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The Painted Veil | [W. Somerset Maugham]

The Painted Veil

First published in 1925, The Painted Veil is an affirmation of the human capacity to grow, change, and forgive. Set in England and Hong Kong in the 1920s, it is the story of the beautiful but shallow young Kitty Fane. When her husband discovers her adulterous affair, he forces her to accompany him to a remote region of China ravaged by a cholera epidemic.
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Publisher's Summary

First published in 1925, The Painted Veil is an affirmation of the human capacity to grow, change, and forgive. Set in England and Hong Kong in the 1920s, it is the story of the beautiful but shallow young Kitty Fane. When her husband discovers her adulterous affair, he forces her to accompany him to a remote region of China ravaged by a cholera epidemic.

Stripped of the British society of her youth and overwhelmed by the desolation around her, she is compelled by her awakening conscience to reassess her life. She takes up work with children at a convent, but when her husband dies, she is forced to return to England to her father, her one remaining relative, to raise her unborn child. Though too late for her marriage, she has learned humility, independence, and how to love.

Listen to the classics: download more from W. Somerset Maugham.

©1925 W. Somerset Maugham; (P)2006 Blackstone Audio Inc.

What the Critics Say

  • Audie Award Finalist, Classic, 2007

"[Maugham is] the modern writer who has influenced me the most." (George Orwell)
"An expert craftsman....His style is sharp, quick, subdued, casual."(New York Times)
"The Painted Veil, with its sadness, its moral tension, its irony and compassion, its building evocations of lust and terror and remorse, is a work of art." (Spectator)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

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  •  
    Eileen Gardnerville, NV, United States 12-14-11
    Eileen Gardnerville, NV, United States 12-14-11

    So many books, so little time!

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Very well written and read story"

    Wonderful story teller. Maugham had insight and compassion for the human condition of his time. In this story most particularly he offers understanding about the societal bondage of women and he writes with surprising sympathy of Kitty's "awakening" to her true powers as a female in a wholly male dominated world. She purposefully has not been very educated, is not talented in any particular way, has not been nurtured to think well of herself, except as a pretty, marriageable female. Even in that she has been made to feel she is lacking. An older man becomes besotted with her and convinces her to marry him, aided by the pressure of Kitty's younger sister marrying leaving Kitty open to becoming that most derided female--a spinster. She is seduced by another man, a vain and selfish aging Lothario. When Kitty is revealed as imperfect, her husband threatens and punishes her emotionally and puts her in harm's way. Despite her husband's cruel vindictiveness and her lover's betrayal Kitty matures, learns her own worth and moves on. Kate Reading did a superb job narrating. Lovely story.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Melissa Upper Marlboro, MD, United States 05-24-11
    Melissa Upper Marlboro, MD, United States 05-24-11 Member Since 2010
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    "Interesting story"

    I bought this as part of an Audible sale (can't remember why exactly I picked it), but I ended up enjoying it. The story of an unfaithful wife, the lengths to which her husband went to punish her, and her search for redemption. Quite a few interesting characters. Kitty makes you want to smack her several times during the book, but you end up rooting for her to make the right decision (and you totally agree with her self-loathing after her mistake the second time around); eventually she comes around. Waddington is a gem, as are the nuns in the convent. Not a very long read/"listen" and it moves along well. I enjoyed the narration.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Kathi 04-28-13
    Kathi 04-28-13 Member Since 2010

    Love books! Classics and lighter fiction, mysteries (not too violent please :-). And selective non-fiction--whatever takes my fancy.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "A compelling story of transformation"

    This book was a very intense listen. First published in 1925, it is the story of a childless woman who starts out--a product of her upbringing--as a fairly shallow, bored woman who is having an affair with someone known to her husband. Upon his discovering this, he takes her to an area of China that is rampant with cholera (one assumes this dangerous action was meant to put her passively into death's midst as a way to punish her.)

    Here, she gradually finds her way to a local convent where she begins to find meaningful work in helping the nuns care for children there, and so, despite the terrible conditions they live in, she is beginning to have experiences that will ultimately lead to enormous growth for herself. This does have a rather early feminist quality to it--whether intentionally or not. Or at least, it is hard not to read it that way at this point in time.

    The book traces the course of significant inner changes in Kitty Fane's life--that end with her being back with her father and pondering all that she has learned in the events she has survived, hoping her own child will have a life different from her own.

    What makes this book so good, among other things, is its' shift to the examination of a woman's experiences, her transformation and how she deepens her existence as a result of challenging events she has lived through. Kate Reading does an excellent job of narration. I highly recommend this as a very good read/listen!

    4 of 5 people found this review helpful
  •  
    RueRue 01-22-15
    RueRue 01-22-15

    RueRue

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    "Classic story, classy narration"

    I loved this beautifully written, tragic story. The narration by Kate Reading is perfect. A timeless classic

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Saman Houston, TX, United States 09-18-14
    Saman Houston, TX, United States 09-18-14 Member Since 2010

    sam_perera

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    Story
    "Interesting …"

    I watched the 2006 film version with Ed Norton and Naomi Watts and thoroughly enjoyed the adaptation. Somewhere I read in a review that the adaptation had the familiar Hollywood gloss and the book was somewhat different. Finally, I got a deal at Audible and I dived in.

    This was my first Maugham and I enjoyed the period setting of this novel in the colonial Far East. The character of Kitty Garstin, a self-absorbed socialite is a character I despised. The story revolves around her infidelity with a dashing but unscrupulous married diplomat and the luckless husband, Walter. There are some wonderful quotes in this book that makes you read it out twice. They stick in your mind long after the story has died. As Waddington, an alcoholic diplomat says to Kitty,

    “Some of us look for the Way in opium and some in God, some of us in whiskey and some in love. It is all the same Way and it leads nowhither.”

    In summary, the words within the book are stronger than the story and there lies the strength of Maugham’s writing. There are no characters in this book other than perhaps Waddington, who captures your imagination as a progressive, cohabiting with a noble Chinese woman. The rest are thoroughly rotten in their own way. At the end, you even wonder if Kitty finally does find salvation through her experiences.

    This is a good book and I recommend it.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    W. Perry Hall 03-14-14 Member Since 2015

    I've been member since 2011 (not 2015), but, in protest of AU's refusal on a few returns, I canceled my membership for a week.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "How can Adulterer B So Heartless? (Resentmt Kills)"

    A case study by Somerset Maugham (a personal favorite) on the travesties of the faithless, heartless cheater on the faithful spouse and, even moreso, on the poisonous effects of resentment.

    Kitty Fane ruthlessly ridicules her husband, Dr. Walter Fane, to her lover and dreams of marrying the cad who played her. She awakens too late to the fallacy of her fantasy and the spinelessness of her beau.

    Though Walter loves her so, in his desire for revenge he decides to take her to the heart of the cholera epidemic in rural China, where, ironically, he gives so much of himself without thought of his pride.

    Prior to departing, he says to Kitty:

    “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.”

    “I know that you're selfish, selfish beyond words, and I know that you haven't the nerve of a rabbit, I know you're a liar and a humbug, I know that you're utterly contemptible. And the tragic part is'--her face was on a sudden distraught with pain--'the tragic part is that notwithstanding I love you with all my heart.”

    *****
    Nevertheless, off they go. And while Kitty is well into a journey of self-discovery and moral awareness, Walter cannot douse the flames of a cuckold until it's too late.


    I love Kate Reading's narration, as Kitty Fane and, even more as another more famous adultress Madame Bovary. She gives heart and pathos to these heartless harlots like no other.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Diane Louisville, KY, United States 06-03-12
    Diane Louisville, KY, United States 06-03-12 Member Since 2010
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    Story
    "What does it mean to live?"

    The book, inspired by a verse from Dante, begins with, "the painted veil, which those who live call life." The question then becomes, if life is fleeting and our human significance is utterly ephemeral in the infinity of time, what does it mean to live or, to put it another way, what gives meaning to our lives?
    The story, set in colonial China, revolves around the wife of a British scientist/bureaucrat in Hong Kong and later in the provinces. Through this story, the book explores the question of what will give us happiness and bring meaning to our lives. Is it in the indulgence of pleasure? The performance of duty? The acquisition of wealth and status?
    Despite some pretty offensive racism (most of which occurs in the furtherance of character development), the book, narrated by the inimitable Kate Reading, stands well the test of time.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Alifa Jerusalem, Israel 09-25-11
    Alifa Jerusalem, Israel 09-25-11 Member Since 2011
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    "The Painted Veil"

    The recent film based on this 1924 novel, while lovely, does not stick to the original, much more complex, and rather demanding story. This is a book that from beginning to end makes you think deeply about mother-daughter relationships, love, guilt, repentance, courage, revenge, self-knowledge and self-sacrifice, and sexual predators. Much of the story takes place in the exotic setting of a remote Chinese village afflicted with an epidemic of cholera. Maugham draws his characters precisely and with sympathy, and has his usual sharp eye for the British bureaucrats who ran the Empire. This is a story that repays re-reading and re-hearing, providing much food for thought about human nature and how we grow psychologically and spiritually.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    P. Giorgio Illinois 06-23-11
    P. Giorgio Illinois 06-23-11 Member Since 2011

    TheWriter

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Not bad ... not great"

    A trifle pedantic and indulgent by the author. I found elements of Anna Karenina and hints of Madame Bovary, but not the emotional impact of either. This is a story that has all the ingredients of a morality tale, and none of the reality of redemption. It was predictable yet readable, and while I saw what was coming, felt I should continue it. It made me think that Maugham -- sorry -- had less creativity and imagination but wonderful style and powerful language. Nothing original here. But worth reading, worth hearing the masterful use of language.

    3 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Senior Citizen #8 05-15-11

    SC

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Odyssey of atonement"

    By upbringing our heroine is unprepared to appreciate love and compassion. Even though married, she thinks nothing of having an affair and hurting her husband. Slowly she awakens to the greater beauty and depth of life after her shallow lover abandons her to certain death.
    This is a poignant tale of an odyssey of atonement she continues even as the novel ends.
    Kate Reading reads Maugham beautifully.
    This is a morality tale, though not preachy. It is the slow dawning of love and compassion for others.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
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