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The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham
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The Painted Veil (original 1925; edition 2006)

by W. Somerset Maugham

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2,278952,805 (3.92)218
Member:Moomin2009
Title:The Painted Veil
Authors:W. Somerset Maugham
Info:Vintage (2006), Edition: Movie Tie-In, Paperback, 256 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:****
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The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham (1925)

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Showing 1-5 of 92 (next | show all)
Having been spoiled by her mother because of her beauty, Kitty is in no hurry to marry one of her many suitors. She makes the mistake of waiting too long to accept one of them. Faced with the prospect of her younger sister's marriage, Kitty reluctantly accepts the proposal of Dr. Walter Fane, a quiet fortyish man she doesn't love. After their marriage, Kitty accompanies Walter to Hong Kong, where he works as a bacteriologist. Kitty soon begins an affair with Charles Townsend, a colonial official. When Walter discovers the affair, he offers Kitty a choice: either go with him to mainland China, where he will manage a cholera outbreak, or he will file for divorce, ruining both Kitty and Charles's reputations. Kitty resigns herself to accompany her husband, where she expects to die from cholera.

Maugham writes from Kitty's perspective. Although Kitty is vain and shallow, her unconscious naivety makes her sympathetic, as does her growing self-awareness and gradual transformation in the isolation of the cholera epidemic. With her mother's encouragement, Kitty cultivated her physical appearance while neglecting her character and intellect. Crisis forced her to take stock of her weaknesses and reevaluate her priorities. The novel doesn't feel dated since it is character-driven. Readers who enjoy character-driven fiction, either historical or contemporary, should give this a try. ( )
1 vote cbl_tn | May 1, 2015 |
Regarding the Mother Superior: "Her character was like a country which on first acquaintance seems grand, but inhospitable; but in which presently you discover smiling little villages among fruit trees in the folds of the majestic mountains, and pleasant ambling rivers that flow kindly through lush meadows."

And, regarding the lives of the nuns (these words spoken by Waddington, who has befriended Kitty in the cholera-infested town of Mei-tan-fu): "I wonder if it matters that what they have aimed at is illusion. Their lives are in themselves beautiful. I have an idea that the only thing which makes it possible to regard this world we live in without disgust is the beauty which now and then men create out of chaos. The pictures they paint, the music they compose, the books they write, and the lives they lead. Of all these the richest in beauty is the beautiful life. That is the perfect work of art."

This is a deceptively simple tale. Kitty, a beautiful and shallow English woman, impulsively marries bacteriologist Walter and cuckolds him only a couple of years into their dismally boring marriage. He discovers her infidelity and punishes her by forcing her to accompany him to a town caught in the deadly grip of a cholera epidemic. There, he works tirelessly to help the suffering populace while Kitty watches from the sidelines, gradually learning that there are multiple viewpoints on any man's character, most notably those of her husband and lover. Disguised as a tragic romance, this novel is an existential contemplation of love, fidelity, duty, and the search for meaning in life.

Why 4.5 stars? I cringed at the racism of Maugham's descriptions of the Chinese people and tried to remind myself that this novel was written in the 1920s and that Maugham was representing accurately how Kitty and her peers would feel about the Chinese people among whom they lived. Still, it took some effort to overlook the degrading choice of words and I can't give 5 stars to any novel, regardless of when written, that requires me to dig that deeply to suspend my judgment. ( )
2 vote EBT1002 | Apr 24, 2015 |
What a fantastic story! Maugham's writing is fabulous, his prose, quote worthy and his timing, impeccable. How strange that the reader is plunged into a puzzling turmoil from the start which ultimately defines the entire book. Yet, in today's world of books being 900 + pages long or need to be told in trilogies, it is a welcome surprise. It is a story of duty. Duty to love others who do not love you and the duty to care for others who love you but you are unable to love in return. Just an amazing and memorable book. ( )
  Carmenere | Apr 11, 2015 |
I'm gonna give Somerset Maugham (who I generally enjoy, most recently Cakes and Ale) and assume this book made more sense/was less boring and offensive in 1925. Right now, it's a pretty rote tale of a silly, superficial woman made less so by hardship and loss. (I can't help but compare Kitty's desire, at the very end of the novel, to raise her as-yet-unborn daughter to be different from herself and less silly and Daisy's wish, stated early on in The Great Gatsby, that her daughter be a beautiful fool. I think it speaks to Maugham and FItzgerald's very different sensibilities, with time favoring Fitz's. Maugham seems to forget all the societal pressures/circumstances that favor women being beautiful fools that will make fools of otherwise reasonable men.)

Oh, and then there's the racism, and I won't even get into that.

( )
  winedrunksea | Mar 28, 2015 |
The Painted Veil is a classic tale of redemption.

Kitty, the beautiful, popular but shallow central character marries dull, emotionally reclusive bacteriologist, Dr Walter Fane out of fear of being left on the shelf after the marriage of her younger, plain sister.

The Fanes move to Hong Kong. Kitty is swept off her feet by the dashing Deputy Commissioner, Charles Townsend and they start an affair.

Walter discovers the affair and gives Kitty an ultimatum - he will either file for divorce - publicly revealing the affair - or she must accompany him to mainland China, which is in the grip of a cholera epidemic.

Townsend's predictably refuses to leave his wife, citing his fondness of her and the damage to his reputation and Kitty is left heart broken and suddenly clear eyed.

As she comes to terms with her position, Kitty begins her journey of redemption. Even though she does not love her husband, she begins to see his virtues reflected through the admiration of others towards him. More than anything craves his forgiveness for her transgression.

Kitty becomes acquainted with an order of nuns caring for orphans and soldiers struck by the cholera epidemic. They are kind, but not warm towards her. Seeking meaning in her life and perhaps the approval of the nuns, she volunteers at the abbey. She discovers she is pregnant. She feels compelled to tell Walter that she does not know who the father is, even though it would be easy to say it was him. Another step on the redemptive journey.

Walter contracts cholera and dies. Kitty begs the mother superior to be allowed to stay and work at the abbey, but she is refused.

Kitty returns to England to find her mother has died. Free from the suffocating bonds of marriage her distant and uncommunicative father is buoyed by the offer of a post as chief justice of a minor British colony in the Carribean. Not wanting to burden his new found freedom, but determined to start a fresh life again with her child, Kitty begs to be allowed to accompany him.'

With this new beginning ends Kitty's journey from self-deceit to honesty and awareness.

I really enjoyed the story and Maugham's writing. While some of the story was predictable, Kitty was a sufficiently complicated character to carry the book along. Kitty acknowledges her foibles and their origins but does not point fingers, instead taking responsibility for her own shortcomings.
As she emerges from the world of her love affair she sees the bigger picture and realises how insignificant she is. ( )
  ilovejfranzen | Oct 9, 2014 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
W. Somerset Maughamprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Reading, KateNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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"...the painted veil which those who live call Life."
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She gave a startled cry.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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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 Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:57:10 -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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