Of Human Bondage: Chapters 56-62

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Summary of Chapters LVI-LXII
 
These chapters get into the main part of the plot, his relationship with Mildred. He cannot get her out of his mind. He thinks he will get peace by getting revenge for her insults, so he goes to the shop every day. Nothing he says to her has any effect on her. He wonders why he has no control over his thoughts or desire to go to the shop to see her.
 
He watches Mildred. She reads cheap melodramatic novelettes in vogue then. She has a beautiful profile but she is cold, anemic, and too thin and flat chested. He sketches her and leaves it on the table. It catches her attention. Philip lectures himself for being influenced by her. She is a common woman.
 
She continues to be insolent to him every time he comes in. He sees her flirting regularly with a German. He is jealous and sits at another waitress’s table, but he understands that Mildred is totally indifferent to what he does. He finally asks her out to a play, and she accepts with a shrug.
 
She speaks ungraciously to him, and they are awkward together on the date. Mildred enjoys the music hall, but it is beneath Philip’s taste. Philip dislikes her; she is negative towards everyone. Yet he is obsessed in his pursuit and miserable. “He was not happy with her, but he was unhappy away from her” (Chpt. LVII, p. 302). He is astonished to find he is in love with her, for this is not what he had expected love to be. She is common with an empty mind and cold manner. It is obvious she barely tolerates him on their outings.
 
He begins to spend every possible minute with her and neglects his studies. He hates himself for loving her; he has become dependent on her wishes and good will. They are always quarreling. She invents stories about her genteel background, and Philip is charmed by whatever she says. When she breaks an appointment, telling a lie, to go with the German, Philip spies on them. He cannot control his irrational behavior. He gives her an ultimatum to drop the German and come with him or it’s off. She seems glad to be rid of him and goes away.
 
Philip realizes he is helpless and paralyzed and made weak by this passion. His manufactured philosophy of last summer is of no help in this situation. He wonders if Fanny Price and Miss Wilkinson felt this way about him. He does not go to Blackstable for Christmas but has to cram for his exams to make up for lost time. He flunks the exam while Dunsford, whom he did not consider to be smart, passes. He is lonely and wishes he could speak to Mildred for consolation.
 
He goes to the tea shop and Mildred smiles, yet scolds him for spying on her. He explains that he is in love with her. They begin to dine out regularly, and when he gives her presents, she shows a little affection. He kisses her, and she lets him, but does not respond to his passion: “He loved her so much that he did not mind suffering” (Chpt. LX, p. 319). She does not introduce him to her aunt at home and does not stop seeing other men. He understands she does not return his love but begs to be able to love her, even trying to get her pity for his deformity. His personality changes; he loses self-confidence and can no longer enjoy beauty.
 
He will do anything to satisfy his passion for her, and tries to get her to go away on a trip. He even thinks of marriage, though he knows that would be a horror. She thinks about it but refuses him when she realizes he has no money.
 
Commentary on Chapters LVI-LXII
 
Maugham describes an abusive relationship where Mildred will use Philip for whatever she can get, but Philip is hooked by his own obsession. He has given her power over him. He claims to love her but wants to hurt her as well for making him suffer. However, he has nothing that can make her suffer, for she does not care about him. It reminds him of the relationships with Fanny Price and Miss Wilkinson when the situation was reversed. He knows Mildred is not to blame for not loving him, but he is not in control of himself. This is humbling and makes his intellectual work of finding a philosophy to live by, irrelevant.
 
Mildred brings out the worst in him: all his pettiness and self-abasement. He is jealous, wants revenge, tries to hurt her. He spies on her. He tries to make her pity his deformity. He throws away his career and even contemplates marrying, which would destroy his life. He spends his money, that he needs to get started in life, on her. He has no peace or joy with her, or without her. He is totally conscious that she is unworthy and that he is being insane. We are reminded of his jealous behavior at school towards his friend Rose.
 
The reader can see the irrationality of obsession with another person, which Maugham tries to not only render as an individual weakness, but as a common human weakness (“Of Human Bondage”). The whole story, though semi-autobiographical,  is an extended essay on human folly. Philip yearns for the woman who destroys him: “it was a hunger of the soul” (Chpt. LVII, p. 304). He longs for love, but more than that, he longs to be swept up out of the ordinary into the extraordinary.  Why this woman sets off the passion remains a mystery, although Maugham has been building up Philip’s inner portrait for half the book before he introduces the other main character. We have been waiting for the woman he would fall for, but it is as much a shock to us as to him.
 
Philip has an emotional nature but has kept it under wraps his whole life. There have been foreshadowing comments and incidents showing he would like to let go and taste life fully. He envied Lawson and Ruth’s passion, and Sung’s and Cacilie’s, though he was also repulsed, just as he is attracted and repulsed by the intensity of his feeling for Mildred. This kind of passion was a missing experience in his life, though he imagined it as something sweet and fulfilling, rather than a torture. Philip had read how love idealizes its object, but he sees Mildred as she is.
 
It is painful to watch Philip debase himself to a woman who is neither as cultured nor sensitive as he is. She aspires to a higher class, influenced by her reading of penny novelettes. She looks at men only in the light of material gain; her only interest in Philip is that he is a gentleman and can buy her things. Furthermore, she has no nicety of manners, lying and insulting Philip, not minding whether she hurts him. He tries to force Mildred to love him: “he crawled before her” (Chpt. LXI, p. 321).
 
Philip has an analytical mind, and so he continually turns over his situation, believing that he can only get rid of his obsession by sexually possessing Mildred, though she appears to have no sensuality and is not tempted. Once possessed by an idea, he will not let go. He will do anything to possess Mildred, even marry her. Perhaps it is the perversity of it; he loves the person who despises him.
 

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