From an orphan with a clubfoot, Philip Carey grows into an impressionable young man with a voracious appetite for adventure and knowledge. Then he falls obsessively in love, embarking on a disastrous relationship that will change his life forever.
The novel is Dickens like in its deaths and depressive environs. The plight of a Paris classmate is the most poingnent of the various sub-plots. Phillip Carey is truly a Dickens like hero who chases forbidden love. The reader agonizes as Phillip is abused over and over again by Mildred. Of Human Bondage is worth the 800 pages.
The one piece of the puzzle that never quite fit in is Mildred, the rather disgusting object of Phillip's obsession. At first, I kind of liked her for her cheekiness. As Phillip's passion for her grew, however, so did my distaste for her -- I found myself muttering warnings to Phillip under my breath each time he extended himself to her. Mildred is a unique character, however, simply because she's revolting; I didn't expect her to become so prominent in Phillip's life, because I always anticipated he'd be attracted to someone kind and lovely (like a Thomas Hardy female character). She is just one of many interesting twists in this book.
I also really enjoyed the "motherly" theme of the book. Phillip's journey through life begins without a mother, he inherits an inadequate aunt as a mother-figure, he encounters a passionless mother in Mildred, finds admirable and pitiable motherly qualities in Mrs. Athelny, and ends up with a woman who is always described as "maternal." I found it interesting to follow that thread throughout the book.
I was surprised by the ending because it didn't really seem to fit in with the rest of Phillip's life. However, upon re-reading the section of Phillip's "epiphany" about life, it all seems to work out correctly.