The Painted Veil

January 20, 2016 § Leave a comment

thepaintedveilReading the blurb that accompanies this novel you could be forgiven for rolling your eyes and expecting some B-grade, melodramatic novel about a woman who finally discovers herself and realizes what a vain and pathetic existence she has been leading. Well atleast that’s what I thought. But I was also aware that in the hands of Maugham this story had the potential for excellence.

Inspired by a passage from Dante’s Inferno, Maugham weaves a heartwarming narrative with tact and dexterity. Yes Kitty Fane is vain, but only because that is how she was raised: by an overbearing mother who expected nothing else from her but to charm and woo men so that she could find an appropriate suitor. And incapable of introspection because the environment, parties and siorees, did not require it. But once thrust into the midst of a cholera epidemic and forced to face ugliness and grief she finally blossoms into a woman. It’s harder to judge someone as facile and glib when you know that they haven’t seen/experienced much. When all their life they’ve been secluded and sheltered from harshness. This perhaps partially explains  what Walter feels towards Kitty.

“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.”

The cynical outlook I expressed might have been justified in the case of lesser writers, but Maugham is an excellent writer and remains true to form. Does The Painted Veil match up to Of Human Bondage? I doubt it, but then again it’s nothing to be scoffed at.


The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham
published by Vintage

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