Hayley Bricker's Reviews > The Painted Veil

The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham
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Sep 15, 2011

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Lovely story, very heart-wrenching, and I couldn't help but picture Kitty as Marion Cotillard, Charles as Michael Fassbender, and Walter as Ben Whishaw. I don't know why, but that's just the mental picture I received from the description of Maugham. I loved his inspiration, which is detailed in the forward of my edition. Although, I have to admit the story was quite hard to follow after Maugham seemed to lose his affection for punctuation.


W. Somerset Maugham’s 1925 novel, The Painted Veil is not exactly the happy romance tale of forgiveness and understanding. That’s what I was led to believe before I picked up his 240-something page work of literature. Walter Fane, a shy and intellectual British bacteriologist, is perhaps one of literature’s most relatable characters. He meets Kitty, a vain socialite of London, and immediately falls in love with her. After courting her for a little over a year, he proposes. It seems like the typical marriage plot, but unbeknownst to Walter, Kitty only accepts out of a drive of competition with her sister, Dorris, and the urge to break free of her restrictive mother. Walter and Kitty’s marriage stagnates for two years until Walter takes a government job in the heart of China. Kitty falls prey to the advances of Charles Townsend, a high-ranking official ten years her senior. An affair ensues, landing Kitty in hot water when Walter tragically walks in on the couple.
Maugham’s plot is quite typical up until this point. It seems that fanciful Kitty may be on the brink of divorce to a man she knows she can never love. But predictability strikes again, when Townsend deserts her for his own family. Walter and Kitty are then shunted into a dangerous confrontation of loyalty and love, in which Walter exerts his revenge in the form of a change of scenery: he takes a job in a dangerous interior province stricken by a cholera epidemic. As the story progresses, I expected Kitty to humble herself to Walter and apologize. Neither of these things happen, and Kitty is instead jostled away from her husband, refusing to talk to him about anything. Instead of learning to forgive, Kitty believes that she must victimize herself in order to gain the attention of her sister and mother, and of Walter as well. Her deepest desire is to return home to the comforts of high society. Meanwhile, Walter toils away at his job, trying to sooth the suffering of the stricken Chinese. Eventually, Walter dies as well, leaving Kitty without the opportunity to have made things right. In her supposed grief, she accepts the comforts of all sympathy, and makes up her mind that she was a victim all along and that her own children will never be raised the same way she was.
Although an intriguing plot from the get-go, Maugham’s novel does not unravel itself into a primal story of love and hate. It sits stagnant with little character development and a misleading summary. If anything, I only garnered a respect for the affections of the heart rather than satisfaction at Kitty’s utter failure as a wife. Even the method of delivering the story wavered after chapter twenty. Punctuation seemed to slip Maugham’s mind, and predictability filled its place.
In the four hours it took me to brood and pick apart The Painted Veil, I came to the conclusion that the novel was not worth my time, and that Maugham’s character development was in serious need of reconsideration. Unless, however, I completely missed the point and Maugham’s simple message was that people never change.
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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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message 1: by Liz (new) - added it

Liz Holland As long as fassbender is in there, I recall my comment about you not getting the Whishaw part right. (Cotillard is still amazing). Bravo you are officially an (almost)-perfect casting director.

Hayley Bricker Oh Liz, Liz, Liz....

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