came to be written; and if it does not interest him I ask him to forgive me. I wrote it first when, at the age of twenty-three, having taken my medical degrees after five years at St. Thomas’s Hospital, I went to Seville determined to earn a living as a writer. The manuscript of the book I wrote then still exists, but I have not looked at it since I corrected the typescript, and I have no doubt that it is very immature. I sent it to Fisher Unwin, who had published my first book, (while still a medical student I had written a novel called Liza of Lambeth, which had had something of a success,) but he refused to give me the hundred pounds I wanted for it, and none of the other publishers to whom I afterwards submitted it would have it at any price. This distressed me at the time, but now I know that I was fortunate; for if one of them had taken my book (it was called The Artistic Temperament of Stephen Carey) I should have lost a subject which I was too young to make proper use of. I was not far enough away from the events I described to make good use of them, and I had not had a number of experiences which later went to enrich the book I finally write. Not had I learnt that it is easier to write of what you know than of what you don’t. For instance, I sent my hero to Rouen (which I knew only as an occasional visitor) to learn French, instead of to Heidelberg (where I had been myself) to learn German.

   Thus rebuffed I put the manuscript away. I wrote other novels, which were published, and I wrote plays. I became in due course a very successful playwright and determined to devote the rest of my life to the drama. But I reckoned without the force within me that made my resolutions vain. I was happy, I was prosperous, I was busy. My head was full of the plays I wanted to write. I do not know whether it was that success did not bring me all I had expected or whether it was a natural reaction from it, but I was no sooner firmly established as the most popular dramatist of the day than I began once more to be obsessed by the teeming memories of my past life. They came back to me so pressingly, in my sleep, on my walks, at rehearsals, at parties, they became such a burden to me, that I made up my mind there was only one way to be free of them and that was to write them all down on paper. After submitting myself for some years to the exigences of the drama I hankered after the wide liberty of the novel. I knew the book I had in mind would be a long one and I wanted to be undisturbed, so I refused contracts that managers were eagerly offering me and temporarily retired from the stage. I was then thirty-seven.

   For long after I became a writer by profession I spent much time on learning how to write and subjected myself to a very tiresome training in the endeavour to improve my style. But these efforts I abandoned when my plays began to be produced and when I started to write again it was with a different aim. I no longer sought a jewelled prose and a rich texture, on unavailing attempts to achieve which I had formerly wasted much labour; I sought on the contrary plainness and simplicity. With so much that I wanted to say within reasonable limits I felt that I could not afford to waste words and I set out now with the notion of using only such as were necessary to make my meaning clear. I had no space for ornament. My experience in the theatre had taught me the value of succinctness. I worked unremittingly for two years. I did not know what to call my book and after looking about a great deal hit upon Beauty from Ashes, a quotation from Isaiah, which seemed to me apposite; but learning that this title had been recently used I was obliged to search for another. I chose finally the name of one of the books in Spinoza’s Ethics and called my novel Of Human Bondage. I have a notion that I was once more lucky in finding that I could not use the first title I had thought of.

   Of Human Bondage is not an autobiography, but an autobiographical novel; fact and fiction are inextricably mingled; the emotions are my own, but not all the incidents are related as they happened and some of them are transferred to my hero not from my own life but from that of persons with whom I was intimate. The book did for me what I wanted and when it was issued to the world (a world in the throes of a dreadful war and too much concerned with its own sufferings and fears to bother with the adventures of a creature of fiction) I found myself free from the pains and unhappy recollections that had tormented me. It was very well reviewed; Theodore Dreiser wrote for The New Republic a long criticism in which he dealt with it with intelligence and sympathy that distinguish everything he has ever written; but it looked very much as though it would go the way of the vast majority of novels and be forgotten for ever a few months after its appearance. But, I do not know through what accident, it happened after some years that it attracted the attention of a number of distinguished writers in the United States and the references they continued to make to it in the press gradually brought it to the notice of the public. To these writers is due the new lease of life that the book was thus given and them I must thank for the success it has continued increasingly to have as the years go by.

OF HUMAN BONDAGE

1

The day broke grey and dull. The clouds hung heavily, and there was a rawness in the air that suggested snow. A woman servant came into a room in which a child was sleeping and drew the curtains. She glanced mechanically at the house opposite, a stucco house with a portico, and went to the child’s bed.

   “Wake up, Philip,” she said.

   She pulled down the bed-clothes, took him in her arms, and carried him downstairs,. He was only half awake.

   “Your mother wants you,” she said.

   She opened the door of a room on the floor below and took the child over to a bed in which a woman was lying. It was his mother. She stretched out her arms, and the child nestled by her side. He did not ask why he had been awakened. The woman kissed his eyes, and with thin, small hands felt the warm body through his white flannel nightgown. She pressed him closer to herself.

   “Are you sleepy, darling?” she said.

   Her voice was so weak that it seemed to come already from a great distance. The child did not answer, but smiled comfortably. He was very happy in the large, warm bed, with those soft arms about him. He tried to make himself smaller still as he cuddled up against his mother, and he kissed her sleepily. In a moment he closed his eyes and was fast asleep. The doctor came forwards and stood by the bedside.

   “Oh, don’t take him away yet,” she moaned.

   The doctor, without answering, looked at her gravely. Knowing she would not be allowed to keep the child much longer, the woman kissed him again; and she passed her hand down his body till she came to his feet; she held the right foot in her hand and felt the five small toes; and then slowly passed her hand over the left one. She gave a sob.

   “What’s the matter?” said the doctor. “You’re tired.”

   She shook her head, unable to speak, and the tears rolled down her cheeks. The doctor bent down.

   “Let me take him.”

   She was too weak to resist his wish, and she gave the child up. The doctor handed him back to his nurse.

   “You’d better put him back in his own bed.”

   “Very well, sir.”

   The little boy, still sleeping, was taken away. His mother sobbed now broken-heartedly.

   “What will happen to him, poor child?”

   The monthly nurse tried to quiet her, and presently, from exhaustion, the crying ceased. The doctor walked to a table on the other side of the room, upon which, under a towel, lay the body of a still-born child. He lifted the towel and looked. He was hidden from the bed by a screen, but the woman guessed what he was doing.

   “Was it a girl or a boy?” she whispered to the nurse.

   “Another boy.”

   The woman did not answer. In a moment the child’s nurse came back. She approached the bed.

   “Master Philip never woke up,” she said.

   There was a pause. Then the doctor felt his patient’s pulse once more.

   “I don’t think there’s anything I can do just now,” he said. “I’ll call again after breakfast.”

   “I’ll show you out, sir,” said the child’s nurse.

   They walked downstairs in silence. In the hall the doctor stopped.

   “You’ve sent for Mrs. Carey’s brother-in-law, haven’t you?”

   “Yes, sir.”

   “D’you know at what time he’ll be here?”

   “No, sir, I’m expecting a telegram.”

   “What about the little boy? I should think he’d be better out of the way.”

   “Miss Watkin said she’d take him, sir.”

   “Who’s she?”

   “She’s his godmother, sir. D’you think Mrs. Carey will get over it, sir?”

   The doctor shook his head.’

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