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I finished my bildungsroman category for the classics challenge last week- W. Somerset Maugham's Of Human Bondage. Generally its a genre a really like; A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, David Copperfield, Jane Eyre, Tom Sawyer- all favorites of mine.
And I will say that OHB had its moments, basically everything that wasn't about the central 'love story' was interesting, insightful, enjoyable and relatable. But oh, that terrible, awful love story.
It was rough going to get through all of the pages and pages of our hero yearning for this woman who is, by his own admission, mean, plain, stupid, crude, uneducated, arrogant, lazy, promiscuous and hypocritical. He supports her after she's left by not one but two other men, even though both times she admits she's only using him and cares nothing for him. He pays for her and another man to go off together to Paris. He loses all his money, screws up his education and ruins his life for this woman.
A doomed, destructive romance can be quite fun to read (i.e. Wuthering Heights). But these 'lovers' don't even like each other. I'm not arguing that people don't form destructive attachments and obsessions with people who are using and/or abusing them, nor that people can stay in love with a partner who has burned them in the past- but does anyone really spend all their time and money on someone who they don't find physically attractive or intellectually interesting? I don't buy that as an accurate portrayal of love, even warped love.
Maugham is full of troubled couples. In The Razor's Edge, Larry/isabel, Larry/Sophie. In The Moon and Sixpence, Strickland & every female he had contact with. I think it is his way of showing the dark side of desire, as Nabokov did with the Humbert Humbert character in that notorious novel I shall not name. It's hard enough for me to figure out what makes a person tick, much less why affection lands where it does. "Pretty women out walking with gorillas down my street," as Joe Jackson glumly sang in "Is she really going out with him...."