Of Human Bondage: Chapters 90-97

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Summary of Chapters XC-XCVII
 
Once, when leaving the Athelny house, Philip runs into Mildred on the street, and he is horrified when he sees that she is a prostitute soliciting business. He speaks to her and is shaken. She brushes him off, but he tries to offer her money, out of pity. She takes him to her dingy room, and he notices she is thin and rouged. She says, “You don’t think I do it because I like it, do you?” (Chpt. XC, p. 484). She has the baby with her now and could not get any other work.
 
He feels he is finally over his love for her, and feels free but sorry for her at the same time. She sobs, and he has an inspiration. He invites her to live with him in his rooms. She can be his charwoman to earn her keep and stay home with the baby. He is happy when she agrees.
 
Mildred turns up with her baby and looks pathetic. Philip is very happy to have her there with the baby, though he is sure he does not love her. He asks her to fix his breakfast in the morning before he goes to a lecture. They sleep in different rooms.
 
Philip loves having the baby around, but he goes out on his regular nights with the boys at the Beak St. Tavern and treats the arrangement with Mildred as a business deal. She cooks and cleans in exchange for room and board.
 
Philip is envious that Lawson and Hayward made money on the stock exchange with a tip from Macalister, and he decides he will try investing to increase his small fortune. Mildred waits up for him in her best dress, and Philip does not know why. He goes to bed. Mildred tells the landlady they are married, and Philip is annoyed by her constant lies. He takes her out one night and enjoys her simple excitement. Yet “She was a puzzle to him” (Chpt. XCII, p. 496). Looking at her he can only feel compassion and forgiveness. She tries to initiate sexual activity, but he refuses and says he does not want that; it would spoil everything. He doesn’t expect that from her. She is sulky and angry at his refusal. He tries to explain his ethics to her (she has belonged to other men; he only feels platonic love) but she doesn’t understand and accepts him as strange.
 
He continues seeing his friends and the Athelnys and doing his work. Her life is monotonous and occasionally he takes her out. He begins spending too much money, but he becomes very fond of the child. Mildred realizes he loves the baby more than her. The baby prefers Philip to its mother. Philip makes a little money on the stock market and is elated. He asks Mr. Jacobs to perform the surgery on his foot. He enjoys his rest in the hospital for a month, so he can read. Mildred visits him and so do his friends.
 
In August he takes Mildred and the baby to Brighton. She tries to get one bedroom, but he insists on two. She wants to know why they can’t live as a married couple, and he explains he loved her too much at one time, and now—he can’t explain. Philip finds her boring, and the vacation is difficult. He finds it tragic that he loved her so madly and now not at all. He thinks his suffering was a waste.
 
Philip begins to work in the emergency ward dealing with accidents. When the Boer War breaks out, he begins to worry about his investments on the stock exchange. Mildred delays in trying to get a job, but he feels comfortable with her and the baby around. Christmas is a tender time. She tells Philip she loves him now, and he says it is so strange the way love comes and goes.  He kisses her good night on the brow and goes to bed.
 
The narrator switches suddenly to Mildred’s point of view. Three weeks later she is driven to exasperation by his indifference. She has never understood him or liked him, but she could control him and all men through sex. Now he is good to her but does not want sex. It makes her feel humiliated. He is no longer subservient. Thinking he must be in love with someone else she watches him, but he is not, so she thinks that he must still love her. Once she realizes he doesn’t want her, she feels powerless. She thinks he might cast her out if she has no hold over him, so she begins obsessively to try to seduce him. When he won’t give in, she begins shouting and abusing him. The next day when he comes home, she has left and destroyed everything in his apartment with a knife. He is thankful to be rid of her and moves into cheaper rooms.
 
Commentary on Chapters XC-XCVII
 
For Mildred, sex is part of the power game with men, and she is out of her depth with Philip’s simple human kindness towards her, his desire to rescue her and appreciate family warmth as he has known it at the Athelnys. He is trying to give her a chance to get out of her trouble. It is obvious she doesn’t love Philip, but she wants to get back her old control over him. She feels powerless in the situation. She is neither wife nor lover. She feels degraded as a sort of servant, yet does not try to find a job or better herself. She has fallen into the pattern of using men to get what she wants.
 
The narrator is forced into explaining from first Philip’s view and then Mildred’s perspective because the two minds are so far apart. Philip is appalled at her lack of humanity, her inability to learn from experience. Norah had once said that she knew no one who learned more from experience than she did. She seems to soak up the lessons of life and move on. Mildred, on the other hand, is a tragic figure, who has learned one pattern and keeps repeating it, each time falling lower. Philip sees she cannot deal with abstractions, or even why he cannot love her after her treachery and affairs with other men. It has destroyed intimacy and trust, though he can charitably forgive her.
 
The Athelnys have given him a new touchstone. They represent one quality he has never found in people before: “it was the beauty of their goodness which attracted him. In theory he did not believe in it” (Chpt. XCIV, p. 508). They are kind and generous, and it is the spiritual instinct of humans that Philip finally sees is more important and enduring than the sexual or power instincts that he thought ruled people. This simple goodness in Philip puts him out of Mildred’s reach, and she is so angry, she destroys his paintings and belongings with a knife. He has acted out of something like Christian charity without being a Christian. His own journey has been through selfishness, passion, envy, power, and intellectual cynicism, towards love and compassionate respect for others. He has left Mildred and what she represents behind. He, like Norah, knows how to learn from experience. He becomes more discriminating. He is no longer an addict.
 
 

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