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Of Human Bondage is semi-autobiographical. In it Maugham reveals his childhood, his student days in Heidelberg and London, and his philosophy of life. It was not, however, his first autobiographical attempt. In the Artistic Temperament of Stephen Carey, Maugham retold much of his first twenty-four years of life. The protagonist, however, was sent to Rouen instead of Heidelberg and studied music instead of painting. The novel did not come up to Maugham's expectations and was not published. After this first failure, the autobiographical idea kept haunting Maugham, and in 1912 he began another effort. At first he called it, Beauty from the Ashes, but learning that another novel bore that title, he changed it to Of Human Bondage (from Spinoza).
The novel is autobiographical except for the Parisian episode and the ending. In the early part of the novel, the experiences of Philip are mostly the same as Maugham's. Mrs. Maugham died in 1882 in Paris, while Philip's mother died in 1885 in London. The vicar lives in Blackstable, while Maugham's uncle lived in Whitestable. Philip's school is in Tercanbury, while Maugham's was in Canterbury. Maugham did not have a clubfoot, but he suffered greatly from a speech impediment that caused him to stutter.
The public obviously found the life of Somerset Maugham, disguised as Philip, to be interesting for Of Human Bondage met with great popular success and was responsible for beginning the long and successful literary career of its author.