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 ...Show synopsisSet 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, where she is compelled by her awakening conscience to reassess her life and to learn how to love.Hide synopsis
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Now, I'm an English teacher, so it is rare that I find a movie that accurately captures the spirit of a work of literature. However, a movie that accurately captured the spirit of The Painted Veil would be a gloomy downer indeed. This is a piece of modernist fiction: it is full of a desire to return to a more innocent time, coupled with the cynical knowledge that such a return is impossible. Modernist fiction, though it may sound depressing, can be very well written: see The Great Gatsby, for example. This novel, however, is fairly flat -- we only see Kitty's point of view -- and goes nowhere. Kitty does experience an epiphany, but does not seem to grow from it. I found the movie produced by and starring Ed Norton and Naomi Watts to be more interesting, in the sense of making us interested in the characters, and more suitable for the screen, as it has a more satisfying, romantic ending, in which both characters grow and learn.
I read the Painted Veil after seeing the movie, which intrigued me. I thought though that perhaps the book had more to offer. I was not disappointed. First, Maugham's language and descriptions are beautiful and always attuned to the psychological state of the main characters, so that it is not as if you are reading about the characters, and then there is a pause for beautiful descriptive language. The character of Kitty Fane is more complex than in the film (which I thought was wonderfully acted by Naomi Watts). However, the book takes on issues of life and its higher purposes and of the infinite that the heart always yearns for in a way that the movie does not pretend to do. This book has made me read more of W. Somerset Maugham, and I have now read his most famous short story, Rain, and am reading some of his essays. The one flaw I saw in the book was that Kitty did not, as in the movie, actually begin to love her husband , although she cared for him. I think this is perhaps a man's misstep. Unless she was physically repelled by her husband, of which there is no indication, I believe that she would have begun to fall in love with him; the movie rings more psychologically true on this count. What is most remarkable, whether she fell in love with her husband eventually or not, is that Kitty Fane is a character who undergoes a profound change in the course of her experience and this changes her for life forever. Her continuing struggles after her husband dies only underline the extreme vulnerabilities of the human soul. Thus, Maugham's book is not simply a story but a truthful exploration into the human condition and how the soul can change under conditions in which it is stripped of inessentials and pretensions.
I read to be entertained or to learn something. Needless to say I usually stay away from the classics. I tend to get bogged down in the writing or the wealth of symbolism these stories generally have (literature was not my best subject). I also like books that have a straight forward writing style. This book satisfied much of my criteria for a good read: entertaining, somewhat educational regarding medical/cultural history, and a straight forward wrting style. I would have given it a 5 if it would have been longer. The main character is not always likable but we see how she matures within the story. I agree with one of the other reviewers stating that this is not really a love story. I did not feel that it ever reached that conclusion (my take only, yours may be different) but found that Kitty reached a point of great respect for her husband. I saw the movie and enjoyed it as well-especially the photography.
Maugham touched upon the soul of mankind in The Painted Veil. With simple, yet descriptive language, Maugham shows how men and women find themselves making choices motivated by the actions of others and hidden jealousy, unable to communicate true feelings.
Kitty Fane finds herself caught up in the aftermath of her mother's ambitious whirlwind. Approaching her mid-twenties and still not married, panic seizes Kitty when her younger - not so pretty - sister becomes engaged. Pushed by panic, she choses from among her many courters Dr. Walter Fane, a bacteriologist. He would do, after all he worshiped her, and what if she wasn't "in love" with him. She'd marry before her sister and to a man with a position, perhaps not a position as esteemed as she would have liked, but still, a position in society. With Kitty's marriage to Walter came her removal from the English society of her youth and submersion into the politics and society of British Hong Kong.
Her marriage now considered by her a mistake, she allows herself to be caught up by outward appearances and seduced into an illicit affair. Discovery waits around the corner and with it comes her husband's wrath. Forced to accompany him into China's interior, where people suffering from a cholera epidemic await Dr. Fane's help, Kitty catches glimpses of the real Walter Fane and begins to acknowledge the superficialness of her "proper" British life.
Does Kitty's awakening come too late? Can their marriage be redeemed? Is there redemption for her? These hard questions come with unexpected answers.
W Somerset Maugham has been defined for me by "The Razor's Edge", which I read in high school, and remember as being fairly intellectual, fairly difficult and fairly interesting. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately), that's all I remember which means I will have to go back and reread it. Because after reading "The Painted Veil", I realize that my reading experience will be incomplete without reading more of his works.
I picked up the novel after seeing the movie. The plots are quite similar, with really very few differences. However these differences are enough to make the book utterly different from the movie.
Maugham succeeds wonderfully at describing the workings of the mind of a girl who is brought up to be shallow and conventional, yet manages to discover meaning in the most unlikely places. It is so much more than a love story, that the description of the book is almost insulting. The language is erudite, but the book is almost a page turner. It is a wonderful description of a life, a critique of conventional society and a great description of the world of colonial China. I highly recommend it.
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