The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham is the November selection for my face-to-face book group. Finishing the book while sipping my morning coffee is a typical meeting day scenario, but this time I have a week to spare. Yes, it’s a short book (just under 250 pages), but it was also a surprisingly quick read.
First published in 1925, it’s the story of Kitty Fane, a superficial woman who marries a man she does not love, moves with him to Hong Kong, and quickly becomes involved in an affair with a British government official. Her husband, a bacteriologist, takes his revenge by forcing her to accompany him to the northern territories of China where a cholera epidemic is raging. Facing what she fears to be certain death, the moving story of Kitty’s spiritual awakening follows.
I once read that characterization is where Maugham really shines and his portrayal of Kitty is superb. Kitty's inner conflicts and struggles came alive for me. Even after several days, I still find myself thinking about her.
My plan is to watch the movie before our meeting on the 5th. Other members may do the same, so it will add another dimension to the discussion. The 2006 version starring Naomi Watts and Edward Norton is now at the top of my Netflix queue. This novel should lend itself to some excellent cinematography! Maybe I can even persuade my husband and daughters to watch with me.
I was curious about where the title came from. Here's a poem by Shelley:
Lift not the painted veil which those who live
Call Life: though unreal shapes be pictured there,
And it but mimic all we would believe
With colours idly spread,–behind, lurk
FearAnd Hope, twin Destinies; who ever weave
Their shadows, o’er the chasm, sightless and drear.
I knew one who had lifted it–he sought,
For his lost heart was tender, things to love,
But found them not, alas! nor was there aught
The world contains, the which he could approve.
Through the unheeding many he did move,
A splendour among shadows, a bright blot
Upon this gloomy scene, a Spirit that strove
For truth, and like the Preacher found it not.
Other than a short story or two read for high school English, this was my first exposure to Maugham. It certainly won’t be the last! My rating for The Painted Veil: 9 out of 10