In a time of cholera

16 06 2018

The Painted Veil by Somerset Maugham

 

 

Kitty Fane is the beautiful but shallow wife of Walter, a bacteriologist stationed in Hong Kong. Unsatisfied by her marriage, she starts an affair with charming, attractive and exciting Charles Townsend. But when Walter discovers her deception, he exacts a strange and terrible vengeance: Kitty must accompany him to his new posting in remote mainland China, where a cholera epidemic rages…

First published to a storm of protest, The Painted Veil is a classic story of a woman’s spiritual awakening.

The protest referred to in the blurb is about the fear of possible confusion of the caddish Townsend to a British consular staff member in Hong Kong which resulted in the name of the colony being changed to a fictional one. This followed a successful libel case against the publishers by a couple from Hong Kong named Lane as a result of which Maugham changed the name of the main characters to Fane.

The story though is a compelling one as we move from the scandalous affair to the cholera-stricken region to self-realisation and death and then to the gentle conclusion. Not seen the movie but it appears, somewhat inevitably, to feature Toby Jones (although not in a leading role) and therefore now tempted to get it. In the meantime, the book is worth a go.

 

 

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Only human

19 05 2011

Of Human Bondage by Somerset Maugham

Review from Good Reads:

‘It is very difficult for a writer of my generation, if he is honest, to pretend indifference to the work of Somerset Maugham,’ wrote Gore Vidal. ‘He was always so entirely there.’ Originally published in 1915, Of Human Bondage is a potent expression of the power of sexual obsession and of modern man’s yearning for freedom. This classic bildungsroman tells the story of Philip Carey, a sensitive boy born with a clubfoot who is orphaned and raised by a religious aunt and uncle. Philip yearns for adventure, and at eighteen leaves home, eventually pursuing a career as an artist in Paris. When he returns to London to study medicine, he meets the androgynous but alluring Mildred and begins a doomed love affair that will change the course of his life. There is no more powerful story of sexual infatuation, of human longing for connection and freedom. ‘Here is a novel of the utmost importance,’ wrote Theodore Dreiser on publication. ‘It is a beacon of light by which the wanderer may be guided. . . . One feels as though one were sitting before a splendid Shiraz of priceless texture and intricate weave, admiring, feeling, responding sensually to its colors and tones.’

Nothing quite like a classic Bildungsroman and have to say that this is really one of the best. A compelling read and a reminder of just what a great writer Maugham was. Had been waiting for a decent holiday to read it having unaccountably avoided for years (probably because I had such a tatty copy) and really glad I finally got round to. Can’t recommend too highly.








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