The Painted Veil is a novel written by W Somerset Maugham in 1925. The novel also inspired a 2006 drama movie of the same name (starring Edward Norton and Naomi Watts). It is a story of love, betrayal, hatred, revenge and redemption.
“How can I be reasonable? To me our love was everything and you were my whole life. It is not very pleasant to realize that to you it was only an episode.”
Does this sound familiar? It would amaze you that this is an excerpt from ‘The Painted Veil’ a novel by Somerset Waugham published way back in 1925!
This amazing tale of the ultimate triumph of love will take you on a roller coaster ride of a range of human emotions – love, betrayal, hatred, revenge and redemption – none of which any less than other in intensity.
The Painted Veil: Story and Summary
The story revolves around Kitty Garstin, an outgoing upper middle class socialite and Walter Fane, an introvert bacteriologist and physician.
Kitty, much to the chagrin of her mother, has declined marriage proposal from quite a few prospective gentlemen.
Her mother now considering her ‘off-market’ convinces her to accept marriage proposal from Walter Fane, to which she half-heartedly agrees to avoid being upstaged by her comparably plain sister Doris. The newly married couple leave for Hong Kong shortly after.
Walter, a meticulous and principled man, is a devoted lover while Kitty is callous and indifferent to him. It is not long before she gets attracted to Charlie Townsend, a tall, urbane and charming man and begins an affair with him. Walter ultimately finds about Kitty’s infidelity and doesn’t confront either Charlie or Kitty, both of whom mistake it for his cowardice.
Kitty begins to despise Walter even more, but notices that there is an ominous change in his behavior towards her. Walter ultimately asks Kitty to accompany him to Hong-Kong, she rejects the idea and conveys that she better be with Charlie than accompany him.
Kitty, upon being turned away by Charlie, heartbroken and disillusioned, sets out to Hong Kong with Walter. Initially bitter with the rejection, Kitty tries to contact
Charles to no avail.
She increasingly finds herself in the company of Waddington, who inadvertently ends up exposing Charles’ character. While Walter completely dedicates his time to researching for the cure for Cholera-endemic, Kitty begins to discover his character and compassion in a whole new light, through her own observations and through the words of Nuns and Mother Superior at the local church.
As the strained relationship between the two start to show the first signs of repair, Kitty now discovers that she is pregnant but not sure about the father of the child. This time she is honest with Walter and lets him know.
Through an unfortunate turn of events, Walter falls ill and eventually succumbs to Cholera, with Kitty by his side. While on her way back to Britain, she gets to know that her mother died. She persuades her father to allow her to accompany him to Bahamas, where she looks forward to raising her child.
3 Reasons You Might Love The Painted Veil
This book is an amazing read. Granted that this view from a hopeless romantic can be biased on a topic concerning romance, but Hey! I like this book for reasons more than that.
The book touched a lot of themes, the ones that stood out for me:
1 – The characters are flawed
Kitty is the first character that comes to mind when I think of flaws, but if I scratch the surface a bit more, Walter does not lag far behind. While Kitty obviously crossed the line on occasions more than one, with infidelity and blatant disregard to Walter’s love for her, Walter upon discovering Kitty’s infidelity turns as un-Walter-esque as possible.
2 – A mismatched couple – Marriages can be challenging!
This one was not a surprise, considering how much I see this around me. Although it was clear from the start that Kitty had no remarkable affection for Walter. Walter on the other hand, fully aware of her shallowness, still was in love with her.
The marriage slowly started unfolding as both of them found it difficult to give up on the addiction to their own selves, by doing which they fill their relationship with
Kitty, a product of elite London society finds it difficult to understand her awkward bacteriologist husband. Their background, if anything, makes it difficult for the couple to have commonalities, driving them further apart.
3 – Forgiveness is key
Regardless of all the possible flaws their relationship – the shallowness, the infidelity, the mismatched ideals in life, opposite backgrounds- Walter and Kitty eventually did find a way to forgive each other. Both of them had to go on a painful journey of self-discovery to come together at the end.
Forgiveness couldn’t be stressed enough, and this does not just stand true for a romantic relationship. It’s funny how easy it is for us to hold grudges even when it means letting go of a relationship that may have meant so much to us in the past. Love comes in all shapes and sizes, forgiveness being the glue that it holds it together.
In the words of Mark Twain “Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it”
Some common questions related to The Painted Veil
What is The Painted Veil metaphor for?
In the novel, the veil represents the set of beliefs that people live by. It’s a comforting illusion that impacts the way we see and perceive others. But when others behave in a way that is not consistent with what we perceive of them, our belief is shattered and the veil is torn apart.
What does The Painted Veil mean?
At a wedding, the veil is white, which represents the innocence and purity of the wearer. As the title of the novel suggests, the veil is painted, which implies that the wearer is not innocent any more. The novel takes a dig at how our society and the people that live in it are tainted.
Is The Painted Veil a true story?
There’s no proof that The Painted Veil is a true story. It is a fictionalized account of a young English couple and their journey through a myriad of emotional difficulties and life’s turbulence.
Was Somerset Maugham a spy?
Somerset Maugham, the writer of The Painted Veil, was a member of Britain Secret Intelligence Service (SIS). He was recruited by an intelligence officer after his first novel had just been published. The officer suggested that Maugham’s knowledge of the German language and his reputation as a writer would be a perfect cover for his spying activities for the English.