Friday, February 5, 2016

The Painted Veil: Review

She alone had been blind to his merit. Why? Because he loved her and she did not love him.

The Painted Veil (1925) by W. Somerset Maugham follows Kitty Garstin, a pretty but self-absorbed and superficial young woman from her debutante days through her marriage. Her mother was bitterly disappointed in her own marriage to a Liverpool solicitor who she thought would go far and help her in her social-climbing ambitions. He didn't. So, Mrs. Garstin pins all her hopes on her daughters--particularly Kitty. Kitty is much prettier and socially adept than her sister and Mrs. Garstin fully expects her to make a brilliant match (i.e. wealth or title--or both). But Kitty fritters away her seasons and turns down what proposals she gets until, at 25, she is fast losing her chance for any marriage let alone a "brilliant match." 

With her mother pressuring her, she finally agrees to marry the shy Walter Fane. Walter is a bacteriologist who's home on leave from Hong Kong and due to return there in a few months. Kitty doesn't love him, but he is a man who obviously adores and there is promise of a vibrant colony social life in Hong Kong. But life in Hong Kong isn't nearly as pleasant as anticipated and Kitty finds herself bored and stuck in a marriage with a man she doesn't understand. That's when she meets Charles Townsend and is swept off her feet into an affair with the married Assistant Colonial Secretary.  Walter discovers her infidelity and offers to divorce her if Charles will also divorce his wife and marry her right away. Otherwise, Kitty will have to accompany him to a remote rural area where he will be fighting the cholera epidemic. Kitty mistakenly thinks that her lover will leave his dowdy wife and they can run away together. She's devastated to find that Charles values his position more than her. So she winds up making a trip with Walter that changes her...and her life...radically.

Kitty isn't really a bad person--she's just self-centered and superficial. She reminds me of Scarlett O'Hara. She chases excitement and an unattainable man when she has love right under her nose. Of course Walter isn't the rogue and adventurer that Rhett Butler is, but he's a good man who loves Kitty way more than she deserves. Unfortunately for Kitty, she is like Scarlett--she recognizes what Walter means to her much too late. She does learn from her experiences and plans to make amends to the father her family always took advantage of and ignored as well as to raise her child to be better than she was. 

Maugham's book is about relationships--those that matter and those that don't. It's also about personal growth and understanding and accountability. It tells a very poignant tale of love, betrayal, and the quest for a life of meaning. 


fredamans said...

I think Kitty might irk me.. I don't normally find her kind of character flattering.

Unknown said...

Kitty sounds like someone that would entertain my snark, but at the same time, someone who might possibly grate on the nerves ha! Despite these minor setbacks, though, the story arc does sound appealing. I love stories that blossom in personal growth. Great review!