Of Human Bondage (1915)
by W. Somerset Maugham
Of Human Bondage is a top novel of the early 20th century, thoroughly modern if not quite modernist. Supposedly autobiographical in nature, Of Human Bondage tells the story of Philip Carey, an orphaned boy with a club foot, who is sent to live with his Uncle and Aunt in their vicarage in rural England. Maugham takes Philip through school, then off to Germany and Paris; where Carey/Maugham tries and fails to become a painter. Then it is back to London, where Carey decides to pursue medical studies.
Carey falls for the completely unsympathetic, unlikable Mildred, a shop girl, who Carey literally ruins himself for, only to be betrayed in the most awful and contemptible fashion REPEATEDLY. Maugham himself was gay (he also got married because being Gay was totes uncool in the UK in the early 20th century) but Of Human Bondage has the strong scent of a gay man trying to make sense of heterosexual relationships in the same way that a deaf person tries to appreciate music. Carey has some idea that he should be in love with a woman, but has trouble really feeling it.
The happy ending, with Carey settling down with the daughter of his friend, seems grounded more in prudence then romantic love. Of Human Bondage is a clear forerunner to the genre of 20th century literature where a son of the middle class loses his way to bohemianism and uncertainty. Any fan of Orwell's Down and Out in London and Paris or On The Road will enjoy Of Human Bondage- but be ready for a 600 page book.