225 of 229 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lessons on life
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...
Published on December 20, 2006 by Roger Brunyate
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Sometimes the movie is better...
Somerset Maugham wrote from a particular period, and his work clearly revealed bruised and conflicted emotion within the scope of his plots. Nonetheless, compared to the movie (featuring Edward Norton as Walter, the epidemiologist), there is a more even-handed treatment of the marital issues between Kitty and Walter. The movie ended with Kitty's new-founded, mature love...
Published 22 months ago by Dawna Robertson
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225 of 229 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lessons on life,
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.
As I say, I have not yet seen the movie, only the trailer.* But I was struck by how perfectly Edward Norton captures the cold correctness of Maugham's doctor; I am only surprised that this should have become a star role, since in the novel Maugham keeps Walter very much in the shadows. My other impression from the trailer, the expansive beauty of the Chinese landscape, is also strongly evoked in the book, though I suspect that the movie paints the horrors of the cholera epidemic on a larger canvas and makes more of the background of civil war, which is barely hinted at by Maugham. Instead, once the Fanes reach their destination, the novel takes on a more intimate quality, which slightly disappointed me by playing down the ever-present danger that surrounds them.
But the trade-off is that the emphasis can shift to Kitty's tentative spiritual journey. Maugham's title comes from the first line of an unfinished sonnet by Shelley, "Lift not the painted veil which those who live call Life," which implies a metaphysical intent. Here Maugham moves into territory that would later be claimed by Graham Greene; Kitty volunteers at an orphanage run by French nuns, and her first real lessons on life come from her exposure to these women so different from herself in faith and culture. By its mid-point, it seems that the novel is set to follow the familiar path of redemption through sacrifice.
And so it does, for a while. But Maugham, to his credit, does not go for the easy melodramatic conclusion. By a series of events that I cannot reveal here, the novel begins to retrace its steps and to wind down from its peak intensity. Kitty is forced not only to confront change, but to recognize in herself the ways in which she has NOT changed. Maugham risks anticlimax in taking this route, and perhaps does not avoid it entirely; but all the same it makes me respect him in a way that nothing else of his that I have read ever has.
[*I have now seen the movie on its first day of general release. It is handsome and well acted, but a very different experience from the book. The scenes in the Chinese interior have indeed been opened out as I surmised, and the character of Walter Fane much developed, moving into emotional territories only hinted at by Maugham. On the other hand, the earlier parts of the book are much compressed and the final sections omitted entirely. Perhaps the unusual shape of Maugham's novel would not have worked so well in movie terms, but it is still worth reading for that very reason.]
43 of 44 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Good story. Great writing.,
"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!
123 of 145 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Of marriage and freedom,
This review is from: The Painted Veil (Penguin Twentieth-Century Classics) (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. Two themes that appeal to female readers to such an extent that they tolerate Maugham's biting sarcasm and his rather unromantic view of life (he is quoted as saying that "habits in writing as in life are only useful if they are broken as soon as they cease to be advantageous"). If there is an author who is not touchy-feely, it is W. Somerset Maugham. Marriage, he soberly concludes, is a matter of convenience. Passion, on the other hand, is a matter of inconvenience: it lurks untamed behind "the painted veil which those who live call life". What is left? Faith? Maybe, I think Maugham would say, but most people are not humble enough to be truly religious ("no egoism is so insufferable as that of the Christian with regard to his soul" is another quote by the master).
"The Painted Veil" is well worth reading. However, it suffers a bit from Maugham's self-assured way of portraying people and constructing a plot. It is a well-told story, but it is not a first rate novel. I think the problem is that Maugham's characters in this book are too one-dimensional which works well in a comedy of manners, but not in a book that wants to discuss matters like love, passion, marriage, life and spiritual growth in a serious way.
47 of 54 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Tao Which Leads Nowhither...,
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. A modern editor would not have let him get away with the use of "seemed" so frequently. In some chapters he uses it on every page, and not infrequently, twice a page. You may say that this is stylistic, but "seemed" is overused by amateur writers, and is used very sparingly by professionals. Maugham's other shortcoming is more substantive. His ending appears to be appended to the wrong book. It simply doesn't fit. The reader is treated to genius until the last chapter, Kitty's reunion with her father. We get a tearfully emotional scene between father and daughter which is entirely irrelevant to the plot, the theme, and character. The book throbs with exotic intensity until the final pages, when it becomes mundane and dreadfully boring. Had Maugham treated us to an ending which matched the brilliance of the rest of the book, employing characters about whom we have developed strong feelings, this would have become a genuine classic. It fails, but very, very narrowly, and unnecessarily.
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars beautiful,
The novel has an old-fashioned feel for the first few pages, and then it takes off. The writing and structure are crisp and modern - surprising when you consider how many decades ago Maugham was writing. A moving story; highly recommended.
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Read the Referenced Literature to get Maugham's Meaning,
This review is from: The Painted Veil (Paperback)
To better understand Somerset Maugham's "The Painted Veil," it's helpful to know some of the referenced literature that inspired the author. In the preface of "The Painted Veil" Maugham makes note of an interesting Italian legend of adultery and murder that first inspired the novel. Also, the title of the novel is taken from a sonnet by P. B. Shelley that begins "Lift not the painted veil which those who live call Life", which chastises people who choose to live in fear and illusion rather than embrace hope and face the reality of their imperfect relationships. The primary relationship in "The Painted Veil" is that between Kitty and Walter Fane. Kitty, a superficial socialite groomed by her ambitious mother to make a successful match, in desperation marries shy Walter. She escapes society's scorn with him in Hong Kong, where Walter has a government post as a research microbiologist. Bored with Walter's worshipful version of love, Kitty falls for the personable and politically powerful Charlie Townsend, who is married. The balance of power shifts, however, when Walter discovers Kitty's infidelity and forces her to "lift the veil" and also face some hard truths. In an act of revenge, Walter accepts a post to the dangerous city of Mei-tan-fu, beseiged by a severe cholera epidemic. Kitty can do nothing else but accompany him to what she thinks will be her death. Yet in this city of death, Kitty and Walter are changed by the people they meet: Deputy Commisioner Waddignton and his mysterious, devoted Manchu Lady, and noble Mother Superior, who left a privieged life in France to devote her life to Chinese orphans. What will be Kitty and Walter's fate and the fate of their marriage? And if one survives living in the shadow of death, is it possible to easily resume former relationships? Walter's cryptic line "The dog it was that died" holds the answer. Read the English rhyme "An Elegy on the Death of a Mad Dog" to find out what Walter means.
29 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Journey to One's Soul,
As usual we experience Maugham's thread of profound moral strength versus the commoner's weaknesses. In The Painted Veil, our main character Kitty (the name suggests one who is gay and flighty) has been reared only to apply her good looks to marry someone of political, social, and economic stature. After years of many social functions and rejecting numerous suitors, Kitty who senses her marital clock is ticking, marries a profoundly serious medical researcher by the name of Walter Fane.
They soon move to Hong Kong, where Kitty becomes bored and distraught over her social and material standings. In the beginning, Walter provides Kitty with a plethora of love and respect; as any woman can only hope for in her marriage. But something is missing. Kitty has the moral impuissance of any commoner. Walter is forever focused on research, and spends free time at the club, which makes Kitty that much more lonely and vulnerable. Eventually she begins an affair with an up and coming political figure. As the potential exposure of the fling increases, her disdain for her husband becomes blatant.
Upon discovery of this salacious affair, Walter feels betrayed and, instead of attacking the male adulterer, he serves his revenge cold and without mercy. He drags Kitty across this implied line from colonial Hong Kong's social and morally corrupt playground to Cholera plagued Mei-tan-fu, where the only initial sense of worth is in the help of others.
In the end both the superficial and profound stand steadfast against one another with Kitty left straddling both. On one side we have the typical temptations of greed, power, and trysts pulling her in one direction. On the other, a sense of conscious cleansing commitment to helping the destitute amounts to somewhat of a philanthropic zealotry.
Like the substance of our story, on the surface this has an easy and relatively nondescript flow. However, immediate reflection brings us a beautifully woven fabric of classic literature.
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Life's Most Important Lessons,
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In the Painted Veil we are drawn into the story of two ill-matched spouses - Kitty and Walter Fane. Kitty, who is somewhat pretty, flighty, and shallow has married the serious bacteriologist Walter Fane out of desperation and relocated to Hong Kong. While there, she has imagined herself to fall desperately in love with the Colonial Secretary, Charlie Townsend. When Walter discovers the affair, he presents an ultimatum and Kitty finds herself short on options. Walter decides to accept a position as a doctor in a remote location where a cholera epidemic is killing off large numbers of the population, and he insists Kitty go with him. Will Kitty survive? Or will she meet her demise?
The tale that unfolds is a triumph of the human spirit in so many ways. The book goes beyond whether one lives or dies and leaves the message that life's important lesson is in the way one treats those who are nearest. Life is to be lived to the fullest, but not at the expense of mistreating others.
Although I felt the characters were a bit predictable and not overly deep, I felt W Somerset Maugham drives home his message clearly in an easy to read, engaging manner. This book does not go into a whole lot of detail, but it gives enough detail to enable the reader to flush out what they need to make the full picture fresh in their minds.
I am always amazed when a male author can so capture the feelings and emotions of a woman (or vice versa, but I really can't speak to that!), and W Somerset Maugham has really done a fine job of that in this book! I could truly relate to the emotions Kitty Fane was going through - indeed, I felt as though I would have felt the same under the same circumstances!
23 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Joys of Entering the Realm of W. Somerset Maugham,
Few writers of the past century could evoke a sense of mystery and atmosphere like W. Somerset Maugham. And while almost all readers are familiar with his major works (Of Human Bondage, Up at the Villa, The Razor's Edge, Cakes and Ale etc, the film versions of these having added to that international knowledge), few have had the pleasure of reading the rather private but equally satisfying 'feminist work', THE PAINTED VEIL. Now with the announcement that this novel, too, is soon to be released as a motion picture, hopefully many will read the book before, remembering how mesmerizingly well how Maugham can spin a tale.
As with all of Maugham's novels, the stridency of class plays a role in this work. In a disturbing opening chapter Maugham places us in the room where Kitty is in the midst of seduction by Charlie Townsend and the adulterous couple shudder at the noise that would indicate that Kitty's bacteriologist husband Walter Kane may be spying on them. The intrigue is set and then the novel retraces the territory that placed the couple en flagrante in the middle of the incipient scandal that will alter the lives of all concerned. Kitty, the elder daughter of a fussy couple in London who had 'shamed' Kitty into finding a husband when Kitty's younger, unattractive sister is engaged, hurriedly marries the shy but solid Walter Kane who is about to be shipped off to Hong Kong. Once into Hong Kong Kitty's sensually hungry eye is met by the handsome but married with three children Colonial Secretary Charlie Townsend and they begin a torrid affair. When Walter discovers his wife's adultery he threatens to divorce her (thereby making public the scandal that would ruin Charlie's career) if she doesn't accompany him to Mei-tan-fu, China where a cholera epidemic is destroying the town. The situation finds Kitty struggling with her disdain for Walter whom she never has loved and eventual loathing for Charlie who proves to be the cad he is by putting his career and marriage over the 'silly thought' of running away with Kitty!
Distraught, Kitty joins Walter on the trek to Mei-tan-fu where she gradually adjusts to the situation with the help of the consul Waddington who encourages her to fill her hours with helping the nuns care for the sick and the orphaned children. Kitty's life begins to change as she sees the manner in which Walter is focused on mankind, enhanced by the admiration he gains from the nuns. She discovers she is pregnant (whether by Walter or Charlie she does not know) but soon all attention shifts when Walter succumbs to cholera and Kitty, wanting to stay with the nuns who have helped her see that life does have meaning), returns to Hong Kong, has one last distasteful experience with Charlie whose wife has become the solid friend Kitty has always needed, and sets off for England. Once in Europe she receives a telegram that her mother has died and she returns to London to be with her sister and her distant father. Circumstances alter and Kitty finally finds in her lonely father the need to be loved and pledges to join him as he moves from London to a colonial position, awaiting the birth of a daughter who will be given all the love and training of equality Kitty has never known.
Aside from Maugham's gift in creating characters so real we can visualize them, make them part of our reading lives, he also had the gift of descriptive writing about strange places that is as fine as any writer of his day. 'The morning drew on and the sun touched the mist so that it shone whitely like the ghost of snow on a dying star'. In describing the destination in China 'Mei-tan-fu with its crenellated walls was like the painted canvas placed on the stage in an old play to represent a city. The nuns, Waddington, and the Manchu woman who loved him, were fantastic characters in a masque; and the rest, the people sidling along the tortuous streets and those who died, were nameless supers.' The novel is full of these absorbing pictures.
THE PAINTED VEIL is a little known Maugham, but for this reader it is one of his finest, most private works. Highly Recommended for all lovers of great literature. Grady Harp, November 06
18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I cannot add much what haven't been said before...,
I agree wholeheartedly with the review of "misplaced human".
What I particularly liked was that the novel took such a different angle on the rather old theme of the shallow, beautiful and flighty socialite who marries a man who is far superior to her emotionally and intellectually and who stubbornly loves her toward the bitter end-despite her unworthiness. The adulterous heroine usually sees the errors of her ways and the worth of her husband very late, sometimes even too late. One the surface the book has all those plot elements-but if you look closely it is not that at all. The motivations and the hidden agenda of the characters-good and bad-are quite cleverly and subversively exposed by Maugham. None of the protagonists is what he or she seemed to be at first (with the possible exception of Kitty's "oily" lover).
Kitty's husband is not the romantic, thwarted lover as one first pities him-in one of the key scenes of the novel shallow Kitty of all people is the perceptive and shrewd one in the relationship who has to explain intellectual Walter what his supposedly romantic love for her is truly about.
The book might not be for everyone but one thing it is not at all (unlike one reviewer here pointed out)-a novel with one-dimensional characters. I have hardly ever seen more multi-layered characters in a book written in that time period which usually just pleasantly malign women like Kitty and put the men on a pedestal who marry them. After all who we choose to love says something about our character, too and Maugham was one of the rare authors perceptive enough to detect that!
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The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham (Paperback - November 14, 2006)