A man who writes great women characters

the book:

The Painted Veil by W Somerset Maugham

published 1925  chapters 14 & 15

Though Kitty had met his wife at various tea-parties she had been some weeks in Hong Kong before she saw Charles Townsend... [She] saw a tall and very handsome man bear down on them.

 "I am to have the privilege of sitting next to you," he said. "I shan't be able to eat any dinner," he said, "and if I know Dorothy the dinner's damned good".

 "Why not?"

 "I ought to have been told. Some one really ought to have warned me."

"What about?"

 "No one said a word. How was I to know that I was going to meet a raging beauty?"…

He had told her since that he was crazy about her on that first evening. She was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. He remembered the dress she wore; it was her wedding dress, and he said she looked like a lily of the valley. She knew that he was in love with her before he told her, and a little frightened she kept him at a distance... She had never been in love before. It was wonderful.

observations: We went pursuing this book because of a tipoff that Kitty might wear a Chinese robe, linking up with entries from the past two days. In fact she wears a kimono and a dressing-gown, and as a lot of the book is set in China, perhaps all her robes are Chinese… And we’re sure Maxine Clarke (see comment below yesterday’s entry) is right – Chinese robes are very much the kind of thing Maugham’s women wear, and no doubt one will turn up.

 Wearing a wedding dress to a dinner party sounds odd to modern readers, but it was considered very correct for your first dinner parties as a couple, and you were also allowed to sit next to your husband.

Maugham is charmingly free of the Madonna/whore complex infecting so many of his contemporaneous male writers, and does terrific women characters. There is one plotpoint in this book, an action taken by the heroine, which it is hard to imagine ANY other writer putting in a novel in quite the same way. It’s a melodramatic book, and sometimes a bit overwritten, but a romping good read. The 2006 film is excellent.

Links up with: Maugham has featured
before. In Nancy Mitford’s Love in a Cold Climate, Fanny (Chinese robe lady of two days ago) gets in trouble at an Oxford dinner party because she does NOT wear here wedding dress.

The picture is by Baron Adolph de Meyer, and can be found on
Wikimedia Commons.


  1. Fascinating, and what a beautiful picture. I did not realise that about wedding dresses, it is a good idea because if you are the kind of person who has a "wedding dressy" wedding, you can't really wear it for anything else, these days.

    I loved Maugham's books when I read them, and now you point it out, you are quite right that he belongs in the hall of fame as far as women characters are concerned, when all of literature seems to be full of people who either die or get married at the end (hon exception George Eliot Middlemarch).

    Thanks for the link, very kind! Sorry for misremembering kimonos/chinese robes, but I hope you find one eventually!


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