Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Painted Veil

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


  1. The Painted veil was one of the choices for our next library book club meeting! I won't know until next month whether or not it was chosen, but now I hope so :)

    I read The Merry-Go-Round by Maugham last year and really enjoyed it. I want to read more by him, too.

    Love the blog!

  2. Let me know if your group selects it. I think my group will have a pretty lively discussion. I'm not familiar with The Merry-Go-Round, will have to look it up. Thanks for stopping by - I'm still trying to figure things out!

  3. Do you think the title and the poem fit together, having read the book? I'm not sure Maugham and I get along. :<) I tried Cakes & Ale a while back, and really didn't like it. I'll be interested in what you think of the movie.

  4. Thanks for visiting, Nan! The poem fits the book more than the movie. As always, there were some differences between the two. The movie put a more favorable slant on the resolution of Kitty's relationship with her husband, and had some beautiful cinematography.
    I'd definitely recommend it. Of Human Bondage is supposed to be Maugham's masterpiece, but I'm not sure how that compares to Cakes & Ale.

  5. I loved the movie of this, which is rare that I would see the film before reading the book. Your review was wonderful, and I especially liked learning about the poem.

  6. Bellezza -
    Thanks for visiting! It was a great if my favorites this year. I think you'd enjoy the book, too.

  7. That was a great review! I liked it too. The movie is really beautiful to watch.

  8. Thanks, Chris. Have you read any of Maugham's other books? I hope to this winter.

  9. Wonderful review - thanks for posting the poem! I always love to see where the titles for books come from...

    And thanks for visiting me at Friday Finds this week :)

  10. Thanks, Wendy. I'm always interested in seeing where authors draw inspiration for titles, too. This one seems very fitting.

  11. I didn't know where the title came from either! What a wonderful review.


Thanks so much for taking the time to comment! Be sure to check back, I always respond. Due to a recent increase in spam, all comments are moderated.


Related Posts with Thumbnails