Of Human Bondage: Chapters 112-122

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Summary of Chapters CXII-CXXII
 
Philip’s legacy is enough to continue his education. He feels that “now he could begin a new life, and he would put behind him all the errors, follies, and miseries of the past” (Chpt. CXII, p. 606). He reenters St. Luke’s and begins the midwifery duties, averaging three births a day. He inspires the poor people he works among, for he has learned a lot in the last two years as a worker. He has a gentleness about him the people like, and he makes friends with his patients. Though he sees death, he learns that the greatest tragedy for the poor is not death but the loss of work. They are not sentimental or dramatic but accept their lots stoically.
 
Philip gives a gold chain of his aunt’s to Sally Athelny. She is now apprenticed to a dressmaker. She is beautiful and has many admirers, but she refuses them all. Philip has always been shy around her, because she is very quiet. When a suitor comes to tea, the family approves of him, but she rejects him for apparently no good reason.
 
Philip is in his last year and works hard, contented with life. The Athelnys are his only friends. After he receives his diploma, he gets an assistantship with Dr. South at Farnley in Dorsetshire. He is very crusty and hard to get along with, but he takes to Philip. His patients also like Philip, and Dr. South offers him a partnership. It is not a lucrative practice, but it is near the sea among simple people. Philip refuses because he has his heart set on traveling the world.
 
He spends a vacation with the Athelnys and their children where they go every summer to harvest the hops in Kent, Betty Athelny’s home. They stay in a cabin in the fields and camp out, with outdoor cooking, swimming in the sea, dances, and hop collecting in the day. Hopping season is also local courting season, and Philip and Sally are attracted. She is sunburned and natural, with a peasant and earthy beauty. Philip swims with Sally and the children in the sea every day. He likes her natural and unaffected manners, and they walk together, though they are mostly silent. The smell of hops in the air makes lovemaking easy, and one night, Philip and Sally make love in the field. The next day she acts quite natural with him, making no demands or sign that anything has altered.
 
Philip feels guilt about losing his head, but she does not seem to mind. They continue to meet, and her loving makes him happy. He calls it “milk and honey” (Chpt. CXX, p. 652). In London, he gets an appointment at St. Luke’s, and Sally works at the dressmaker’s. They meet regularly for walks, but no words of love pass between them. She does not insist on anything. They enjoy one another’s company. He has affection for her, but he does not think he loves her.
 
One day she tells him she is worried. He realizes she could be pregnant and thinks what a fool he is to have ruined his life just when he wanted to travel. His first thought is that he should not divert his plans. They both went into it with open eyes. But on the other hand, he owes so much to the Athelnys. He should marry her. As soon as he thinks of her as his wife and himself as a father, he becomes very happy. He wires Dr. South to accept the offered appointment, so he will have a home for her. Sally tells him it was a false alarm, and he is disappointed. He proposes to her, and she accepts. He sees that the simplest pattern of life is being born, working, getting married, having children, and dying. It is good enough for him.
 
Commentary on Chapters CXII-CXXII
 
When Philip returns to the hospital, he is a different person. He now has “a certain confidence in himself and a different outlook upon many things” (Chpt. CXII, p. 606). He has had to survive on his own in completely alien circumstances for two years. When he goes back to visit his old school, he sees young boys going through the same scenes he did. Life has a certain rhythm, and he forgives his old suffering. He sees tragedies, but he also sees “the beauty of the world. Beside that nothing seemed to matter” (Chpt. CXIV, p. 620).
 
When Philip sees Lawson in the street, he avoids him because he no longer has anything in common with him. He doesn’t want to create art now; he wants to create beauty in his life: “he was occupied with the forming of a pattern out of the manifold chaos of life” (Chpt. CXVI, p. 625).
 
It is significant that the story ends in the rural hop fields where he falls in love with Sally, for most of the book takes place in buildings and cities, often in ugly scenes. In the open air, he sees Sally as “a milkmaid in a fairy story” (Chpt. CXVIII, p. 639). Her natural ways are contrasted to the possessiveness of Miss Wilkinson or Fanny Price or Mildred. She does not make any claim on Philip after they make love, though she has obviously been interested in him for years. Her beauty is not only a healthy physical beauty (Mildred was anemic), but a beauty from within. She is maternal and kind, like all the “good” women in the book.
 
He does not associate his feelings for Sally with love at first: “He could not understand anything of what happened to him” (Chpt. CXX, p. 652). Sally gives herself freely, but “He was convinced of her purity” (p. 652). He decides she has “the healthy instincts of the natural woman” (Chpt. CXX, p. 652). When he thinks she is pregnant, he finally understands he is very happy, and that he wants to participate in the natural force of life with this woman as his partner. He feels her honesty and reliability.
 
Maugham does take up the theme of women’s issues in his writings, and here, he makes a case for Sally being a young woman with natural sexual desire, but still pure. A Victorian woman was not allowed to have sexual desire. Only prostitutes like Mildred were sexual. Sally not only has sex, she does not use it as a weapon or threat, even when she thinks she might be pregnant. Lucy Otter, Ruth Chalice, Norah Nesbit, Emily Wilkinson, and Sally are all women who go beyond conventional women’s roles.
 
Philip begins to understand the joy of “self-sacrifice” for the sake of a family. He had felt this toward Mildred and her child too, but Mildred spoiled it by taking advantage of him. Finally, this love is different because he begins for once to accept himself and his deformity. He realizes that his deformity has made him thoughtful and appreciative. He can forgive everyone now.
 
He once thinks he sees Mildred on the street; it isn’t her, but his heart skips a beat, and he knows that there is still a shadow of that passion that will remain in his heart. It is Sally and their future, however, that will justify life for him, not a philosophy or “meaning.” Sally can help him create a beautiful pattern out of life, as Thorpe Athelny did with Betty.
 

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