Sunday, July 01, 2007

June Book Club Discussion -- The Painted Veil

I finished reading The Painted Veil and felt a little let down. My main disappointment is that I never could feel any emotion for Kitty. She is shallow and lacking in morals. Her philosophical journey is about half a mile from not caring for anyone but herself to believing she can raise her own daughter differently. I found her quite unsympathetic and, although her husband should have been a more sympathetic character, I never found him any more compelling. I love Maugham’s The Razor’s Edge, but found his detachment from the characters in The Painted Veil to deter me from finding the connection I was hoping for.

I did find one passage that stood out to me as profound. After watching the nun’s work and trying to understand what brings meaning to their lives, Kitty discusses their lives with Waddington. She wonders what happens if they’re wrong about a reward in the next life. Waddington’s response is beautiful:

I wonder. I wonder if it matters that what they have aimed at is illusion. Their lives are in themselves beautiful. I have an idea that the only thing which makes it possible to regard this world we live in without disgust is the beauty which now and then men create out of the chaos. The pictures they paint, the music they compose, the books they write, and the lives they lead. Of all these the richest in beauty is the beautiful life. That is the perfect work of art.
Kitty is still young when the book ends, but hers will never be a beautiful life. She just can’t seem to figure it out. She is surrounded by people who can’t connect and really don’t even know what it is to truly love another person. I closed the book simply feeling sorry for the characters in the book.

I’m so blessed with relationships that bring so much beauty to my life that I can’t even imagine the empty life described in this book. It did leave me thinking how grateful I am to have loving parents that I enjoy returning to and who seem to enjoy me as well. I have a husband who loves me and I love him. That relationship brings more meaning to my live. And I have many more relationships with people I love and who love me.

What did you think about the book?

35 comments:

annzy said...

I didn't like it. The whole time I was reading it I was waiting for Kitty to change to evolve. I can't believe her father is going to take her along with him ~and how in a million years is she ever going to teach a daughter a lesson she has never learned. The only thing I really liked about this book was it the premise it was set upon.

boisegrammy said...

You will be happy to know that I read the book. I didn't really enjoy it, but it was interesting to read Maugham's style of writing. I haven't read any of his other works.
Kitty disturbed me, but I felt that she was a product of her mother's influence. If Kitty was interested in only herself, just take a look at her mother. "Mrs. Garston was a hard, cruel, managing, ambitious, parsimonious, and stupid woman."

I found an interesting parallel between the feelings of both Kitty and her father when their respective spouses died. I don't think the reasons for their similar feelings were the same, but nevertheless both felt a guilty sense of relief at being relieved of their "burden". Poor Judge Garston, though for just being released from his stifling marriage and then having to take responsibility for Kitty and her unborn child.

I am a little more charitable toward Kitty than Annzy. I am willing to give her some credit for seeing that her life needs changing. I can hope that she will become a better person.

Lucy van Pelt said...

I appreciate the charitable view of Kitty. She really is a product of her mother's views. Her father really is stuck with her though. I would hope that she could still evolve in her new locale with her father, but I wasn't left with much hope.

boisegrammy said...

I was wondering if anyone else looked up Goldsmith's Elegy and read it? If so, would you comment on it. I felt it gave, or validated, Walter's motives for going to Mei-tan-fu.

Anonymous said...

I recently saw The Painted Veil with Ed Norton and Naomi Watts. Although I loved the movie, setting, content, etc. , my husband and I could not find any significance in the title. Anyone? Anyone?
Lost in CT.

Anonymous said...

I personally really enjoyed "The Painted Veil" - Kitty, amoral as she often is, is first and foremost human; she is flawed and makes mistakes.

Answers to a few questions:

The title 'The Painted Veil' refers to a poem of the same name by Percy Shelley, which starts with the line "Lift not the painted veil which those who live/call life...". I think it almost refers back to Waddington's comment on the 'beauty' of life, and also Kitty's question as to whether or not what the nuns do really matters if there is no such thing as God, and the heaven to which they aim.

I have read Goldsmith's Elegy, and found it quite interesting in reference to the events in "The Painted Veil". In the poem, a dog bites a man, but it isn't the man that dies, it is the dog. Walter, on his deathbed, is actually making a joke of sorts (I think, anyway, and it's all down to interpretation anyway, isn't it?) - he 'bit' Kitty by taking her into the epidemic, but is eventually 'hoist with his own petard', as it were.

I think it's a matter of opinion as to whether or not "The Painted Veil" is your cup of tea. I personally found it to be one of the most... complete books I have read in some time. It is not the film, it's a different beast altogether, but I think this is a good thing; reading many books after watching the films based on them seem too slow, or dreary; "The Painted Veil" is different enough as a book to stand entirely separately from its adaptation.

The characters are realistic, I think, in that they epitomise many human flaws, which in a way might make them distasteful to the readers. The characters are, in my opinion, far more real than many created in modern literature today.

The whole point of the ending, as I read it, is that Kitty *isn't* a 'burden' to her father; for the first time in her life she is sworn to love someone and *earn* their love in return.

The short chapters were refreshing and helped keep what could have very easily been a turgid book moving at the right pace!

Hmm. Maybe it's like Marmite; you either love it or you hate it!

Bonnie said...

I read the Elegy by Oliver Goldsmith. When I just read the passage pertaining to the quote, I thought the (man) was Kittie and Walter was the dog, logically because Walter is the one who dies. But once I read the whole poem, the man had the characteristics that were perscribed by other characters in the novel to Walter. I am a bit confused. Walter is so undefined by his own thoughts that it is hard to decifer the true meaning of this quotation. I honestly think that he felt that he was the dog because of the pretense of his actions in entering the Chollera epidemic. But I guess Walter could be the dog and the man....he was the good (man) and his pain, anger and unableness to forgive was the (dog). I don't know if that makes sense because that would mean that the man and the dog died, but maybe he finally forgave Kittie before he died and so the dog (his unforgiveness) died before he did. Please let me know what you think!!!!

Bonnie said...

I think what we perceive as Being in Love is the Painted Vail.

Solya said...

I am a great fan of this book. I think it is a great challenge to the reader.
1. You have to put aside your eagerness to relate to the characters, because Kitty is not a good person, nor is she evolving much. Walter’s character is so blurred, the author gives you no clue about his real thoughts or motives, because you see him through the eyes of Kitty, who obviously never understood him. Her conjectures about him are often contradictory.
2. You also have to forget about any melodramatic/romantic wish to read a story that ends well or where there is evaluation of the personality. Here are two people, who never matched and never will. Where there is no love, it can’t be earned by kindness and servility (especially if there’s also physical repulsion). When a heart is broken, you cannot amend it with repentence. Stories in real life very often end sadly.
3. Since Walter’s character is a little bit in the void, you sort of feel compelled to fill it with your own idea of him. This is quite amusing and very thrilling till the moment where he dies and with his dying words leave everybody perplexed. At least this is what I see from comments on the net: everybody has a very different and subjective opinion about the meaning of this line. But it is definitely subversive (not the feminist meaning of the word).

There are certain core questions you would like to know:
- Did Walter forgive Kitty?
- What the title, „The Painted Veil” stands for?
- What is the meaning of Goldsmith’s Elegy and how does it relate to the story?
- Will Kitty be any better person after she decides she wants to be useful and to give unsollicited love?
- Who is Walter? What’s his past, his work, his feelings like?
- Living with faith in your heart or without, makes any difference?

My idea about the book is that the author, very much intentionally, doesn’t want to give any ready answers for the questions above. He challenges you to create a whole world around the characters and I find it very compelling as a reader. In this sense I think this novel is very modern. Also I think that it suggests very universal truths about realtionships in general.

And more importantly, you can learn something about yourself, if you wish to analyze how you react to this challenge.

Anonymous said...

It is clear that no one understands the question "what does the painted veil" mean. To say that it comes from a poem is not an explanation of what it means. The poem is where it comes from. Can anyone explain what it actually means - what is a painted veil? Does it mean a veil to which paint has been applied for some reason we should like to know? Does it mean a veil that has been painted onto a canvas (so it could not very well be lifted)? Or does it mean something else?

Anonymous said...

my interpretation is the painted veil is the way we often live life without thinking about what is underneath (under the veil) that is truly important

Anonymous said...

I also wondered what the title meant and it's relation to the story. So I just came across an interview of Edward Norton on "The Painted Veil" and his first words were about the title of the story. I was so happy to have finally understood it! And from his point of view I thought he was very correct.

He said that the "painted veil" is Somerset Maugham's way of saying that everyone has illusions about life and that's the veil that's in front of our eyes. And he also says that Somerset suggests that when we fall in love, we fall in love of what we want them to be, not who they actually are.

And in my own words, it's like we "paint" our "veils" in a picture of what we want it to look, which really isn't. Thus, the title, "The Painted Veil." Gosh, Maugham was a genius!

Anyways, Edward also says that when the veil drops in the story/movie and the character's have to confront each other, that's when they go through a lot of resentment, disconnection, and even punishment.

Hope that helps all of you understand the title more!

Anonymous said...

I love this site! I hope I can visit it again (I'm in such a rush now... who isn't these days :-)

But most importantly I wanted to say that I LOVED this book, I cried almost all the way through it. (well, almost...) I felt very sorry for both Kitty and Walter but was also quite inspired by the story of the nuns - particularly the Mother Superior, it seems as if she gave up great wealth. Naturally, she was heroic!

Marjorie said...

I'm French (please, forgive my mistakes) but I read the book in English. I decided to read it because I loved the movie. I just think that the book and the film are two different works of art, that we can't compare.

I think Solia is right, Maugham gives us no answers intentionnally. It is quite disturbing but it is also very interesting.

I do totally agree with Edward Norton about the meaning of the title.

Did Walter forgive Kitty ? I think everyone can have its own opinion. According to me, (but I am not totally convinced !) Walter forgives her through his two tears. From this point of view, Walter would be the dog in Godsmith's poem. So, he never kept on being a "good man", Kity is the opposite.
But, I think that she repents at last (but too late) at the very end of the book. She finally found what she's been seeking through all the story : she chose to take "the path that led to peace". The nuns have changed her but the change began only at the end of the book. So, we can imagine that she's evolved and she chose to be a better human being. Maybe she seeks Walter's forgiveness when she wants to be loved by her father. Here love would be redemption.

Joy said...

I just finished with the book and find my heart breaking a little for the characters.... It is easier for me to be forgiving of Kitty, when I consider that a large span of her character arc, from the start of her “change” at the unmasking of her lover till the death of Walter, is only a few weeks, perhaps a month or two. If so, then I find it remarkable and hopeful that she, who started off so silly and selfish, is capable of growth and expansion, despite the influence of a cramped upbringing. Indeed, Kitty makes terrible mistakes, almost unforgivable, and, like most of us, is also capable of making them again, despite having gained so much. But she grows when placed in a more expansive context: first at the confrontation of her lover’s shallowness, to the sense of awe at the beauty of the citadel, to the contemplation of death itself in likening hers and Walter’s lives as tiny drops in the great river of life, to Walter’s death, and finally to her own folly: these are earmarks of her slow and tentative movements to find her way. At first she tries to find the answer through those around her: the nuns with their Catholicism and the Manchu princess's love for the “good man” Waddington make Kitty, by turns, long to believe in God first, and then make her seek out the Manchu princess in the hopes of finding transcendence through love. She finds it, somewhat when she thinks of Walter's welfare more than her own at his deathbed (though the romantic in all of us would wish for less enigma and more satisfaction). I think even Walter was surprised, and perhaps his macabre sense of humor at quoting Goldsmith’s poem, along with his two terrible tears, mark his recognition of his miscalculation of Kitty. The end then highlights, not the completion of her journey, but the actual beginning of her new life, fecund with life having given birth to a daughter, racked with fear but also buoyant with hope.

And it is this that makes this work a “novelization” of Shelley’s poem, in which the poet begins with a type of challenge to not lift the veil if we are unable to handle what is beyond it. The poet, like the novel, presents life as a choice between two roads: to be content with the beautiful (hence painted) illusions of “life” though it is living in shadows or to lift the veil and live a brighter life, though with great risk to unmask its ultimate emptiness. Thus, in a sense, both types of choice are illusions, though one is marked with greater bravery. For me, then, the part of the novel that best illustrates this is:

“Remember that it is nothing to do your duty, that is demanded of you and is no more meritorious than to wash your hands when they are dirty; the only thing that counts is the love of duty; when love and duty are one, then grace is in you and you will enjoy a happiness which passes all understanding.”

Perhaps the loveless and love-bereft Kitty, too late for her marriage, looks on the future with both hope and fear to finally be able to find love and grace at this new chapter in her life

Anonymous said...

which edward norton interview is it. i want to cite it for an essay. thanks

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Youth said...

I watched the movie today and I found it quite interesting especially the theme of sex throughout the movie and this intense desire to love but not a true understanding of what it meant to express it. I truly did not like the doctor dying but I figured that was going to happen with the epidemic and all.

Anajli said...

A.Thomas
I felt sorry for Dr. Fane. He loved Kitty too much.He married her even when he knew her to be selfish and shallow. Maybe he hoped Kitty would come around.He took every effort to make Kitty happy. But She took Walter for granted and started going around with Charles. It broke Walter's heart. Kitty was so self possessed that she never even tried to make amends with Walter after realising her mistake. Maybe some affection and care would have given Walter hope and not driven him onto the suicidal path. She simply failed to see the goodness in Walter.For her marriage was a matter of convenience, and not where two people love and sacrifice for each other. I hope Kitty does better in the future.

Anonymous said...

For those of you who disliked the book, I think that you'll really enjoy the movie starring Edward Norton and Naomi Watts because the characters are less detached and Kitty has a better personal growth than she does in the book. It's simply an amazing movie.

Nora said...

I love "The Painted Veil" *because* it frustrated me. It was poignant, haunting, and has stuck with me. I also feel that it's a very human and realistic book: I like it that it doesn't just give you a clear-cut, sappy, conventionally happy sort of ending.

I hated Kitty, but I was very fond of Walter and I found him to be a very tragic victim of Kitty's cruelty. I do not believe that Kitty really changed at all, especially not after she sleeps with Charlie again. After everything that she has been through, she goes back to her old self. She is exactly like her mother and I honestly never felt any pity or warm feeling toward her. My sympathy throughout the book was with Walter.

Personally, I could relate to Walter. He is kind, loving, intelligent, and has many other good qualities. Charlie, on the other hand, is horrible person who just has looks and charm, yet he is the one who is loved, not Walter. This happens a lot in real life.

It angers me that the filmmakers decided to take out all of the poignancy of the book by giving it a happier and predictable ending and by changing a few other important details.

Anonymous said...

A week or so ago, I read the beautifully written novel, "The Painted Veil" by Somerset Maugham. It has in a crisp, delightful, ethereally descriptive and arresting style. The story involves the gradual unmasking of its characters, revealing their deep rends, bleeding wounds and fatal flaws. To this, we can all connect and sympathise, for all mankind is flawed. As Mother Superior discovered, this is why Christ died. But the story's distinct enigmas continue to haunt me. Its troubling pathos, beautifully drawn but flawed characters, human tragedy, illusory purpose still remain with me. And, then there is the ungratifying conclusion. Is that all Kitty has learnt? Why couldn't she love, even in a filial sense, her good husband, Walter? What did Walter mean by that riddle on his deathbed? Kitty is emotionally stunted, and though there is growth, she has a long, long journey ahead as she undergoes the further stripping of the veil before she can become a whole human being.

The "painted veil" is what the individual wears to mask the bleak reality of a self-driven life, in all its ugliness, brutality, wickedness and unholiness. To be stripped of the "paintd veil" which shadows the light is to see oneself in the light of truth. The veil belies a lonely life void of soul and spirit. This is a life that doesn't know its barreness, that lives to satisfy the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life.

Until his actual death, I hoped that Kitty would love Walter. That she could not love this fine man whom others admired for wise reasons is a mortal flaw in itself. As he lay dying, Walter shed two tears of forgiveness in response to Kitty's pleas for his absolution. In his final moment, Walter spoke in a seemingly delirious strain as his life ebbed out. What did Walter mean by his last deliberate words to Kitty: "The dog it was that died"? With Kitty, we discover later from Waddington, that this puzzling verse is actually the concluding line of Goldsmith's poem, "The Elegy". Here, the dog who bites the man dies from this selfsame bite. There are parallels between Walter and the dog, as for Kitty and the man, offering multiple plausible interpretations and attitudes of meaning. Walter, like the dying "dog" of Goldsmiths "Elegy", lies in the torpid stupor of death, a fatal victim of the Cholera mercilessly striking down "man", which the bacteriologist has come to Mei-tan-Fu to stamp out. Doubtless, Walter's cruel death is the fatal end-result of his passionate, unrequited love for Kitty. He has been poisoned by the venal wickedness of her morally destitute and loveless soul, and dies of a "broken heart". As with the "dog", Walter who purposed to punish Kitty, indirectly, by bringing her into the centre of the Cholera epidemic, anticipating that she would die, himself succumbs. Walter's vengeance has stolen his life.

Kitty, the cheap product of an atrociously ambitious and heartless social climber, examines herself and grows a little deeper. It is a point for endless discussion that she remains disatisfyiningly inadequate and superficial. Her inability to love Walter marks her as strikingly deficient. It is an element in her that both alienates and draws sympathy for her deeply flawed condition. She has not learnt that God is love. She cannot see Him, though the evidence of His love, through the lives of others has been clearly experienced and portrayed. Despite its stark, surprising and dissatisfing conclusion, there remains a lingering hint of hope for her future.

Anonymous said...

A week or so ago, I read the beautifully written novel, "The Painted Veil" by Somerset Maugham. It has in a crisp, delightful, ethereally descriptive and arresting style. The story involves the gradual unmasking of its characters, revealing their deep rends, bleeding wounds and fatal flaws. To this, we can all connect and sympathise, for all mankind is flawed. As Mother Superior discovered, this is why Christ died. But the story's distinct enigmas continue to haunt me. Its troubling pathos, beautifully drawn but flawed characters, human tragedy, illusory purpose still remain with me. And, then there is the ungratifying conclusion. Is that all Kitty has learnt? Why couldn't she love, even in a filial sense, her good husband, Walter? What did Walter mean by that riddle on his deathbed? Kitty is emotionally stunted, and though there is growth, she has a long, long journey ahead as she undergoes the further stripping of the veil before she can become a whole human being.

The "painted veil" is what the individual wears to mask the bleak reality of a self-driven life, in all its ugliness, brutality, wickedness and unholiness. To be stripped of the "paintd veil" which shadows the light is to see oneself in the light of truth. The veil belies a lonely life void of soul and spirit. This is a life that doesn't know its barreness, that lives to satisfy the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life.

Until his actual death, I hoped that Kitty would love Walter. That she could not love this fine man whom others admired for wise reasons is a mortal flaw in itself. As he lay dying, Walter shed two tears of forgiveness in response to Kitty's pleas for his absolution. In his final moment, Walter spoke in a seemingly delirious strain as his life ebbed out. What did Walter mean by his last deliberate words to Kitty: "The dog it was that died"? With Kitty, we discover later from Waddington, that this puzzling verse is actually the concluding line of Goldsmith's poem, "The Elegy". Here, the dog who bites the man dies from this selfsame bite. There are parallels between Walter and the dog, as for Kitty and the man, offering multiple plausible interpretations and attitudes of meaning. Walter, like the dying "dog" of Goldsmiths "Elegy", lies in the torpid stupor of death, a fatal victim of the Cholera mercilessly striking down "man", which the bacteriologist has come to Mei-tan-Fu to stamp out. Doubtless, Walter's cruel death is the fatal end-result of his passionate, unrequited love for Kitty. He has been poisoned by the venal wickedness of her morally destitute and loveless soul, and dies of a "broken heart". As with the "dog", Walter who purposed to punish Kitty, indirectly, by bringing her into the centre of the Cholera epidemic, anticipating that she would die, himself succumbs. Walter's vengeance has stolen his life.

Kitty, the cheap product of an atrociously ambitious and heartless social climber, examines herself and grows a little deeper. It is a point for endless discussion that she remains disatisfyiningly inadequate and superficial. Her inability to love Walter marks her as strikingly deficient. It is an element in her that both alienates and draws sympathy for her deeply flawed condition. She has not learnt that God is love. She cannot see Him, though the evidence of His love, through the lives of others has been clearly experienced and portrayed. Despite its stark, surprising and dissatisfing conclusion, there remains a lingering hint of hope for her future.

Anonymous said...

I agree that Walter is the dog in O. Goldsmith's Elegy. In this ironic poem, the dog was a figure of sensibility and it exposed the whole community' s belief in harmlessness of corruption or selfishness.

Maugham said that this story was suggested by the lines of Dante. Pia in Dante's was thrown out of the window by her husband but the writer maybe didn't want the same way. Even though he described Walter through Kitty, he was never a feminist. We sometimes are disappointed with women's image in Maugham' novels. Walter thought on his deathbed "Darling" that Kitty said was the word of her vocabulary to dogs, babies and motorcars.

Anonymous said...

I think Bonnie nailed it:

In the very moment he dies, Walter realises that he is the mad dog, not the good man with the virtues, who is praised by everyone. Kitty dosen't occur in his reflection about the poem. It is a reflection only about himself and reflecting like this even in the moment he dies, while he is either self-critical or self-pitying, it intesifies the feeling that I had throughout reading the book: that he is a very self-focused man. Introverted and self-rightous.

And I may add that I don't think that he really loved Kitty. He was obsessed by her, or better by an illusion that he created himself. Now, obsession is not love. She, with all her faults, is closer to the greatness and the richness of love IMO.

Anonymous said...

My friends and I had a disagreement regarding Kitty's feelings for Walter. Some of us think that Kitty at the end realized that she loved Walter, and some think that she never did and she never will love him. I wonder what u guys think?

Erin said...

Hi, first time here.

I read "The Painted Veil" long ago - Maugham is a man of letters and the title is taken from Shelley and the phrase "it was the dog that died" from Goldsmith.

The book is typical Maugham and even some of the phrases appear in his masterworks. He is probably the most pessimistic and misanthropic writer I have ever read, but he is a genius because he has insight into human nature.

Russell said...

I haven’t finished reading the book yet, but I am too eager to discuss it with somebody. As none of my friends has ever read it I’m writing here.

...Walter has just died...
I watched the film first so I was expecting to turn another page and read about how they finally forgive each other and become a happy couple. I waited and waited... And then –
You can imagine how shocked I was when Kitty was told her husband had been taken ill! And then he just died without telling her a word of love or anything!
I feel so devastated...

Lucy van Pelt said...

Russell, it's unfortunate that the movie did not stay true to the book. It seems in the book that there is very little growth in either Walter or Kitty. We learn from them that a life of self-centeredness will never bring beauty or fulfillment.

Russell said...

Now I see how different the book and the film are. But I was not prepared for this and now I feel I need to re-read it because I was trying to see something that the author never meant to show. I was paying attention to something that turned out to be unimportant.
I am also a bit confused about Maugham's style which I've heard praised so many times. I never read any of his other books before so it's my first impression of his work. The problem is, I didn't find it so special. Maybe because I am not a native speaker, it was difficult for me to perceive it. Anyway, style doesn't really matter when there is a good content.

Russell said...

Can anybody tell me where I can discuss both film and book?

Bunter said...

I can think of many people like Walter, Kitty and Charles, without having to look too far from home either.

Following on from some of the comments above...

1) 'It was the dog that died'
Walter's the dog, Kitty the intended 'victim'; and like the dog, Walter dies from Kitty's poison - shallowness, vanity, arrogance, selfishness, cynicism and dishonesty. I think that covers it.

Like the dog, Walter intends to harm Kitty, but harms himself instead. This 'good person' does a bad thing, and pays.

2) The Painted Veil
"I knew one who had lifted it--he sought,
For his lost heart was tender, things to love,
But found them not, alas! nor was there aught
The world contains, the which he could approve"

Walter is the one who lifted the veil. The sonnet fits the story so well.

3) Forgiveness and redemption
Unlike in the film, Walter remains cool to Kitty to the end; perhaps he forgives her on her deathbed.

She's redeemed, changed, by her experience with Charles and with the nuns.

4) Poison passed through the generations
Kitty is what her mother made her. She treats Walter, a kind, humble intelligent man, with the same disdain that her mother treated her father.

The 'poison' only stops with Kitty because of her 'shock treatment' at the hands of Charles, Walter and the nuns.

Kitty resolves to raise her son differently.

She names him Walter, and not Charles. She tells him Charles (the probable biological father) is 'no-one important.'

She travels with her father not as a burden, but to support him, and so try to make amends for the way she and her family treated her father.

She never loved Walter, but eventually came to respect him, and largely through his death, was redeemed.

The characters are ugly, and the story is sad, but that's how people are, how life is. They were like that in Maugham's time and still are.

5) Film vs book
The film was far too kind to Kitty, and put a modern post-feminist twist on the story. For all her ugly faults, in the film, Walter was as much to blame as Kitty for 'looking for things in the other person that they do not have'.

To have them reconnect as lovers in the film debases Walter's character - he is stupid enough to be twice bitten.

In the book, Kitty reconnects, passionately, with Charles, and immediately despises herself.

I think Maugham is spot on again - people can't help themselves. They sleep with people they're attracted to, no matter how vile. This I think this is more true-to-life that Kitty's reconciliation with Walter in the film.

Anonymous said...

Hi,
I just finished reading the book and I really liked it. I also saw the film and although I didn't think it was bad, I thought that they missed the point of the book.
The title #Painted veil# represents our perception of reality. We sometimes perceive things as we want them to be not as they are. Such was Walter's initial perception of Kitty. He put her on a pedestal and practically worshiped her. is veil was lifted when he discovered what she was really like. Of course he knew she was shallow before her infidelity but he chose to disregard it. And after the veil is lifted, like Shelley warns in his poem, he finds no joy in life. I think he doesn't suffer from a broken heart but rather an existential disillusionment, which is why he probably kills himself.
Kitty's veil is lifted more slowly. First when se sees Townsend's true nature and then the horrors of cholera epidemic. When she sees that life can be ugly and that one man's life is nothing (when she sees the dead beggar that hardly looks human)her image of the frivolous world is shattered. However I think she starts painting another veil for herself at Mei-tan-fu. The way she is frightened when she faints and realizes that it is possible that se has cholera, a possibility which she has not thought of while working at the convent. And also her interest in Christian and Chinese philosophy. She idolizes the nuns too much, which is seen in her unreal perception of Mother Superior (se is described as a saint by Kitty, whereas you can see that Waddington has a much more realistic perception of her). People need pretty lies about life, to make it bearable. Walter ist the living representation of that. He is to clever to paint another veil (like fall in love with Kitty again), but neither can he live in a world without illusion of happiness. This is similar to what Kurt Vonnegut describes as "foma" in his Cat's Cradle.
Upon returning to Hong Kong she believes she has changed for the better but discovers that change doesn't come that fast, when se succumbs to Townsend again. It is the I think that the change happens because for the first time she is as disappointed in herself as Walter was by himself. Se learns that love needs to be earned by giving love to others (which is what Mother Superior tries to tell her). But I wonder if her speech at the end is not another painted veil, because she is very idealistic about her daughter’s upbringing. Is she capable of raising her daughter like that?
I think one part of Walter's revenge was also that he lifted Kitty's veil, by challenging her to ask Townsend to divorce his wife and by taking her to Mey-tan-fu.
As for his last words... Well he could be the dog because he takes his revenge upon Kitty and dies the way he has intended her to die. But If you read the entire poem, the man is described as good, unselfish and charitable, which are Walter's personal traits and the dog bites him because of a personal gain. Could it be that Kitty was the dog, who bit Walter. She was seeking pleasure and she hurt Walter. Now she feels regret and is suffering. Perhaps "dying" is meant in a metaphorical sense, because Kitty must now live with her shame. She was seeking happiness with no regard to others and now she is the one suffering.
Maugham show us how hard it is to end our suffering. That's one of the things I like about this book. It gives no easy solutions, because life is itself like that. One seldom finds redemption and peace. It is impossible to fix thing we have done in the past. The writer offers us no romantic illusions (in stark contrast with the film)that life has a happy ending. But he sais that you have to EARN happines and peace. Kitty realizes that whe seh asks her father to earn his love.
I aslo liked that none of the carracters was perfect and wery lovable. It made them real, because we all have flaws and we can't cahnge ourselves so fast. I think that's why Kitty doesn't change much in the book, because neither would she in real life.

Anonymous said...

Hi Just finished reading the Painted Veil, found the characters both complex and intriguing, found I couldn't put the book down. Somerset Maugham knows how to awaken your imagination of what life was like in China at that time. Brillant read thoroughly enjoyed it.

Ugomma Adeyeye said...

I just read this book and I think your summation of it is the most sensible and accurate. I loved it. Events didn't always play out as I would have wanted but that's the way life truly is. I empathise with Kitty (it's sort of heartless not to) and I wished Walter rediscovered his love for her as I wished she'd come to realise she could love him but then that would have been a typical Mills and Boon storyline. It's one of the best books I've read this year after 'The Hand that first held mine' by Maggie O' Farrell.