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[63] The Painted Veil – W. Somerset Maugham

Ken and I went to see the premiere last week in Embarcadero Center, where matinee for the show not unavailable but the film was well worth the money. Ha! Toward the end of the film I heard sniffles and rummaging of tissues. So I took them as good sign? I won’t talk about the film until later. Here, instead, is Moleskine review of the novel.

Surviving a few relationship woes myself, sometimes I still turn over in my once traumatized mind details of the heart-breaking rejection (or desertation) scenes. Although time’s indifference has sewn up the wound, one question still pricks my mind: Do you cease to love a person because you have been treated cruelly? The Painted Veil beautifully delves into the ethics of love and morality that revolove around this issue.

In the 1920s, a beautiful, love-craving and a bit frivolous Kitty Gerstein who, having been waiting for too long for her suitor, out of fear that she had missed the chance altogether, rashly married Walter Fane, a bacteriologist stationed in Hong Kong, for convenience. Even though she never loved him, his kindness and passion touched her at first, for she never expressed the slightest wish without his hastening to gratify it. When Walter discovered her adulterous affair, which began merely three months after they tied the knot, he coped with a menacing silence not out of anger but of disdain, of wounded vanity, and of a shattered make-believe reality. Perhaps he loved Kitty so passionately and unretrievably that he was prepared to accept any humiliation if sometimes she would let him love her.

Many would raise their eye brows at Kitty’s vile and lustful passions. But if one looks into her perspective, one cannot help sympathizing with her. She just wished to undo the mistake of marrying someone whom she didn’t love, never love, with whom she could never be happy together and yet to part would have been terribly difficult. Maybe Walter’s unconditional love is what cause of the tragedy.

Little did she expect that instead of divorcing her, Walter forced her to go with him to Meitanfu, a Chinese city laying in the deadly grip of pestilence, where cholera had claimed the lives of 100 a day. Vengeance? Pay back? Does he ever condone her offense? The tragedy is not the fact that she cheated on him, but the fact that she alone had been blind to his merit and that he loved her more than he ought to. She wished to extricate from her unhappy situation with no intention of causing him pain.

Glimpses of others’ lives, as she was transferred to another world, one in which the entire humanity is completely wrecked by the epidemic, have awakened her and sobered her. She was compelled, through acts of charity, to reassess her life, and to learn how to love. The cruel truth that nature can be amazingly indifferent to the loss of life made her realize life’s transience. It dawned on her that when all things lasted so short a time and nothing mattered very much, it seemed pitiful that men, who attach an absurd importance to trivial objects, should make themselves and one another so unhappy.

The Painted Veil, inspired by lines of Dante, delves into the infinite complexities of human hearts in the context of love, loss, regret, happiness, forgiveness and isolation. It ponders on the very irony that too much of love can be hurtful. The novel is a finely knitted tapestry of emotions and the inner-workings of the mind and heart. It also has a sense of awakening, through the situation in which humans confront death and the shortness of life, and to purify one’s soul by dragging out the rancor that had poisoned it.

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14 Responses

  1. What an interesting review. Makes me want to go out and buy the book. Thank you, I’ve been looking for something to read and this looks like just the thing. I haven’t read anything by Maugham for years.
    I also like your new-look. WordPress knocks spots off Blogger.

  2. I just started reading it thanks to you. I think I’ll hold off the movie for a while until after I finish the book. Heard Naomi Watts delivered yet another dazzling performance.

  3. I am about to see this movie! Can’t wait!

  4. Sounds fascinating!

  5. I had already read the book a while back so I wanted to see the film before I really added a comment.

    I LOVE the way you describe the novel. I, tho, didn’t care for it all that much. I walked away from it feeling that I was more curious about the horrors of the epidemic and that impact than on the two characters — niether of which I liked much.

    The film was beautifully shot, but we walked away not feeling all that much.

    And, like most films based on books — so much of the characters had fallen away. But, it is worth seeing. I think.

  6. […] of the novel–revealing more than just the plot and brimming with psychological details. Like The Painted Veil, Maugham demands readers to read between the lines in order to discern the mental and emotional […]

  7. I loved the book and the movie

  8. […] strenuous reading experience), and W. Somerset Maugham, whose works have contributed to this blog a substantial fare. Other authors are completely new to […]

  9. I read the Painted Veil, and absolutely loved it.

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  11. Great review. I just read this last week after another blogger mentioned it and I loved it. I get tired of seeing reviews for recent releases and so few of oldies but goodies. Thank you.

  12. […] James Baldwin 6. The Name of the Rose, Umberto Eco 7. Death with Interruptions, Jose Saramago 8. The Painted Veil, W. Somerset Maugham 9. Maurice, E.M. Forster 10. The Go-Between, L.P. Hartley 11. Beloved, Toni […]

  13. […] James Baldwin 6. The Name of the Rose, Umberto Eco 7. Death with Interruptions, Jose Saramago 8. The Painted Veil, W. Somerset Maugham 9. Maurice, E.M. Forster 10. The Go-Between, L.P. Hartley 11. Beloved, Toni […]

  14. […] James Baldwin 6. The Name of the Rose, Umberto Eco 7. Death with Interruptions, Jose Saramago 8. The Painted Veil, W. Somerset Maugham 9. Maurice, E.M. Forster 10. The Go-Between, L.P. Hartley 11. Beloved, Toni […]

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