A sweet remembrance
“The Painted Veil “, a novel by William Somerset Maugham is etched in my memory. It was the first novel that I ever read. I had stealthily taken the book from the collection of articles that my father carefully stored in a trunk. I was studying in the eight standard at the time. I was fascinated by the book. It was my first journey into the world that the adults inhabited. Till then, my world was full of the Nancy Drews and Hardy Boys of the world.
The story revolves around Kitty Garstin and her husband Walter Fane . Their marriage hits troubled waters from the beginning . For though Walter Fane married Kitty for love, Kitty was not in the least in love with him. She hastily married him for the simple reason that her youth was fading away and she did not want her younger sister to upstage her by marrying first . Walter was a bacteriologist and was posted in Hongkong. Kitty accompanied her husband to Hongkong after their marriage . The two were varied in their characters. While Kitty was beautiful and lively, Walter was unassuming and awkward. While in Hongkong, Kitty starts an affair with the suave and charming but the much married, Charles Townsend . After the discovery of the affair by her husband, Kitty had to accept her husband’s proposal and accompany him to mainland China and into the heart of a cholera epidemic. Walter had offered his services for the management of the epidemic . At this point of her life, Kitty undergoes a great transformation of character from being a shallow, selfish woman to a more compassionate and understanding individual. The change in her is brought about by being a witness to the woes of people and the benevolence of certain other people.
When I read the book for the first time, I enjoyed reading the book but could hardly grasp the flow of the character’s lives. It was as if the complexities were hidden from me. But in recent times, when I read the book again, the many layers of the characters revealed themselves. They appealed to my senses and I could delve into them with a lot more understanding and pleasure.