The Painted Veil
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The Painted Veil is a 1925 novel by British author W. Somerset Maugham. The title is a reference to Percy Bysshe Shelley's 1824 sonnet, which begins \"Lift not the painted veil which those who live / Call Life\".
It was a long bare room, narrow, with a high ceiling; its walls werepainted in two shades of terra cotta. The only furniture consisted of alarge desk, a revolving chair for Townsend to sit in and a leatherarm-chair for visitors. It intimidated Kitty to sit in this. He sat atthe desk. She had never seen him in spectacles before; she did not knowthat he used them. When he noticed that her eyes were on them he tookthem off.
They passed through the archway and the chair-bearers paused to changethe pole from shoulder to shoulder. One of them wiped his sweating facewith a dirty rag. The causeway wound down. There were bedraggled houseson each side. Now the night was falling. But the bearers on a suddenbroke into excited talk and with a jump that shook her ranged themselvesas near as they could to the wall. In a moment she knew what hadstartled them, for as they stood there, chattering to one another, fourpeasants passed, quick and silent, bearing a new coffin, unpainted, andits fresh wood gleamed white in the approaching darkness. Kitty felt herheart beat in terror against her ribs. The coffin passed, but thebearers stood still; it seemed as though they could not summon up thewill to go on. But there was a shout from behind and they started. Theydid not speak now.
The chapel was no more than a long low room with white-washed walls androws of deal benches; at the end was the altar on which stood the image;it was in plaster of Paris painted in crude colours; it was very brightand new and garish. Behind it was a picture in oils of the Crucifixionwith the two Maries at the foot of the Cross in extravagant attitudes ofgrief. The drawing was bad and the dark pigments were put on with an eyethat knew nothing of the beauty of colour. Around the walls were theStations of the Cross painted by the same unfortunate hand. The chapelwas hideous and vulgar.
\"The altarpiece and the Stations of the Cross were painted by one of ourSisters, Sœur St. Anselme.\" The Mother Superior crossed herself. \"Shewas a real artist. Unfortunately, she fell a victim to the epidemic. Doyou not think that they are very beautiful\"
Kitty shook hands with her. She was slim in her long embroidered gownand somewhat taller than Kitty, used to the Southern people, hadexpected. She wore a jacket of pale green silk with tight sleeves thatcame over her wrists and on her black hair, elaborately dressed, was thehead-dress of the Manchu women. Her face was coated with powder and hercheeks from the eyes to the mouth heavily rouged; her plucked eyebrowswere a thin dark line and her mouth was scarlet. From this mask herblack, slightly slanting, large eyes burned like lakes of liquid jet.She seemed more like an idol than a woman. Her movements were slow andassured. Kitty had the impression that she was slightly shy but verycurious. She nodded her head two or three times, looking at Kitty, whileWaddington spoke of her. Kitty noticed her hands; they werepreternaturally long, very slender, of the colour of ivory; and theexquisite nails were painted. Kitty thought she had never seen anythingso lovely as those languid and elegant hands. They suggested thebreeding of uncounted centuries.
When this was translated to the Manchu she gave Kitty a quick glance inwhich there was the hint of a smile. She was impressive as she sat,without embarrassment, in her beautiful clothes; and from the paintedface the eyes looked out wary, self-possessed and unfathomable. She wasunreal, like a picture, and yet had an elegance which made Kitty feelall thumbs. Kitty had never paid anything but passing and somewhatcontemptuous attention to the China in which fate had thrown her. It wasnot done in her set. Now she seemed on a sudden to have an inkling ofsomething remote and mysterious. Here was the East, immemorial, dark andinscrutable. The beliefs and the ideals of the West seemed crude besideideals and beliefs of which in this exquisite creature she seemed tocatch a fugitive glimpse. Here was a different life, lived on adifferent plane. Kitty felt strangely that the sight of this idol, withher painted face and slanting, wary eyes, made the efforts and the painsof the everyday world she knew slightly absurd. That coloured maskseemed to hide the secret of an abundant, profound and significantexperience: those long, delicate hands with their tapering fingers heldthe key of riddles undivined.
The vivid scenes with their elegant colour, their unexpecteddistinction, and their strangeness, were like an arras before which,like mysterious, shadowy shapes, played the phantoms of Kitty's fancy.They seemed wholly unreal. Mei-tan-fu with its crenellated walls waslike the painted canvas placed on the stage in an old play to representa city. The nuns, Waddington and the Manchu woman who loved him, werefantastic characters in a masque; and the rest, the people sidling alongthe tortuous streets and those who died, were nameless supers. Of courseit had, they all had, a significance of some sort, but what was it Itwas as though they performed a ritual dance, elaborate and ancient, andyou knew that those complicated measures had a meaning which it wasimportant for you to know; and yet you could see no clue, no clue.
This article is a personal reflection of how the coronavirus exposes 'shocking' levels of racism against us, and our vulnerability as Chinese women living in Britain. By reflecting our experiences of verbal and physical race-based violence connected to coronavirus, we explore the fluidity of our racial identities, the taken-for-granted racial stereotypes and white privilege, and everyday racism in the UK. Can the vulnerable use vulnerability as an agent to shift the moment of helplessness We contribute to the uncomfortable yet important debate on racism against Chinese women living in the UK through voicing up our embodied vulnerability as invisible and disempowered subjects to this viral anti-Chinese racism. This is a form of resistance where we care for the racialized and marginalized others. In doing so, we lift the painted veil of the pandemic, race and racism to collectively combat racial inequalities.
The Painted Veil is more than a story of forbidden love- it is a beautiful tale of self discovery and redemption. Kitty Fane often gazes at the vast and dreamlike Chinese landscape from a curtained chair lifted by coolies. Her journey through interior China is a moral one too and the image of her, veiled, at a height and distance is an apt metaphor for many things- the colonial gaze, her spiritual awakening and last but not the least, the painted veil that is life.
Probably because he saw no rhyme nor reason to anything. Have you read Of Human Bondage, which is thinly veiled autobiography All the horrendous things that happen to him helps explain his world view, his bitterness and cruelty, I think.
Soaring high it flew with the wind, incredible she thought!Feather light she felt, all that she gave up was a satin veil!How light was the veil and heavy was that cloak of fear!Generations of her own she would inspire to unmaskWomen walked with head held high, their gleaming eyesMet the world face to face, no more would veils hide pride.
Jayashree, thanks for sharing your poem with the Tweetspeak Poetry Community! I like when the woman in your piece is surprised by how light the veil actually was that had clouded things so dramatically. 59ce067264