Of Human Bondage: Chapters 1-4

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Summary of Chapters I-IV
 
It is a grey day in London, 1885, and Philip Carey, a small boy, is taken by his nurse to his mother’s bed. She has just given birth to a still-born child and is dying. He is half asleep and snuggles close to his mother. The doctor tries to remove the child, but she knows it is the last time she will see him and clings to him, caressing him, especially his deformed foot. As she touches it, she cries.
 
The doctor gives the child to the nurse and makes arrangements. The boy will go temporarily to Miss Watkin, his godmother, and afterwards to his aunt and uncle.
 
A week later Philip is playing in the drawingroom at Miss Watkin’s house. Since he has been an only child he is used to amusing himself and has made a cave with pillows, pretending he is hiding from Red Indians. His nurse Emma comes in dressed in black. He remarks on her new dress. She explains his mother has gone away and he will never see her again. She is in heaven. Philip cries, and Emma cries, though he doesn’t understand.
 
He says good by to his godmother, Henrietta Watkin, who had been his mother’s friend and enjoys getting pity from a circle of ladies, but he hears Miss Watkin explain that he has a clubfoot, and it was a grief to his mother.
 
When he goes home with Emma, he meets his uncle, Rev. William Carey. He explains that Philip will live with him and his Aunt Louisa at the vicarage. His uncle is over fifty, and he and his wife are childless. The uncle explains that his nurse, Emma, won’t be coming with him. He cries and clings to her. The uncle takes him on his knee.
 
Although Philip’s father had been a surgeon with a good practice, he had died suddenly from blood poisoning six months earlier and had left only life insurance and a house. Philip’s mother rented the house out and took another house for a year till the posthumous child was born. She did not know how to manage money. Philip was left with only two thousand pounds. Mr. Carey says Philip may bring all his toys and one thing to remember each parent.
 
The boy goes to his mother’s empty room, opens the closet where her dresses still hold the scent she wore. He buries his face in them, then chooses a small clock his mother liked. It seems like his mother has just gone out for a walk.
 
Blackstable parsonage is sixty miles from London. His aunt and uncle try to be kind, but they don’t know how to handle children and expect him to conform to their strict and penurious ways. The uncle is vicar in the Church of England and has an unvarying routine. Mrs. Carey always gets second best, for her husband is first in the household. His uncle is the only one who gets a boiled egg, but he offers the top to Philip.
 
Commentary on Chapters I-IV
 
The style is subdued and factual, making the bleakness of the young boy’s tragic life even more stark. He is an orphan, just losing both parents within the same year. His mother obviously loved him deeply and is worried about his deformed foot. She is characterized as beautiful but careless with money. She liked beauty, and for that reason probably, the nurse Emma had ordered masses of white flowers for the death room. The uncle thinks this an extravagance, and this is a first hint that the boy’s life is going to be very different now. He has been in a sort of cocoon with his parents and nurse, unaware that there is anything wrong with him. His overhearing Miss Watkin’s conversation about his clubfoot is a new revelation.
 
Suddenly, he loses everything, including his home, parents, and nurse. His aunt and uncle take him in but are older and have different values. This is the late Victorian period in England, and Mr. Carey is an old-fashioned clergyman in the established Church of England. Whatever little extravagances Philip may enjoyed with his parents in London are now gone, and the aunt and uncle must manage a very tight budget at the vicarage. It is cold, and they light as few fires as possible. He gets a tiny bedroom. The top of the egg is all he is offered, and the aunt gets no egg at all, for she is a typical Victorian wife who gives up pleasures for others, letting her husband have the comfortable chair and best food.
 
While the story sounds like the beginning of a Dickens novel in terms of the plot, there is no sentimentality or overt emotion. The narrative details the psychological state of the characters but more in the manner of a reporter. The emptiness and drabness of the boy’s life are thus economically conveyed through the few details.
 
Important early facts about Philip are his closeness with his beautiful mother and the sudden loss of love and security. He is a delicate child with an imagination and a deformed foot.
 

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