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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:Your library

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The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham (1925)



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We follow the downfall of the flighty and frivolous Kitty as she marries a dull bacteriologist whom she doesn’t love - just to get away from home. The couple move to the Crown Colony Hong Kong, where Kitty very soon falls in love with Charlie Townsend, a british government official.

She misread her situation totally - Townsend is not willing to divorce his wife - and Kitty have no other choice than to follow her husband (whom she hates) as he travels to a remote village to help with a colera epidemic. A deathly mission.

Here she’s indeed lost. Until she befriends some nuns in a monestary and begin to have a new outlook on her life and her former ways.

In a way it reminded me of [Remains of the Day] that is also about a very lonely, trapped person - not that the plot is the same at all - but in the way the story is told - by a single character - and as I followed her thoughts, her observations, her arguments I went from disliking her a lot, to disbelief in her folly, to sympathy and hope for her renewal, to liking her again and rooting for her.

Kitty is indeed a flawed character - but a real character who radically alters her outlook on life - and we come to sympathise with her in her “coming-of-age” journey to self-understanding, to spiritual awakening, to her final attemps of carving out a new life for herself - it’s a suspenseful, chilling and profound novel.

I saw the movie-adaptation several years ago but as I remember it it was much more romantic and sentimental than Somerset Maughams novel. Hmm..have to see it again, I guess :) ( )
3 vote ctpress | Dec 1, 2016 |
Written in 1925 when Hong Kong was a Crown colony, this is the story of Kitty Fane. Married to a man she didn't love, this spoiled young woman fell in love with charming, married, government official Charles Townsend. When Walter Fane discovered her affair, he gave her the option of divorce but only on the condition that Townsend will marry her. Of course, Townsend has no intention of that, so Walter compels her to accompany him to the heart of a cholera epidemic. The story is an examination of love and fidelity that Maugham does so well. Although the setting is not as clearly defined as most of Maugham's stories, the early 20th century culture and manners of British Empire days are beautifully portrayed. ( )
1 vote VivienneR | Oct 24, 2016 |
In this book, the shallow, selfish and adulterous Kitty ultimately recognizes her own loathsomeness and attempts to change. I've always liked Maugham and he was very good at depicting the society in which Kitty lived. Unfortunately I never grew to like Kitty, nonetheless I felt the author managed to make an interesting book out of the life of a basically uninteresting woman. The narration of the audiobook by Kate Reading was good. ( )
  fhudnell | Sep 12, 2016 |
The Painted Veil moved me deeply the first time I watched the movie. My friend loaned me the book and what I discovered was a far different but addictive story. Rather than romanticized love, the novel dives further into Kitty's selfishness and stupidity. Much like Scarlett O'Hara, Kitty strives to be happy, to make her own way in a world not ready for that kind of progressiveness. And yet, as annoying as she could be at times, I felt like I had taken a journey with her.
The ending is even more satisfying than the movie, though in my mind I imagine a healthy blending of both.
Altogether I loved this novel of self-discovery and the promoted truth that life is not composed of a stream of happy endings, but journeys. ( )
1 vote JSilverwood | Aug 27, 2016 |
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. ( )
3 vote BeyondEdenRock | May 11, 2016 |
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» Add other authors (24 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
W. Somerset Maughamprimary authorall editionscalculated
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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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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