The Painted Veil by W Somerset Maugham

It’s hard not to be impressed that Maugham has managed to make a firecracker of a novel whilst making much of internal reverie, the joys of the nunnery and the possibilities of Tao. Somehow he does this in a manner not exactly modern, but not old-fashioned either. Passages like this:

It was singular that men attached so much importance to their wives’ faithfulness; when first she had gone with Charlie she had expected to feel quite different, a changed woman; but she had seemed to  herself exactly the same, she had experienced only well-being and a greater vitality. She wished now that she had been able to tell Walter that the child was his; the lie would have meant so little to her, and the assurance would have been so great a comfort to him. And after all it might not be a lie: it was funny, that something in her heart which had prevented her from giving herself the benefit of the doubt. How silly men were! Their part in procreation was so unimportant; it was the woman who carried the child through long months of uneasiness and bore it with pain, and yet a man because of his momentary connection made such preposterous claims.

Why should that make any difference to him in his feeling towards the child? Then Kitty’s thoughts wandered to the child which she herself would bear; she thought of it not with emotion nor with a passion of maternity, but with an idle curiosity.

She’s such an interesting character. She was happy not to get married until circumstances forced it upon her. She loves nobody, not even the one person who loves her, not even the baby she’s carrying, not even the idea of the baby. She knows herself. And as she develops from a girl without a thought in her head, to this uncomfortable state of being self-aware and alone in the world, she changes. She uses her experiences to become as admirable as she was once despicable.

She is good enough to herself to know none of the awfulness was really her fault. She’d been born and raised to be what she was. Hence another speech at the end, militating for women to be equal to men, starting with her own to-be-born child. The conversation is with her recently bereaved father. Both of them are in the situation of having been liberated by their spouses’ deaths.

“…what fun we’re going to have together.”
“You haven’t forgotten that you’re going to have a baby.”
“I’m glad she’ll be born out there within sound of the sea and under a wide blue sky.”
“Have you already made up your mind about the sex?” he murmured, with his thin, dry smile.
“I want a girl because I want to bring her up so that she shan’t make the mistakes I’ve made. When I look back upon the girl I was I hate myself. But I never had a chance. I’m going to bring up my daughter so that she’s free and can stand on her own feet. I’m not going to bring a child into the world, and love her, and bring her up, just so that some man may want to sleep with her so much that he’s willing to provide her with board and lodging for the rest of her life.”

She felt her father stiffen. He had never spoken of ‘such things’ and it shocked him to hear these words in his daughter’s mouth.
“Let me be frank just this once, father. I’ve been foolish and wicked and hateful. I’ve been terribly punished. I’m determined to save my daughter from all that. 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.”
“Why, my love, you talk as though you were fifty. You’ve got all your life before you. You mustn’t be down-hearted.”
Kitty shook her head and slowly smiled.
“I’m not. I have hope and courage.”
The past was finished; let the dead bury their dead.

Other than the odd short story by Maugham, I have neglected him. I can see this was a mistake which I need to rectify.

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