Friday, February 02, 2007

The Painted Veil, by W. Somerset Maugham

(pb; 1925)

From the back cover:

"Set in England and Hong Kong in the 1920s, The Painted Veil is the story of beautiful but love-starved Kitty Fane. When her husband discovers her adulterous affair, he forces her to accompany him to the heart of a cholera epidemic. Stripped of British society of her youth and the small but effective society she fought so hard to attain in Hong Kong, she is compelled by her awakening conscience to reassess her life and learn how to love."

Review:

Clever, short work about a young woman (Kitty Fane) whose fickleness and infidelity leads to tragedy. She's slightly more likeable than her lover, the charming caddish Charles Townsend, but not by much. Her husband, Walter, is deserving of pity -- though he himself was foolish for marrying such a stupid creature to begin with.

Maugham keeps the storyline flowing in an interesting, character-focussed manner until the middle when Kitty and several of the nuns in the Mei-tan-fu convent (site zero of the cholera outbreak), natter on too much -- the length of several short chapters -- about the history of the convent, and faith. Otherwise, aside from the generally unlikeable leads (Kitty and Charlie), this is a good read, with a strong ending.

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This became a film in 1934. Greta Garbo played Katrin Koerber Fane (aka, "Kitty"). Herbert Marshall played Dr. Walter Fane. George Brent played Jack ["Charlie"] Townsend. Warner Oland played General Yu. Richard Boleslawski directed the film.

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Two remakes followed.

The Seventh Sin was the title of the first remake. Released in 1957, Eleanor Parker played Carol Carwin [Kitty Fane]. Bill Travers played Dr. Walter Carwin [Walter Fane]. Jean-Pierre Aumont played Paul Duvelle [Charles Townsend]. Francoise Rosay played Mother Superior. Directed by Ronald Neame and an uncredited Vincente Minelli.

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The second remake was released stateside on January 19, 2007.

Naomi Watts played Kitty Fane. Edward Norton played Walter Fane. Liev Schreiber played Charlie Townsend. Diana Rigg played Mother Superior. John Curran directed the film. Toby Jones played Waddington.

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(Interesting, related segment from Chad Jones's article about Maugham ["Coming full 'Circle,' director Lamos returns to ACT"] in the Tri-Valley Herald, January 5, 2007:

"During both world wars, [Maugham] worked with the British Intelligence Department and even operated as a secret agent. James Bond creator Ian Fleming said he based some of Bond's exploits on Maugham's wartime experiences.")

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