Lift not the painted veil which those who live, Call Life -Percy B. Shelley
Eleanor Roosevelt once said that women are like teabags. We don't know how strong we are until we're put in hot water. Kitty Fane is quite a teabag because she's up to her neck in the stuff. In The Painted Veil by Somerset Maugham, after marrying a mild mannered doctor and moving to China, Kitty is bored and falls for the charming diplomat, Charlie Townsend. Kitty's husband Walter finds the pair in the act and in his anger makes Kitty come with him into a cholera epidemic. It's a clear case of murder-suicide.
Alone with a man who once adored her and now despises her, Kitty has nothing but time on her hands and her own thoughts to keep her company. She starts to think about her life and how she became the shallow creature she sees in the mirror. She looks to the people around her, Waddington and the French nuns, for answers to the bigger questions in life. What is really important?
I have seen the movie version which is a tragic romance but the original book ends quite differently. It's difficult to like Kitty at first. She's very vain and self-absorbed. She believes that she can get her husband to do whatever she wants. Consequences are for other people. She gets a reality check when she is alone in a diseased ravaged village. Maugham starts to build her character. We see her grow as a person. Of course, she isn't perfect and she makes some major mistakes. Even at the end I wonder if she does the right thing or if she's acting out of selfishness. At least she tries.
The Painted Veil is an easy book to read. It's short and has some very beautiful writing. Told entirely from Kitty's point of view, it's a character study of one woman's search for her true self after reality is forced upon her. I'll definitely read more of Maugham