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The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham

The Painted Veil (original 1925; edition 2006)

by W. Somerset Maugham

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Title:The Painted Veil
Authors:W. Somerset Maugham
Info:Vintage (2006), Edition: Movie Tie-In, Paperback, 256 pages
Collections:Audiobook, Read but unowned

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The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham (1925)



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Showing 1-5 of 104 (next | show all)
I must confess that, though I loved the film adaptation of The Painted Veil, I have circled my copy of the book for a long, long time. Because for years Maugham lived in my box marked ‘A Great Author But Not For Me.’ Wrong, wrong, wrong!

In the end I picked it up because it was small enough to fit in my handbag to read at lunchtime and short enough that it wouldn’t take forever to read. And I fell in love. With lovely, elegant prose; with the clear understanding of the human condition; and with the characters and their stories.

Kitty was one of two sisters, daughters of a good family, living in London in the 1920s. She had been expected to make a good marriage, and yet after several seasons she was no nearer to her wedding, and her chances were lessening. She knew that, and when her younger sister became engaged to a most eligible man she found that she could not bear the idea of being the bridesmaid.

Though Kitty was undoubtedly spoiled and selfish, her situation was so clearly drawn that I found I understood. I wanted her to esacape, and I wanted her to learn.

Walter Fane, a young doctor home on leave from Hong Kong, saw that situation, and he proposed to Kitty. He was a quiet, serious, bookish man; not Kitty’s type at all; but she saw a chance of escape and she took it.

I understood completely why he had proposed, why she had accepted, but I feared for their future.

Hong Kong had a busy social scene but Kitty, as the wife of low-ranking government employee, had no place there. Her husband was attentive, but she didn’t love him, it wasnt;t enough. And so Kitty drifted into and affair with a handsome, charming government official. She was besotted, and willing to give up everything to run away with him, but he was ambitious and comfortable with his wealthy, forgiving wife.

I could see that, but of course Kitty couldn’t.

Inevitably Walter discovers the affair. He speaks honestly, about her, about him, and about their marriage.

“I had no illusions about you,” he said. “I knew you were silly and frivolous and empty-headed. But I loved you. I knew that your aims and ideals were vulgar and commonplace. But I loved you. It’s comic when I think how hard I tried to be amused by the things that amused you and how anxious I was to hide from you that I wasn’t ignorant and vulgar and scandal-mongering and stupid. I knew how frightened you were of intelligence and I did everything I could to make you think me as big a fool as the rest of the men you knew. I knew that you’d only married me for convenience. I loved you so much, I didn’t care. Most people, as far as I can see, when they’re in love with someone and the love isn’t returned feel that they have a grievance. they grow angry and bitter. I wasn’t like that. I never expected you to love me, I didn’t see any reason that you should, I never thought myself very lovable. I was thankful to be allowed to love you and I was enraptured when now and then I thought you were pleased with me or when I noticed in your eyes a gleam of good-humoured affection. I tried not to bore you with my love; I knew I couldn’t afford to do that and I was always on the lookout for the first sign that you were impatient with my affection. What most husbands expect as a right I was prepared to take as a favour.”

And he offers his wife an ultimatum: she can have her lover take immediate steps to divorce his wife and marry her, or she can travel with him to the Chinese interior where he has offered his services to treat the victims of a cholera epidemic.

Kitty tells Walter that she never loved him, that her lover will marry her, but she discovers that he won’t. And so she has no choice but to travel with her husband to a ravaged, isolated community.

It is there that Kitty comes of age, finds a purpose in life, and realises the true worth of her husband. But Walter cannot forget what his wife has done, or what he had done: marrying her when he knew that he could not give her the life she wanted, be the husband she wanted, and punishing her with that terrible ultimatum.

The Painted Veil is a clear-sighted, understanding study of a difficult marriage. Neither Kitty nor Walter is entirely sympathetic, but I found it easy to understand that their natures, their emotions, and their circumstances had made them what they were. I cared, I wanted the best for them, though I had no idea what that might be.

Maugham offered no easy answers. But he did offer a wonderful story told in simple, clear, elegant prose. He did paint vivid pictures of the world Kitty and Walter lived in, a world that he knew well. And, best of all, he offered moments of such clarity, such understanding that I had to catch my breath.

I have moved Maugham to a different box, marked ‘A Great Author And I Must Read More of His Books,’ now. ( )
2 vote BeyondEdenRock | May 11, 2016 |
This is the second Maugham novel I've read recently -both as part of a course on Film of the Book. It's made me realise what an impressive writer he is. Considering it's written by a man, I don't think I've read a more convincing depiction of an unhappy marriage and a desperate affair written from the woman's point of view. It's a very persuasive account of the position of middle class women in the 1920s, in particular their dilemma when caught between the traditional pressure to marry and not be left on the shelf and the growing move towards more independence and sexual freedom for women.
Her personal dilemma, caught between her miserable marriage and her affair with a complete shit of a married man makes her instantly sympathetic although a very flawed character. Her husband, Walter, is an interestingly ambiguous character, especially since we only see him through his wife Kitty's eyes. For me, the main weakness of the book is Maugham's harping on about a higher spiritual existence, something he also did at great length in The Razor's Edge, the other novel of his I've read. ( )
  stephengoldenberg | Apr 6, 2016 |
The equation goes like this:
Plague sacrifice incredible writing=a very happy reader. ( )
  wealhtheowwylfing | Feb 29, 2016 |
You know, I've got to take a star off because this book really stewed in my brain for the last few days and now I'm angry.

Endings can make or break a book, and this one was one of the broken variety. The author managed to avoid the lame Austen-like finish, but only after a distinct flirtation with it. He then narrowly missed the depressive Waugh finale that would have been infinitely better in a literary sense but equally would have been, well, depressive. Only then did the author point the novel toward Dostoyevsky Ville and put his foot down.

I can't believe that I worried so much through the novel that this well drawn, strong and confident female character would be ruined in some lame "Road to Damascus" moment and have her psychological journey thrown to the garbage - and then it happened. In the last freaking sentence.

This book could have been a four star without the words "...if she could follow the path that now she dimly discerned before her, not the path that kind funny old Waddington had spoken of that led nowhither, but the path those dear nuns at the convent followed so humbly...".

Just allow her to exit stage left with her changed and very human heart intact please, instead of making her rely on yet another man for her happiness; this time of course it’s the man upstairs but that’s by the by.

I can't possibly give it a one star because Maugham is one of the greats, but this ending man, it's enough to drive a man to drink.

EDIT: I've seen the film version now and I agree with the other reviewers who have said that it's better than the book. The film gives the two main characters some of their humanity back and manages to rescue a satisfying ending from the poor end to the novel.
( )
  MartynChuzz | Feb 22, 2016 |
The story begins with the very unlikable Kitty Fane. She is selfish, vain, and is bored with her husband. After an adulterous affair, Kitty travels with her husband to an area stricken by cholera.

Kitty begins to work in the nearby convent while the nuns nurse those stricken with the disease. During this time, Kitty attempts to repair her broken marriage. Just when she begins to make amends, tragedy strikes. Kitty is left alone to face her demons.

I enjoyed watching Kitty's character evolve throughout the story. I first noticed the change when she began embracing the orphans in her care instead of being repulsed by them. She begins to understand that, in the face of so much suffering, her problems are very small. Kitty begins to empathize with others and make better choices. In the end, Kitty is stronger than she realizes and her tragedy is really the beginning of a new life. ( )
  AlexisLovesBooks | Jan 26, 2016 |
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» Add other authors (24 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
W. Somerset Maughamprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Frampton, MeredithCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kushnir, OksanaDesignersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Reading, KateNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Törngren, Thorsten W.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wilson, MeganCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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"...the painted veil which those who live call Life."
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The Painted Veil was mistakenly combined with The Narrow Corner and thus the non-English titles may be incorrectly combined. If you identify an incorrectly combined book please "separate" it and combine it with the correct work. Thank you.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0307277771, Paperback)

Set in England and Hong Kong in the 1920s, The Painted Veil is the story of the beautiful but love-starved Kitty Fane. When her husband discovers her adulterous affair, he forces her to accompany him to the heart of a cholera epidemic. Stripped of the British society of her youth and the small but effective society she fought so hard to attain in Hong Kong, she is compelled by her awakening conscience to reassess her life and learn how to love.

The Painted Veil is a beautifully written affirmation of the human capacity to grow, to change, and to forgive.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:22:00 -0400)

This is the story of Kitty Fane, the adulterous wife of a bacteriologist stationed in Hong Kong. When her husband discovers her deception, he exacts a terrible vengeance: Kitty must accompany him to the heart of a cholera epidemic in China.

(summary from another edition)

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