December 1, 2008

The Painted Veil: Review

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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


  1. That sounds great - I love the cover too!

  2. I've been thinking about reading this - now I'm convinced. Thanks!

  3. I haven't read this or seen the movie - I think I'll read it first.

  4. I've meant to read this book for awhile, your review is the best reason I've had.

    It's so very sad about Dewey. I can hardly take it in.

  5. Eleanor Roosevelt was so wise, wasn't she? Fabulous review. I've read one or two Maugham books, but not this one. Now, I absolutely must. Need to see the movie, too, but I think reading first is best.

  6. The cover is so pretty. I'm going to add this to my TBR list. Both the book and the movie sound great. Thanks!

  7. I'll definitely pick this up if I see it. Maybe I'll even see if I can snatch it up on bookmooch.

    I saw the movie and found it to be very interesting...though I think, from your description, I'd like the book better.

  8. Great review! And the cover is pretty, I'll be adding this to my TBR list.

    ~ Popin

  9. I liked the movie, but for some reason was always intimidated by the book... but if you say it's easy to read, I'll take your word for it and see if I can pick it up!

  10. I just picked this one up at the store--glad you liked it so much. I'll definitely try to read it sooner rather than later.

  11. I read this book last year, and I loved it. I agree that Kitty is hard to like at the beginning. I haven't seen the movie, but I'm curious as to how the movie ending differs.

    Diary of an Eccentric

  12. Anna- The movie is really beautiful.

    Hope you all pick it up sometime!

  13. This is one of my two favorite Maugham books, and I've read all but one of his. I reread it about a year ago, and my book club is reading it next December. I can't wait!

  14. Is there any consensus in the scholarship, or do you have any special thoughts, about the title? "Veil" makes perfect sense in that it raises imagery of that part of all of us that others cannot know. As the book shows, though, our "veils" are constantly changing. "Painted", though, raises imagery of something that may appear to contain movement or change but which is, in fact, fixed and unchangeable.


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