Of Human Bondage: Chapters 22-31

Average Overall Rating: 4.5
Total Votes: 507

Summary of Chapters XXII-XXXI
 
These chapters concern Philip’s stay in Heidelberg, Germany, where he studies German, Latin, French, mathematics, philosophy and literature.
 
Miss Wilkinson, an old friend of Mr. Carey’s, lives in Berlin and recommends Professor Erlin, a high school teacher, to teach Philip in Heidelberg. His wife runs the boarding house where Philip lives with the family, including boarders, and two grown daughters Thekla and Anna.
 
Philip is shown his room in a turret, and he is thrilled to be free at last. At dinner in the dining room he meets the tall middle-aged professor, who speaks archaic English, and he counts sixteen people there. Some are old ladies, but two young girls catch his attention, Fraulein Hedwig and Cacilie with a long braid down her back. There is a Chinaman and some Americans, whom he has been taught are barbaric.
 
The young ladies ask him to go for a walk, and he walks by Anna and Hedwig. He had never known any girls before. His only image of how to be with women comes from books, especially Byron. He is embarrassed and says nothing but is thrilled by the beauty of the Rhine valley from a hill.
 
He enjoys his new freedom. He studies Latin and German with the professor, French from a Frenchman and mathematics from Wharton, an Englishman at the university. Wharton lives in a shabby room but loves the freedom of university life. Philip learns more about life from him than math. Philip tells him he has a year in Germany and then he is expected to go to Oxford. Wharton is contemptuous of Oxford, and this is a new perspective for Philip.
 
Philip is dazzled by the colors in the German landscape and wanders around the hills with the young women of the house. Philip hears conversations at table about cultural topics. Professor Erlin is upset by the plays of Ibsen and the music of Wagner. He makes a list of safe books for Philip, including Goethe. He predicts that Wagner has no future.
 
Philip’s French teacher, Monsieur Ducroz from Geneva, is an odd old man with shabby clothes. He teaches well but without enthusiasm. He is an old revolutionary who had fought for liberty and human rights in the period around 1848 but now is broken by poverty and age. Philip kindly pays him in advance during a period of illness so he can rest. The money keeps him from starving.
 
An Englishman named Hayward comes to stay at the house and befriends Philip. He is twenty-six and fair-haired. Philip listens to the conversations between Hayward and Weeks, the American theology student, learning important issues of the day. He has never heard conversation like this, and at first is most impressed by Hayward who likes to talk. Hayward puts down everything Philip was taught to revere and extols authors and ideas that are popular with intellectuals. He speaks of avant garde literature like Madame Bovary, Verlaine, Omar Khayyam, and Browning. He had spent time at Cambridge but makes getting a degree sound vulgar. He tries to avoid the ugly in life and is a follower of the ideas of the art critic, Ruskin.
 
Hayward has a true love of literature, which he passes on to Philip. Weeks, the American, seems a bloodless man but is a very intellectual Unitarian. Philip and Hayward join Weeks in his rooms for conversations. Each man gives Philip the books and ideas he would never get at home that lead to his intellectual growth and independence. These conversations amuse the two men but represent a revolution in thinking for the young Philip, for though he has been rebellious, he had no idea that others discussed religion as an intellectual topic.
 
Philip is amazed that someone he had been taught was wicked—a Unitarian—a virtual unbeliever, is kind and more Christian than Christians. Philip experiments by going to a Lutheran church, a Catholic church, and then he wonders whether the Chinaman, Sung, is condemned to hell just because he is Chinese. Suddenly, Philip realizes he does not believe in God. He puts off the faith of childhood like a cloak, and feels free.
 
Standing on the hill overlooking the valley, he is moved by its beauty and his freedom. He wants to experience life free of shame. He feels intellectual pride. Attending the plays of Ibsen with Hayward, he becomes passionate about theatre, for it opens the world of intense experience to him, even if it is sordid and depressing. He wants to go to London and begin his own life. He becomes vaguely aware that Hayward visits prostitutes, and he is horrified passing through the red light district but feels ridiculous that he has not experienced sex.
 
He becomes aware of the affair going on between Cacilie and Herr Sung. They do not hide it, and the Frau Professor does not know what to do, for it means the ruin of her establishment. The boarders threaten to leave, so the Frau writes to Cacile’s uncle to take her away, forcing the couple to elope. Philip has been fascinated but repulsed by their forbidden passion.
 
Hayward goes to Italy, writing Philip letters that lure him, but he settles down to work, taking courses at the university on philosophy. At last, at the age of nineteen, he leaves Heidelberg for home.
 
Commentary on Chapters XXII—XXXI
 
Philip is fairly happy in his life for the first time since his mother died, living comfortably in a home that contrasts to the Carey’s in terms of freedom and good will. In addition, he learns a perspective in Germany he could not have received at Oxford. He confronts many social and religious beliefs that he grew up with and finds them false. His physical freedom is matched with intellectual freedom to investigate and discuss.
 
One assumption is class superiority. Weeks, the American, and Hayward, the English traveler, poke fun at the definition of a gentleman. Philip realizes that it refers to only someone English from the Church of England who has a proper occupation and way of speaking and acting. This excludes most of the world from consideration. He finds Weeks very good and worth listening to, despite his prejudice that he, Philip, is a gentleman and Weeks is not.
 
Hayward, though a “waster” or idle talker, opens Philip to an interest in literature and theatre. Hayward, a follower of Ruskin’s ideas on art, believes only in The Whole, the Good, and the Beautiful. This makes him an aesthete, more moved by the feeling that  something is beautiful, than by its usefulness. Other words for this kind of person might be Bohemian or hippie in more recent times. He likes to be hip with books and art and ideas, but he also shows Philip the theatre and is good at reciting poetry. Weeks sums him up as a common type: “He lives in small hotels . . . he stands by . . . the Botticellis in Florence . . . He always admires the right thing . . . and one of these days he’s going to write a great work” (Chpt. XXVI, p. 115). The narrator admits Hayward was a dangerous person to be influencing Philip, for he sees things larger than life size “with the outlines blurred” (Chpt. XXIX, p. 130).
 
Another important discussion is religion. Hayward does not take anything very seriously and vaguely yearns to be Catholic because of the beauty of the ceremony. Weeks is the kind of person his aunt and uncle would not look at in the street or admit existed—a Unitarian, or dissenter. Weeks and Hayward both laugh when Philip says the word, “dissenter” as though it means a monster. Weeks is a Unitarian, the religion of Emerson. Unitarians believe in a divine being but not in the divinity of Christ. Weeks gives him Renan’s book on the life of Jesus, which asserts Christ was only a man. Such new ideas were quickly tearing down the solid Victorian smugness that the Careys represent.
 
Philip decides that he no longer believes in God: “faith had been forced on him from the outside” (Chpt. XXVIII, p. 125). He feels superior to those who do believe and free of the old shame. He realizes the price, however, for it means he will never see his mother again if he does not believe in immortality. He ironically wants to thank God for no longer believing in Him!
 
Finally, Philip begins to awaken to sex, both attracted and repulsed by it. The affair between Sung and the German girl seems like “beastly passion” and “Oriental depravity” (Chpt. XXX, p. 135). The hint of Hayward’s visit to prostitutes “differed too terribly from the ideal of his dreams” (Chpt. XXIX, p. 129). He wants, however, to have a romance.
 
The narrator concludes from this section that youth is not as happy as we suppose, for it is a time of rude awakening to the lies that have been told about life. The young want to embrace experience as an antidote and see for themselves.
 

Quotes: Search by Author

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z