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CHAPTER SUMMARIES WITH NOTES
The novel opens with the scene of a dying woman attended by a doctor and the nurses. She has just delivered a stillborn child, and her condition is critical. At her request, the nurse brings her first- born child, Philip, to her bedside. Mrs. Carey caresses him, tenderly touches his feet, and bursts into tears. The doctor advises her to rest, and the boy is taken away by the nurse to his godmother, Miss Wilkens. Shortly afterwards, the woman dies.
Philip is brought back home to meet his uncle, William Carey, the brother of Philip's father and the vicar of Blackstable. The Vicar informs the boy that he would be accompanying him to Blackstable to live there. Even though William Carey and his wife are kind and childless, the prospect of having a boy under their roof does not really delight them. Their means are limited, and Philip's father had left behind only 2000 pounds for the boy, which had to last him until he was old enough to earn his own living.
Philip, though disturbed by the thought of leaving his home, is reconciled to the situation. As a mark of remembrance, he picks up his mother's favorite clock, visits his mother's room, and prepares to depart. As he journeys with his uncle to Blackstable, he forgets his sorrows and enjoys the countryside scenery. When they reach Blackstable, everything about the place and its people seems strange to Philip.
In these opening chapters, Maugham conveys the poignancy of Philip's situation through clear descriptions and short conversations. It is a touching scene when his mother calls him to her bedside before she dies. They obviously had a close relationship, as evidenced by her tender touches, by his taking her favorite clock as a remembrance, and by his trying to feel her presence left in her room. Because Philip has a clubfoot, she has probably been particularly gentle and patient with her first-born son.
The loss of his mother and her baby are made all the more tragic when Philip finds out he must leave home. Because he is now an orphan at the age of nine, he must go to live with his uncle, William Carey, and his wife in Blackstable; unfortunately, they are not particularly pleased about raising the child, and Philip is not pleased about going. He does not want to leave his home and the memories of his mother. He goes into her room to vent his emotions. Hiding his face in her clothes, he tries to breathe her into his being by touching and smelling the things that belonged to her. In these first chapters, Maugham does an outstanding job of presenting Philip as a sensitive and intelligent child who craves affection and sympathy.
Philip shows his innocence when he looks with curiosity at all the sights on his way to Blackstable; he is struck with wonder at the vision and temporarily forgets his sorrow and loneliness. He is almost eager to see a new place. After all, as a handicapped child he has been closely watched and protected. He has not experienced much of the world.
At Blackstable, Philip finds the ways of his uncle and aunt quite different. Although they are kind, he is not comfortable with them, and they feel strange with a child in the vicarage. Philip watches in amazement as his uncle offers him only the top portion of a boiled egg at tea, when he craves the whole thing. In spite of such peculiar habits, Philip learns to adjust to his surroundings and tries to please his guardians.
It is important to notice several things in these opening chapters. Although Philip's clubfoot is not made an issue here, it is mentioned because it becomes more important later in the novel. The interest in money is also presented. The Careys are not well off, and they worry that the 2,000 pounds (equivalent to about $10,000 at the time of the novel) will not be enough to provide for Philip until he is on his own. A concern about money will be seen throughout the book, for Philip will have and lose a fortune. Finally, the British tradition of tea is presented and will be seen frequently throughout the novel. Tea was served in the late afternoon and really consisted of a small meal; it was also a social time of the day.