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The Painted Veil Paperback – November 14, 2006

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Shallow, poorly educated Kitty marries the passionate and intellectual Walter Fane and has an affair with a career politician, Charles Townsend, assistant colonial secretary of Hong Kong. When Walter discovers the relationship, he compels Kitty to accompany him to a cholera-infested region of mainland China, where she finds limited happiness working with children at a convent. But when Walter dies, she is forced to leave China and return to England. Generally abandoned, she grasps desperately for the affection of her one remaining relative, her long-ignored father. In the end, in sharp, unexamined contrast to her own behavior patterns, she asserts that her unborn daughter will grow up to be an independent woman. The Painted Veil was first published in 1925 and is usually described as a strong story about a woman's spiritual journey. To more pragmatic, modern eyes, Kitty's emotional growth appears minimal. Still, if not a major feminist work, the book has literary interest. Sophie Ward's uninflected reading is competent if not compelling. Recommended only for large literature collections. I. Pour-El, Des Moines Area Community Coll., Boone, IA
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


“The modern writer who has influenced me the most.” – George Orwell

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 246 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (November 14, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307277771
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307277770
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (220 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #81,215 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

236 of 240 people found the following review helpful By Roger Brunyate TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 20, 2006
Format: Paperback
I wanted to read this book before seeing the movie, and I must say that I enjoyed it immensely. Having read most of Maugham's short stories but none of his novels, I was taken aback by the sweep and passion of this book, its strong moral center, and above all its sensitivity to feeling. Other readers have called this a feminist work, and so in a halting way it is, in that Kitty Fane, its central character, is a woman and Maugham looks unusually deeply into her soul. But at the beginning of the book she is almost the polar opposite of feminist, having been brought up by her ambitious middle-class mother to be pretty and vapid and catch a good husband. It is only after she has passed through the climax of the story that she begins to see that there can be better goals in life for a woman.

My surprise at the depth of Maugham's portrayal of Kitty is in contrast to what I have always seen as the emotional reticence of his male characters, who are portrayed rather in terms of action than of feeling; I see this as a by-product of the author's homosexuality in an era when this had to be kept hidden. Kitty's husband, Walter Fane, a young government doctor and bacteriologist in Hong Kong, though presumably heterosexual, is almost a caricature of this repressed type. Although he obviously has feelings, he is almost incapable of giving voice to them, and neither he nor Kitty can effectively communicate with one another. It is hardly surprising that Kitty should fall into an affair with a married colonial official who is all easy charm. Even when Walter discovers their liaison (masterfully evoked in the opening pages of the book), he remains cold and inscrutable; his response is to volunteer for service in a cholera-ravaged city in the Chinese interior and to take Kitty with him.
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50 of 51 people found the following review helpful By Ellen Hanson on January 7, 2007
Format: Paperback
"The Painted Veil" is the beautifully told story of one self-absorbed woman and what it takes for her to discover joy in loving others. Every novel should have at least one character who changes and grows even half as much as this heroine. (Scene spoiler alert: My favorite scene is the last, when Kitty realizes she's always taken her father for granted, imagines how he must be feeling, and begins - finally - to treat him as a unique individual who has wants and needs separate from hers. When she can finally do this, their love is realized.)

I just saw the 2006 motion picture, and actually enjoyed it more than the book. The screenwriter enriched Somerset Maugham's classic in several ways: Kitty's husband Walter is given more depth such that his growth over the course of the story matches Kitty's. Also enriched is the backdrop. Not only is the Chinese town where much of the story takes place suffering a Cholera epidemic, but the Chinese Nationals are rising up against the British. This plot enhancement cranks up the tension of the story, and allows Walter's character to develop in a more complicated and ultimately satisfying way.

I highly recommend you read the book, then see the movie. You won't be disappointed!
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129 of 150 people found the following review helpful By Boris Bangemann on July 29, 2001
Format: Paperback
The kernel of this novel dates back to 1895 when Maugham was twenty years old and stayed in Florence to learn Italian. He came across a story in which a "husband suspecting his wife of adultery and afraid on account of her family to put her to death, took her down to his castle in the Maremma the noxious vapours of which he was confident would do the trick; but she took so long to die that he grew impatient and had her thrown out of the window." It is around this core (which is not exactly the plot line of the novel, don't worry) that Maugham developed the story of Kitty Fane, a woman who is vain, superficial and in need of appreciation. It is a story that plays in Hong Kong and China in the 1920s. Maugham knew both places from his extensive travels in the South East but, characteristically for him, he does not spill much ink on descriptions of the landscape or the natives, which is a pity. He is much more interested in his fictitious characters.
As always, Maugham is a master of drawing characters who possess all the self-importance, weakness, and suffering that underlie human existence. His characterizations are so sardonically true that he was sued two times over the book by people in Hong Kong, and had to change the name of Hong Kong into Tching-Yen, and the name of one of the characters from Lane (innocent enough, one would think) to Fane.
I was wondering why this rather obscure novel by Maugham has received nothing but glowing five-star reviews by almost exclusively female readers. The reason is that this novel is about marriage and the restraints that marriage imposes upon passion. Also, it is a classic story of a woman's spiritual awakening.
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49 of 57 people found the following review helpful By Ralph White on January 21, 2007
Format: Paperback
With The Painted Veil, Maugham is at his most masterful. It's hard to conceive of the inspiration which led to his story line; it is brilliantly creative. Such a story line deserves masterful character development, and the reader is not disappointed. From the main protagonists to the bit players, we learn the strengths and weaknesses of each in economically structured vignettes. Character is also illuminated by Maugham's narrative, as when Kitty becomes aware just how terrifying her husband's jealousy could be: "It [his mind] was like a dark and ominous landscape seen by a flash of lighting and in a moment hidden again by the night. She shuddered at what she saw." Kitty's lover is employed by the British Government, and is second in charge in that colony. She learns that the Government "doesn't want clever men ; clever men have ideas, and ideas cause trouble; they want men who have charm and tact and who can be counted on never to make a blunder." Of course her lover, Charlie Townsend, does make a blunder, and it is precisely in becoming Kitty's lover. Then, in describing the differences between the French nuns and herself, she realizes: "They spoke a different language, not only of the tongue, but of the heart." Married to a man she realizes she hardly knows, she sees them as "two little drops in a river that flowed silently towards the unknown; two little drops that to themselves had so much individuality, and to the onlooker were but an indistinguishable part of the river." Of the separate, special motivations that each individual has, Maugham says, "Tao. Some of us look for the Way in opium and some in God, some of us in whiskey and some in love. It is all the same Way, and it leads nowhither."

Maugham exposes two shortcomings in this novel.
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