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Of Human Bondage Study Guide

Of Human Bondage By W. Somerset Maugham

9-year-old Philip Carey's parents just died, and he is sent to live with his aunt and uncle. His significant inheritance is being held by his uncle until he is twenty-one, giving his uncle, the vicar of Blackstable, an extraordinary amount of power over him.

Philip is sent to boarding school, where his club foot and shyness make it hard to fit in. He tries on faith, but when God fails to heal his club foot, he gives it up. He is quite a student and could get a scholarship to Oxford, but instead goes to Germany to Heidelberg for a year.

There, he lives at a boarding house and studies German, and learns about the world outside of England. He decides he doesn't need to be an Anglican, which is unheard of.

When he comes back, he meets Miss Wilkinson, an uncomfortably older woman who flirts with him too much for his liking. He pretends to be passionate about her, but is relieved when she has to leave. She writes him, but he fails to write back.

Philip's uncle decides to exercise his control, and convinces him to move to London and become an accountant. His coworkers hate him for being high-born, and he has no mind for accountancy. He dreams of going to Paris to study art. Miss Wilkinson convinces him that he draws well enough to be a professional artist, and he moves to Paris.

There, he meets Miss Price, a talentless artist who doesn't get along with anyone. She falls in love with him, but he doesn't like her. She runs out of money and kills herself, leaving Philip to tend her estate.

Philip realizes he's not a great artist, and learns his aunt has died. He returns to his uncle, and eventually moves back to London to learn medicine. He meets Mildred, a waitress at a local café, and falls in love with her. She doesn't return the affection, instead telling him that she is getting married.

Philip meets and has sex with Norah Nesbitt, an author, but when Mildred returns pregnant and admits that her fiancé has left her, he dumps Norah and starts supporting Mildred. She uses him for his money, and then falls in love with another man and vanishes. He meets her again, and learns she is prostituting herself to support the baby. He doesn't love her any more, and when he rejects her, she destroys his possessions.

Philip gets a job at a hospital, and meets and befriends Thorpe Athelny. Philip's money vanishes in a stock market crash, and he gets a retail job and hates it. He vacations with the Athelnys, learns that one of their daughters (Sally) likes him, proposes to her, and she accepts.

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