Of Human Bondage: Chapters 32-35

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Summary of Chapters XXXII-XXXV
 
These chapters tell the summer visit to his aunt and uncle Carey in Blackstable where Philip has his first affair.
 
At the vicarage, Philip meets Emily Wilkinson, the governess friend of the Careys who had recommended his teacher in Germany. She is also staying the summer on vacation. She is somewhat attractive, estimated by the Careys to be between 35 and 40. She and Philip get on because she is a modern woman influenced by her years working in Paris and Berlin. She has some affectations, speaks French phrases and English with a French accent. She talks incessantly of the mysteries of Paris, exciting Philip with hinted stories of her love affairs and the artists she met. She has a sense of humor and understands his jokes.
 
He realizes slowly that she is flirting, and he has to figure out how to court a woman, taking her suggestions about how the French men know how to make love. He is somewhat repulsed by her older appearance, though she dresses well. He cannot understand why she looks old in the morning and pretty at night in the dark. They walk in the gardens, read and discuss, and she gives him music lessons. They attend parties and tennis matches. Finally, he figures out a way to be alone with her in the house while the family is at church. He goes to her bedroom, and despite the fact he is suddenly not attracted, he manages to have his first sexual experience.
 
The next day he is revolted by her, but she is suddenly in love with him and speaks French endearments. He thinks, “What rot women talk!” (Chpt. XXXV, p. 162) But he ironically speaks equal rot by writing a letter to Hayward of his exploit, dressing it up with his fantasy of the way he wished it had been—a young beautiful girl whose “laughter was like a rippling brook” (Chpt. XXXV, p. 163).
 
Philip takes it as an adventure and feels manly, completely surprised that Miss Wilkinson (he cannot think of her as Emily) expresses real love and wants his constant attention now. She tries to make him feel guilty and obligated, and he is happy when the summer is over and he can be rid of her demands. She expects him to write every day. He receives a letter from Hayward full of enthusiasm for his perfect first love, and Philip is disgusted because everyone has taken seriously what for him was play.
 
Meanwhile, Philip has been surprised at how old his aunt and uncle appear. The uncle now seems insignificant to him and his aunt very frail and ready to blow away. He thinks what a pity their lives never amounted to anything and they will die, a waste. He does not want this for himself. He does feel some affection for his aunt who obviously loves him and has missed him.
 
He does not want to go to Oxford, and his uncle can’t afford it. They settle on his being a chartered accountant. He does not much care, just so he can get to London to begin his life. He will pay three hundred pounds to Herbert Carter to be an articled pupil for five years. The uncle is assured that although accountancy  is not one of the traditional occupations for a gentleman, it is becoming so in the modern world with the rise of business.
 
Commentary on Chapters XXXII-XXXV
 
Philip is the arrogant young man of nineteen here, but there is a lot of humor in these chapters, while they introduce themes that will later become tragic. It is all from the young man’s point of view, and his aim and Emily’s are opposite.
 
She is the clergy daughter whose only chances have been marriage or becoming a governess. She is too much of a free spirit to have stayed at home and tries to make her governess positions sound glamorous. Whether or not she has had all the affairs she hints of, she does have some genuine feeling for Philip and even suggests moving to London to be near him. He is appalled at her demanding ways and declaration of love, because for him, “It was the most thrilling game he had ever played; and the wonderful thing was that he felt almost all he said” (Chpt. XXXIV, p. 158). Here it is evident that he is not clear about the difference between his fantasy and reality. He is just trying to learn the part of a lover because it is a new role. He is a bit cold and heartless.
 
When first aware that Emily is flirting, he is surprised because “he had expected more glamour” (Chpt. XXXIII, p. 153). She is not the heroine of a book, and he is constantly agonizing about her age or turned off every other moment by some defect like her thick ankles. He describes his exploit in the letter to Hayward, not as it happened, but as a scene out of the novel he just read, Scenes of Bohemian Life by Murger.
 
It is a game and a part for him. He can’t understand why her feelings are hurt. For that matter, he has trouble relating to his aunt and uncle as human beings as well, dismissing them as useless old people whose lives are past. Emily is the first woman who has been attracted to him, and that gives him the confidence to flirt with girls at a tennis match, an act that hurts her. He has not yet learned what others feel or his effect on them.
 
Perhaps Emily wants a husband or lover to get out of being a governess. The Careys make much of her social standing. She is defined as a “lady” because she is a clergyman’s daughter. She is getting older, and there is more at stake for her than for him, as she points out. They do have some important things in common: they come from the same class, are educated, have a liberal modern point of view, have the same sense of humor, and even smoke cigarettes  together. They amuse one another, and she teaches him music. However, her possessiveness and demands on him spoil it. He “felt a queer pang of bitterness because reality seemed so different from the ideal” (Chpt. XXXV, p. 169). But he puts it behind him easily, anxious to get on to his real life.
 
One of the surprising things is that his lameness does not seem to be an issue for her, and he has surprisingly been able to learn tennis and is good at it.
 
 

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