Book Review: The Painted Veil

The Painted Veil

W Somerset Maugham

Knopf Doubleday

256 pages

Kitty Fane is a character you love to hate.  Spoiled rotten, Kitty is used to getting what she wants, so she is in no hurry to marry.  That is, until her younger sister becomes engaged.  At that point, Kitty feels backed up against a wall, so she accepts the proposal of a bacteriologist named Walter Fane.  Walter is madly in love with Kitty, but she accepts the marriage as one of convenience.  The couple move to Hong Kong, where Kitty takes up with a debonair man by the name of Charles Townsend.

Walter discovers the affair, which delights Kitty because she is convinced that she can now shrug the bonds of her stifling marriage and run off into the sunset with Charles.  Unfortunately, Charles doesn’t have the same fantasy, and he breaks off the affair with Kitty.  Instead, she is forced to go off with her husband to deliver aid in a village suffering from cholera.

I have never read Maugham before, so I highly anticipated picking this one up.  The plot had me captivated from the start, especially because I love entitled brats, of which Kitty definitely was! I was astounded with the development of her character throughout the book.  It was completely realistic, because while Kitty became a responsible, empathetic adult, she still internalized her true feelings towards Walter, which never changed.  While she realized that her treatment of him wasn’t necessarily the nicest, she wasn’t able to love him in the way that he had hoped she would have.

I felt sympathy for Walter too, but not as much as I normally would.  He knew that Kitty was marrying him out of pure convenience, and he accepted her as his wife anyway, so I felt like his expectations of their marriage were a little too high.  If you choose to marry someone knowing that they don’t love you, can you expect a good marriage? Fidelity?

The Painted Veil resonated with me long after I finished it. It is a well constructed novel with believable circumstances and characters.  I am not sure where I’ll go next with Maugham, but I do have a copy of Mrs Craddock, so that one is definitely beckoning to me!

Other Reviews:

Book Journey

Love, Laughter, and a Touch of Insanity

Ready When You Are, CB

It’s All About Books

Rebecca Reads

Lakeside Musing

I purchased this book from Half Price Books.

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Book Review, Wigs on the Green

Wigs on the Green

Nancy Mitford

Vintage

192 pages

I don’t even know where to start with Wigs on the Green! Eugenia Malmain is a teenage heiress living in a small town in England.  She is very politically minded and has started a group that follows the ideals of the Union Jackshirts.  She is in the middle of a very eccentric cast of characters.  You have Jasper Aspect and Noel Foster.

Noel is a young man who has just inherited a lump sum of money from a dead relative, and he took it upon himself to quit his job and elicit Jasper’s aid in helping him find a young heiress to marry.  Jasper had suggested Eugenia, so the two had immediately traveled to the town in which she lives and immediately befriend her, despite her childish mentality.

Then you have Lady Marjorie and her companion Poppy who are both in hiding as Marjorie has stood up her groom, a duke, at the altar.  Poppy and Jasper immediately embark upon a love affair while Marjorie mopes around and constantly applies cold cream to her complexion.

Lastly, you have Noel’s love interest, who is an older, married woman with a very self involved, manipulative attitude.  The characters together equal a hodge podge of hilarity, with each person taking themselves too seriously and not a one of them having the fortitude for self reflection.

My love affair with the Mitford sisters started with Mary Lovell’s biographical book The Sisters.  I read it a few years back and immediately became enamored with the relationships and dichotomy between the sisters.  I have since read a few of Nancy Mitford’s books, as well as one of Jessica Mitford’s, and I have yet to be disappointed.  I was afraid though that I had met my match with Wigs on the Green.

Quick backstory–two of the Mitford sisters, Unity and Diana, met Hitler during WWII and immediately became Nazi sympathizers.  Their political leanings caused a great chasm within the family, which resulted in tragedy when Unity, unable to cope with having to choose between England, her home and Germany, shot herself in the face.  Unbelievably, she lived another nine years before she eventually died, but the Mitford family was never the same.

Adolf Hitler and Unity Mitford

Nancy Mitford wrote Wigs on the Green as a satirical work that poked fun at the political leanings of her sister.  Because of that aspect of the story, I was unsure of whether I would be interested at all in the story and whether I would even be able to follow it.  I needn’t have worried at all.  Mitford’s acerbic wit was evident throughout.  She reminds me of a more modern Jane Austen, especially when it comes to her sly wit and her way at poking fun at the social stigmas of her time.

I certainly plan to read more from both Nancy and Jessica Mitford.

Other Reviews:

Pages Turned

Desperate Reader

I purchased this book from Barnes & Noble.

Book Review: The Home-Maker

The Home-Maker

Dorothy Canfield Fisher

Persephone Books

288 pages

Evangeline Knapp is your typical housewife of the 1920s.  She has three young children that she cares for, while also keeping the house spotless and the meals on the table.  The biggest difference is that she is not happy.  She doesn’t have to say it; her frustration is practically tangible, and the effect that it has on her family is stultifying.  Her husband Lester is a bookkeeper for a local department store and loathes his job.  Evangeline’s three children are scared of her, with the youngest, Stephen, constantly acting out.  It seems as if the Knapp family is at a dead end, with happiness a faraway dream.  This all changes when a horrible accident takes place and forces Evangeline out into the world.

While it seems awful at first, Evangeline is able to discover her real self.  Her once stifled family is also able to blossoms and grow.  The standard gender roles of the 1920s are carefully examined and and dissected.  Given the social climate when The Home-Maker was published in 1924, it is a very courageous topic for a book to deal with.

I think The Home-Maker is still very relevant today, as many people feel forced into gender roles, including mothers.  Many women choose to work after having children, even if they have the means to stay home and care for the house and kids.  The stigma associated with women who choose to work is unfounded and unfortunate. So while we, as women, are lucky that we have the option to stay home or to work, I still think that there is room to grow.

I am glad that I was able to finally read my first Persephone, and I am happy to say that my collection is growing!

Other Reviews:

Random Jottings of a Book and Opera Lover

My Porch

I purchased this book from Persephone Books.

Book Review: Cranford

Cranford

Elizabeth Gaskell

Penguin Clothbound Classics

304 pages

I have decided that for 2011, I want to make a more concerted effort to read classics.  As an English Lit major in college, I feel like maybe I was so deluged with classics that once I graduated in December 07 that I pretty much threw that genre to the wayside (if it can even be referred to as a genre!).  The first on my list to tackle this year was Cranford , by Elizabeth Gaskell.  I read Sylvia’s Lovers last year for the Classics Circuit and thought it was really well done, so I was anxious to read more Gaskell.

Cranford is a look into a predominantly female town and the dynamics therein.  It’s more subtle than your typical novel, in that it is more of an expose of everyday life than anything else.  The narrator is a woman named Mary who is younger than the other women of the town and is not a resident of Cranford , although she stays with Miss Matty Jenkyns for prolonged visits.  Matty is one of those sweet older ladies who always wants to do right by everyone else and is careful not to hurt anyone’s feelings.  This leads to her being one of the most revered women in Cranford , which is evident by the end of the book as far as everyone’s treatment of her goes.

Gaskell

The edition of Cranford that I read was the Penguin clothbound classic, and I loved that it included so many essays, as well as an in-depth introduction (which I couldn’t read until after I had finished Cranford , as the introduction contained spoilers), a glossary and endnotes.  It’s nice to have all that information to refer to, and often when I am done reading a book that had an impact on me, having essays regarding the text is almost as good as having an actual person to discuss the book with!

Admittedly, there were times when I was a tad bit bored with Cranford , but it helped that I knew exactly what I was getting into.  This is definitely more of a character driven novel over plot, so while that doesn’t always work for me, I made certain to pick Cranford up at a time when I was looking for that type of book.  It has convinced me now even more that I would like to read more of Gaskell, especially Wives and Daughters, which seems to be a favorite among other bloggers!

Other Reviews:

Rebecca Reads

things mean a lot

I purchased this book from Anthropologie.

This book counts towards the Victorian Lit challenge.