The Painted Veil, W. Somerset Maugham

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I had no illusions about you,’ he said. ‘I knew you were silly and frivolous and empty-headed. But I loved you. I knew that your aims and ideals were vulgar and commonplace. But I loved you. I knew that you were second-rate. But I loved you.

I fear too much of what I have been reading is because of movie adaptations I know I love. The Painted Veil is no exception, although I come away from this book with a better understanding of its context and subsequently a more bitter taste in my mouth.

The Painted Veil is a story about a woman named Kitty who is entirely careless and immature and foolish and who marries her husband not out of love but because she wants to marry before her younger sister. Kitty moves to Hong Kong with Walter, but entangles herself and her heart in an affair with Charles Townsend, a friend and popular figure in Anglo- Hong Kong society. The affair and its revelation to Walter brings him to the decision to take himself and Kitty to a cholera-ravaged province of China to try to find a cure.

This is a story about growing up. In the film I quite liked Naomi Watts’ selfish character, her trials of coming face to face with death purposefully set up by her vengeful husband. And I admit I even liked how they both fell in love there, out of desperation and I suppose guilt they didn’t treat one another better. But I feel rather less so with the book. I will admit I have an outrageous bias towards male authors who try to take on the female perspective in their love stories. And I still feel the same – Kitty wasn’t a well crafted selfish character, she was a shallow character where I desired more depth. And Walter seems more absolved in the book than in the movie – his spitefulness seemed so toned down that I almost forgot about it. It was a little too “good guys always finish last” for my taste, instead of bringing us to the realization that both characters in a way got what they deserved.

Books Read: 21

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2 responses to “The Painted Veil, W. Somerset Maugham

  1. I haven’t seen the movie. I’ve read Maugham’s short stories and have always been reasonably satisfied by the way he treats his women.

    Maybe the movie took a more forward thinking approach? i still want to read this book.

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