Of Human Bondage: Chapters 36-39

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Summary of Chapters XXXVI-XXXIX
 
Philip settles into his new rooms in Barnes, London, but he is depressed by the dingy place and that part of town. He goes to the offices of Herbert Carter in Chancery Lane.  The managing clerk, Mr. Goodworthy, who is both patronizing and timid, tells Philip the work is lucrative but drudgery and puts him to work alphabetizing letters. He meets Watson, a fellow articled clerk, who is the son of a rich brewer. He dresses and acts like a gentleman, fond of sports and the hunt. He has been to Oxford and condescends to Philip, but Philip thinks it is ironic that at school they looked down on brewers. Mr. Carter tries to give the impression that he is a gentleman and that they want gentlemen in the business to raise the profession.
 
Philip is interested in the work at first as a novelty. He has to add columns of figures, not one of his strong points. He attends lectures for his examination. In his spare time, he goes to galleries and reads, but Sundays are difficult, for he is alone. He spends one Sunday with Mr. Nixon, the solicitor, but he is shy about going back. Loneliness weighs on him more and more. He spends an evening with Watson, but the man has no culture, and he is ill at ease with him. Suddenly, he despises his own acquirements  because of his poverty. He admires Watson’s life because he has money and a place.
 
When he goes to the post office, he finds three letters from Miss Wilkinson. He replies awkwardly, and she bombards him with angry letters about his neglect. She says she cannot live without him. She wants to come see him at Christmas. He lies that he has an engagement. He regrets he had the affair. Watson tells him he has no trouble breaking off with women. He just tells them to go away.
 
He is alone on Christmas because his aunt and uncle are in Cornwall for their health. After a year at the firm, he works with a clerk named Thompson who is irritated at his mistakes and enjoys insulting him. Philip sees he has no aptitude for this work and slacks off. He tries to imagine what his life would be like if he were Watson. For amusement, he sketches Watson. Watson’s family like the sketches and think Philip should be an artist. Mr. Carter finds out he is drawing on office time and scolds him. Philip knows he cannot stand much more of this life. Hayward writes to him of Italy, telling him the only things in life are love and art. He tells Philip to take a risk and study art in Paris.
 
Philip remembers that people have always told him he has talent, and he begins to think of the French novel about bohemian life in Paris. The artists were poor but they enjoyed life. He yearns for romance and beauty. Goodworthy asks Philip one day if he would like to go to Paris to do some accounts there. Philip jumps at the chance. He is intoxicated by Paris, though Mr. Goodworthy only wants to go to the more vulgar places, the Moulin Rouge and Folies Bergeres. Philip decides he will wait out the year and then go to Paris.
 
His uncle is shocked by Philip’s decision. He is a gentleman, and art and Paris are immoral. Philip bluntly replies he is neither Christian nor a gentleman. He will not inherit his money for another year, so he says he will sell his father’s jewelry and use the money to go. His aunt has a soft spot for Philip and does not want him to sell the jewelry, so she offers what is left of her own bridal settlement. It is a very small amount, but she offers up to him 100 pounds. She thinks she hasn’t much time to live, and she truly wants to give Philip something so he can realize his dreams.
 
Commentary on Chapters XXXVI-XXXIX
 
Philip’s aunt, like his mother, truly loves him with an unselfish love, one of the few pure relationships he has enjoyed. He comes to believe that only parents have disinterested love. She reveals that she is not as much of an old fool as he had thought, for she perfectly understands that his uncle is not in love with her and will not miss her when she dies. She wants to pass on her one precious thing to Philip, who was as close as she could come to having a child.
 
Philip discovers the loneliness of the big city and not fitting into his surroundings. The life is drab and so is the work, for which he is ill suited. He is astonished at the class issues at Carter’s. Carter and Watson represent the middle classes aspiring to the status and culture that have been the privilege of the upper classes. It is now possible for merchant’s sons to go to university and hunt and act and dress like gentlemen. Philip thinks how at his school these people were looked down on because they were not born gentlemen. It was perfectly clear who was and who wasn’t; people didn’t talk about their class all the time.
 
Yet when his uncle brings up class issues, he reveals the eroding influence of time and his experience on his own thought; he does not easily identify with being either Christian or a gentleman. He thinks he would like the money Watson has so he can pursue his own interests, but he is too cultured to want to hang out with London trades people. Their interests are mundane. He wants not the life of a gentleman, but a romantic and adventurous life, a bohemian life, as he has read about. As Hayward suggests, beauty and love are the only things worth living for. Even Miss Wilkinson has encouraged him that he could be an artist and live on the amount he has from his aunt for a year.
 
There is a certain cynicism about women in this section. Philip lets the relationship with Miss Wilkinson drop in an awkward manner. He admires Watson for being able to have affairs and then tell the woman to go away, without any conscience.
 
 

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