Somerset W. Maugham's story "The Painted Veil" confirms his belief that there is a true harmony in the contradictions of mankind and that the normal is in reality the abnormal. "The ordinary is the writer's richest field," he stated in THE SUMMING UP (1938), which also has become something of a guidebook for creative writing.
Maugham tells his stories in clear, economical style with cynical or resigned undertone. As he put it, "I have never pretended to be anything but a story teller. It has amused me to tell stories and I have told a great many. It is a misfortune for me that the telling of a story just for the sake of the story is not an activity that is in favor with the intelligentsia. I endeavour to bear my misfortunes with fortitude."
He takes the title to his story "The Painted Veil" from Percy Shelley's Sonnet
" Lift not the painted veil . . ."
Lift not the painted veil which those who live
and the story's 'punchline' "The dog it was that died" from Oliver Goldsmith's
|An Elegy on the Death of a Mad Dog|
Good people all, of every sort,
In Islington there was a man,
A kind and gentle heart he had,
And in that town a dog was found,
This dog and man at first were friends;
Around from all the neighbouring streets
The wound it seemed both sore and sad
But soon a wonder came to light,
Unfortunately, this line is not used in the superbly-made film of the same name which was shot on location in Guangxi province in China in an absolutely stunning landscape.
Maugham's travels and mine crossed many times even though he passed away the year I first set out to see the world. I once even stayed in the Somerset Maugham Suite in Singapore's Raffles Hotel!
Many of his stories are set in the islands of the South Pacific and in exotic locations in South East Asia, and they have been my travel companions during all those years. Here are some of them:
THE TREMBLING OF A LEAF - Little Stories of the South Sea Islands
The Lotus Eater