Of Human Bondage: Chapters 40-51

Average Overall Rating: 4.5
Total Votes: 507

Summary of Chapters XL-LI
                       
Mrs. Carey sees Philip off to France, but he can hardly pay attention to her because he is excited about the future. He stops thinking of her the minute the train pulls out. Hayward had given him an introduction to Mrs. Otter, the studio manager at Amitrano’s Art School, the best in Paris. He has a tiny room in the Latin Quarter in an attic. He goes out to see the lights of Paris on the first night, the cafes, the noise and conversations, exhilarated.
 
Mrs. Otter is a painter who manages the studio and is kind to Philip, telling him where to get his supplies and setting him up in the studio. He sits next to Fanny Price, an unattractive woman who helps him get started drawing the nude model. She corrects his mistakes, something he appreciates at first. Clutton takes him to lunch at Gravier’s where all the artists go and tells him Fanny knows the ropes but she herself cannot draw.
 
Clutton introduces him to other students: Flanagan, an American, and Lawson, from England. They discuss the work of the Impressionist painters who are the important artists of the time. Philip loves the easy-going atmosphere of Paris and feels at home. He runs into Fanny Price at the Gardens of Luxembourg. Though she is rough and unpleasant, she tells him she will do anything to help him. She tells him about the advanced sketching session in the evening, and he goes though he is not good enough. He does a poor job and realizes he is not as good as he thought he was.
 
At supper Philip hears Flanagan and Lawson discussing art and finds out the latest ideas on art in Paris, including a description of the Olympia by Manet, currently the sensation .The art students argue about whether art should be moral. The art critic, Ruskin, whom Hayward taught Philip to adore, is old-fashioned to these students who damn all the Victorians.
 
They take Philip to another café to find their mentor, Cronshaw, a poet who supposedly knows all the great writers of the day, including Pater, Oscar Wilde, and Mallarmé. Cronshaw holds forth after he is drunk every night. He is a big older man, stout, with a mustache. He has a very cynical philosophy, which is popular with the young men. Philip is excited by all these new ideas and feels great power and self-confidence.
 
Two of the teachers, Michel Rollin and Monsieur Foinet, come a couple of times a week to critique the students’ paintings. Foinet at Fanny’s insistence, critiques her work, telling her it is terrible and she should give up. She rejects Philip’s sympathy. Later, she shows Philip all the famous art works in Paris and lectures him on them. He is surprised that the Impressionist paintings have no moral content. Philip feels uncomfortable that Fanny believes she is a good artist when it is obvious she isn’t. When he finally talks her into a lunch, he is disgusted by her behavior of gobbling her food. The others tease him that she is in love with him. Philip pities her, for all the art students seem on the verge of utter poverty.
 
They all want a mistress but have no money to keep one. Cronshaw keeps a coarse fat woman and their baby in squalid quarters, living on his writing reviews. Philip moves into a studio with Lawson, and Fanny is jealous. He agrees to look at her work and finds it hideous but tries to placate her. Hayward shows up for a party in Philip’s and Lawson’s studio, but Hayward’s ideas seem old-fashioned now.
 
In the hot summer, Philip goes off to the forests of Fontainebleau with Lawson and Ruth Chalice to paint. Philip is now painting in oils but is merely copying Lawson. He realizes Ruth and Lawson are having an affair and feels left out. He thinks no woman will want him because of his deformity.
 
Back at Amitrano’s he finds Fanny Price has left and no one knows where she is. Clutton argues that he wants to paint soul like El Greco. Philip begins to paint the portrait of a Spanish man named Miguel, but he finally concludes the man is handsome with no particular soul or depth. He begins to wonder what is the point and if he is wasting his time with painting. He gets an urgent note from Fanny Price and finds that she has committed suicide in her flat. She has been quietly starving to death and was out of money, though too proud to ask for help.
 
Philip is shaken. Flanagan tries to cheer him up and takes him to a dance hall. Philip only sees the animal nature of all the sweaty bodies. A painting of Philip’s is rejected by the Salon, and he asks Foinet to come look at his art. Foinet tells him he merely copies; he is adequate, but he should give up painting, for it is a hopeless life of poverty. Cronshaw gives him similar advice, and not wanting to waste his life any longer, Philip decides to go home. He receives a letter from his uncle that his aunt has died, so he leaves Paris for the funeral.
 
Commentary on Chapters XL-LI
 
Once again Philip has romantic ideas that are dashed. He goes to Paris thinking of the idealism of bohemian life, only to find that it involves the degradation of poverty. These are not the happy poor artists of the novel he read. Fanny Price illustrates the tragedy of self-deception. She has everything that an artist needs: dedication, austerity, self-confidence, but no talent or money, and no ability to admit defeat. The other reigning giants of this circle, Monsieur Foinet and Cronshaw, manage to hang on, but are not actually great or successful artists. They have capitulated to smaller roles and have pumped up their images and influence. Both are honest with Philip that he should not get caught up in a sordid lifestyle, especially since his talent is only mediocre. A starving artist is no joke. The initial feeling of freedom and intellectual inquiry are replaced with the threat of poverty and failure. The horror with suicide may have something to do with the suicide of Maugham’s own brother.
 
Yet Philip has had his worldview revolutionized in the two years in Paris, a center for modern art and literature. He puts away forever his stuffy Victorian ideas. The many lengthy café discussions not only give the passionate flavor of the young discovering new ideas but also serve as the historical background of Philip’s development. Cronshaw rightly points out that he may have given up Christian doctrine, but he has not given up Christian ethics of right and wrong. Cronshaw introduces more daring modern ideas based on a Darwinian view of human nature. Humans are motivated by their own survival needs and act only from self-interest. There is no right and wrong, only what is expedient or necessary or enjoyable. There is not even free will, according to Cronshaw, so there can be no guilt.
 
These ideas are reflected in the art of the time. Philip can find no moral point of view in Impressionist art. Sometimes it does not even seek the beautiful, so we see the students, for instance,  “turning their backs on the obvious beauty of the town” when they look for subjects (Chpt. XLVII, p. 244). Lawson includes an advertisement for chocolate in his painting. This goes against what Philip learned from Hayward about seeking out beauty and living for beauty.
 
Philip cries to Cronshaw, “If you take away duty and goodness and beauty, why are we brought into the world?” (Chpt. XLV, p. 230). Cronshaw tells him he’ll find the answer in a Persian carpet, a mystery he keeps in mind, though he doesn’t understand the riddle.
 
Philip is testing out all of these new ideas. He is torn between Cronshaw’s notion of people acting like animals, verified in the spectacle at the dance he goes to with Flanagan, and Clutton’s wanting to paint soul, as El Greco does. When Philip paints Miguel’s portrait, he sees nothing behind the façade. The man is beautiful but empty.
 
Again, he wishes for passion and romance, especially when he sees Lawson and Ruth together. However, he is confused because of his awareness of her physical defects and wonders how anyone could get past the physical flaws to enjoy a relationship. He is titillated by the lewd stories of the fat ex-prostitute he talks to, and he is horrified by Fanny Price’s attachment to him, especially when she mentions she is attracted by his deformity, thinking they have something in common. He finds her repulsive and difficult, especially when she, like Miss Wilkinson, begins to act as if she owns him. He pities her, though, and she haunts his dreams. He was careless at nineteen with whatever Miss Wilkinson might be feeling, but at the age of twenty-one he begins to feel sympathy for others, after witnessing the death of Fanny: “Philip loathed them [the masses of people], and yet his heart ached with the infinite pity which filled him” (Chpt. L, p. 261).
 
Afraid that he is failing as an artist, he asks Clutton if he is any good. His friend replies that it makes no difference, for “The only reason one paints is that one can’t help it” (Chpt. L, p. 264). Philip, however, still has enough of his old views to want to be a success: he “could not wrench out of his nature the instincts of the middle-class from which he came” (Chpt. L, p. 267). He decides he wants to live life rather than portray it. Finally, Foinet tells him that poverty does not make good artists; it makes people “mean”; “it eats into your soul like a cancer” (Chpt. LI, p. 271). Maugham also feared poverty, failure, and especially, mediocrity.
 
 

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