on 27 March 2012
My comments relate to the Thinking Media (Spiritual Classics) version of this title. I have never read a book with so many typos/mistakes. Literally several per page - sometimes within the space of 2 or 3 sentences, often so bizarre it was hard to work out what the original sense was, making reading so absolutely infuriating that I don't know how I managed to keep going. Spoiled my enjoyment of the book completely. Don't be tempted to buy this version.
on 1 August 2013
Aspiring writers are often advised to write about that which they know - the things around them, at the time. This is never more clearly demonstrated than in the way people speak. Emily Bronte wrote in the way the family around her spoke. She would 'peruse an epistle', not read a letter. She would 'quit the chamber', not leave the room. She wouldn't listen; she would 'hearken' etc. In much the same way, this book, written for the middle and upper-class of its day, has its own distinctive language: 'I've got into a devil of a scrape' - 'He's a thundering good chap' - 'I'm most frightfully sorry; I don't seem to know your name'. (Try that at the end of your first date) But however one feels about the distinctiveness of period-language - of writing about things around you, at the time, this book - along with just about everything Maugham ever wrote, is a master-piece - a superb snapshot of how it was, then.
It is written in film-like short scenes: how from bad can come good/how two people can discover love and mutual respect from facing together a life-threatening experience (a fight against Cholera). In that sense, it's a book about caring. In that sense, the storyline is incremental, and grows upon one, layer upon layer. (Theme: A familiar feature of Maugham's writing. 'The Razor's Edge', is to do with the quest for spiritual rather than material happiness. 'Of Human Bondage', is autobiographical fiction, and in that genre is perhaps the most thematic 'book of knowledge' ever written - 640 pages)
Maugham writes succinctly. In page 25, two years pass by in one line. Walter: 'A person to whom small talk did not come easily'. Charlie Townsend: (The cad) 'who has made a science of popularity'. (83) Kitty's beauty - her skin: 'Could not be compared to the peach or to the flower; it was they that demanded comparison with it'. (33) Waddington: is a man who above all cares about people; a person one can confide in. (Kitty) 'watched Waddington light a cigarette. A little smoke lost in the air; that was the life of man'. (166)
Sometimes, themes re-appear in Maugham's writing. His wonderful short story, 'Th Unconquered' - where a young French farm girl is raped by a German soldier/has a baby, but drowns it in the duck-pond rather than submit, is reflected in Kitty's attitude to Charlie Townsend, her seducer; 'I would rather kill myself than have a baby that is yours'. (201)
From the shallow distractions of their partying home life in England, their concentrations in Cholera-ridden 'Tching-Yen' become one. The veil is lifted, and they finally discover each other as a result of their mutual task; that of caring for others; the people around them, at the time.
on 22 April 2013
This is a great book but please don't buy this edition. Not only are there countless typos - mainly small mistakes on every page, as if they have run a spellcheck which picks up the larger mistakes but misses things, putting "out" instead of "but" and "hit" for "hint" - but much worse, the ending is changed. I only realised this after comparing notes at my book club and complaining about an issue I had with the ending which slightly marred an otherwise great book. No spoilers but the last paragraph is 1/2 the length of the original and changes some words - including the very last word of the book - which I can only think makes it more acceptable for an American Christian audience - "peace" becomes "God". Buy it - but buy Somerset Maugham's version not some American publisher's idea of what it should have said.
on 6 June 2012
Really poor edition - full of spelling mistakes!
My comments relate to the Spiritual Classics from thINKing version of this WONDERFUL classic. I have never read a book with so many typos/mistakes. Often it was hard to work out what the original meaning was, making reading very frustrating.
The original book is awesome and would have been a joy to read if I had bought a different edition.
DO NOT BUY THIS EDITION!
on 2 August 2011
I, like many others, saw the movie first (I am a huge Edward Norton fan!). I have come to learn that when I see a movie first that when I pick up the book I have to look at the book as it is completely separate from the movie, and infact is not tied to the movie at all - this is the only way I am able to give a book a fighting chance. That being said, I loved this book (and the movie too). It was actually nice to envision the actors from the movie, in terms of physical looks, while reading the book.
Kitty is spoiled rotten, having a life of great privileged. Kitty also prides herself as being very independent, especially from her mother's 'demands' and 'disappointments' that she is not married yet. To get away from her 'overbearing' mother (at least overbearing in Kitty's opinion) she marries Walter Fane, who she does not love and barely likes. Upon their marriage they move straight to China as Walter's work as a scientist is. Bored in China, Kitty meets Charles Townsend, a politician; soon they start a torrid love affair! Despite Kitty's new found happiness, Walter finds out. In an attempt to tear Kitty away from Charles Townsend, he uproots them to the center of a Cholera epidemic. Bitter against Walter, Kitty finds her new life unbearable. However, in time she is able to see another side of Walter as he works to save the town's infested water supply and many lives.
I would not say that this is a book about a love affair (as Kitty and Charles Townsend have), but more of self discover, as Kitty finds who she is and what she is capable of bearing. All the characters are very well written. I loved and hated Kitty all at the same time; I felt sorry for Walter; and I hated and like Charles Townsend. The plot unfolds expectantly, as W. Somerset Maugham makes you as in the end: "What and who is really important to us and in life?" You come away from this book with a better understanding of why humans do the things they do. I walked away from this book satisfied as it did not end in the typical way that most books do. There is a happy ending, but at the same time there is not a happy ending; something this book shows both sides of very well.
on 6 September 2007
This a book that became one of my instant favourites. It tells the story of Kitty, the beautiful though superficial wife of socially inept doctor Walter Fane. Bored of life in Hong Kong she begins and affair with Charles Townsend whom she finds eminently more suitable. Ultimately her deception uncovered her husband exacts an unusual vengeance making her accompany her to a cholera ridden province in mainland China. Whilst the story line is fascinating in itself the real beauty of the novel comes from the descriptions of the feelings both husband and wife have for each other. Both come of as incredibly human with believable flaws, and though I was slightly disappointed with the ending the rest of the novel continually delighted me.
It doesn't start off very promisingly. Kitty is having an illicit afternoon liaison with her lover, Charles Townshend, and it's all so very British Empire. Talk of tiffin and men in topi's can make it feel like "Carry On Up The Khyber", albeit set in China instead of India! But after that first short chapter you quickly get drawn into it. Kitty, in spite of her faults, is a very likeable and only-too-human heroine, and her husband, Walter Fane, is one of the most intense and complex characters Maugham ever wrote. Fane takes a disturbingly bizarre revenge on his wife's infidelity by making her accompany him to a cholera-ridden village in the wilds of China. Once there, Kitty seeks spiritual salvation and insight, and succeeds. Sadly, there is to be no happy ever after for this couple, and I was genually saddened that this was so. But Maugham, with his usual sharp insight, gives us great insight into the bit players in Kitty's life, such as Waddington and his mysterious Chinese princess, and the Mother Superior at the convent. This is good stuff.
on 2 April 2013
The novel itself cannot be bettered, Those who wish to read it would be advised to seek the novel by a different publisher. Thinking Classics, in an effort to jazz it up, have presented The Painted Veil in such a shocking way as to devalue it. The colour, lettering and introduction are awful. The final insult to an excellent novel is the unforgivable spelling mistake on the back cover.
on 1 July 2013
W. Somerset Maugham knows how to weave a good yarn: The Painted Veil is a story of love, jealousy, vanity and perhaps redemption. Amidst an exotic and inhospitable backdrop, we follow a fallible protagonist fighting her desires and petty vanities. Even for a book that was first published in 1925, to have sired three subsequent film adaptations speaks of the allure of its plot (which the writer himself admits came to him before the characters, unlike any of his other works).
Maugham captures the spirit of the late British colonial era with its snobbery and sense of adventure. His language, too, has something of the colonial officer about it: clear, crisp and articulate, but also haughty and a little pompous. Of course, the Painted Veil is of its era, and we cannot judge it by today's standards, but while the author's capacity to detail human sensibilities may have been both modern and feminist in its time, the bare spelling out of human emotions makes for a style that is, in my mind, somewhat clunky and lacking in subtlety.
While we all love an imperfect heroine, we are never really drawn to Kitty Fane as we are to, say, Larry Darrell in Maugham's 1945 work, The Razor's Edge. Fane merely confirms our initial prejudices of her as a shallow, callow, petit bourgeoisie. Our distance from the protagonist is not helped by Maugham's own distance, or even superciliousness, with regard to both his characters and even his readers. The author touches on the themes of Taoism and Eastern Spiritualism that are given more attention in the Razor's Edge, and he demonstrates delicate legerdemain when it comes to capturing both the charm and the squalor of the human condition, but with its largely expected denouement, The Painted Veil proves to be nothing more than a charming and mildly tragic colonial romp.
Somerset Maugham's novel "The Painted Veil" explores themes of wrongdoing, forgiveness, repentance, and growth of understanding in a context that mixes religion and irony. Maugham writes in a Preface that the novel was unusual in that he "started from a story rather than from a character." Although the themes of the book might be more important than the characterizations, Maugham draws his characters vividly. The story is told in the third person by a narrator who frequently gets deeply inside the minds and his hearts of his characters, particularly the protagonist, Kitty Fane, 27. The writing is simple and lucid, but the story has unexpected depth. In addition to the many religious references, Maugham sets the tone of the book through important allusions to Dante, Shelley, and Oliver Goldsmith.
Maugham sets his story in China in the years following WW I and in Britain. As the book begins, Kitty is living in Hong Kong where she has been unhappily married for two years to an MD who specializes in bacteriology, Walter Fane. Walter is taciturn and reserved but adores Kitty who feels nothing for Walter. In the dramatic opening scenes of the book Walter discovers that Kitty is involved in an adulterous relationship with a highly-placed British official in Hong Kong, Charles Townsend, in his early 40's.
Maugham goes back in time to describe the circumstances of the marriage. Kitty's mother had high ambitious to make wealthy if not good marriages for her two daughters. She had also pressured Kitty's father, an unprepossessing attorney, to make more of himself than he was inclined or able to do. For several years, Kitty resists the blandishments of many young well born suitors. When her mother is about to give up, Kitty marries the shy, awkward and to her uninsipring Walter who is stationed in Hong Kong.
When he discovers the affair, Walter pressures Kitty to accompany him to a distant Chinese city where a cholera epidemic is raging. Walter has volunteered to be the doctor responsible for fighting the epidemic when the prior doctor had succumbed to the disease. With Kitty's and Walter's anger towards one another, loneliness, and ever-present death from the disease, Kitty begins the process of understanding and changing her life. She is befriended by an Englishman, Waddington, who imbibes freely and has a witty sense of irreverance but who also has a spiritual, philosophical inclinations. Kitty gets to know a convent of French nuns who devote themselves at great cost to fighting the cholera and learns a great deal from them about her own life and values. From Waddington, Kitty learns about Taoism and, to a lesser and somewhat unsympathetic extent, about Buddhism.
Kitty tries to understand herself and her failings in light of the large mass of suffering she sees around her and in light of the patient, self-sacrificing, and noble character of the nuns, particularly the Mother Superior at the convent. There is also a degree of irony in the story as Walter, who took the position in part to punish and perhaps cause Kitty's death for her infidelity succumbs to the epidemic himself under questionable circumstances.
Kitty changes in several ways, with some understandable backsliding. Broad religious themes of suffering and acceptance combine uneasily with Kitty's growing understanding of individuality and personal freedom. On the more general level, Kitty and Waddington develop a sense of the value of the religious outlook even in a secular world. Responding to Kitty's question whether the nuns have devoted their lives to an illusion, Waddington says:
"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."
On a more individual level is Kitty's vow at the end of the book: "I want a girl because I want to bring her up so that she shan't make the mistakes I've made. .... I'm going to bring up my daughter so that she's free and can stand on her own feet. I'm not going to bring a child into the world, and love her, and bring her up, just so that some man may want to sleep with her so much that he's willing to provide her with board and lodging for the rest of her life." There are issues here not only of personal independence but also of the view of human sexuality that restricts legitimate sexual relationships, for men as well as women, to marriage.
One gets the impression that a tempered, nonsectarian spirituality has the final word in this thoughtful, meditative book. It is the path that Kitty sees in the life of the convent, the "path that led to peace."