THE PAINTED VEIL
A romantic classic set in the 1920s. The Painted Veil takes its heroine to Hong Kong with her new husband who is assigned a dangerous posting in remote mainland China where a cholera epidemic rages. Fresh, relevant and perfect for book clubs.
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BY W. SOMERSET MAUGHAM
If you love your classics then the Den highly recommends The Painted Veil by Somerset Maugham. This novel remains fresh, relevant and perfect for book clubs. You won’t be disappointed.
A concise and beautiful love story, The Painted Veil is a romantic adventure written in the 1920s that takes its heroine, Kitty Fane far away from her debutante life in London where she was brought up by her ‘high society’ mother. Kitty arrives in Hong Kong with her new husband Walter who is a bacteriologist besotted with his wife. Kitty is beautiful but frivolous and starts an affair with a dashing and exciting Charles Townsend. But when her husband Walter discovers the deception he exacts a strange and terrible vengeance – to accompany him to his new and dangerous posting in remote mainland China where a cholera epidemic rages.
As the world grapples with Coronavirus, the narrative and Kitty’s journey into a deadly environment makes this novel a poignant reminder of our own fragility. As readers we recognise her fear of death and sickness. Not only does Kitty become a better person with a stronger moral compass (away from her mother) she has ‘learnt compassion and charity’. Her ambition for her offspring are bold and contemporary ‘I want her to be fearless and frank. I want her to be a person, independent of others because she is possessed of herself, and I want her to take life like a free man and make a better job of it than I have’.
The Painted Veil is a classic story of a woman's spiritual awakening and was published to a storm of protest. The club found plenty to unpick around the heroine as well the contrasting worlds of the East and the West. Through Kitty the author unveils the racial stereotypes and disparaging criticism of the Chinese. Whilst alarming and brutal to the reader it certainly gave us food for thought. A powerful story still – for many 10/10 read.
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