The motive of love in the book-to-film adaptations by Somerset Maugham, Robert James Waller and Nicholas Sparks

"Painted Veil", "Bridges of Madison County" and "The Notebook"

Essay, 2019

54 Pages, Grade: 5.0


Table of contents


1 Chapter One: Painted Veil – Maturing to Love
1.1 W. Somerset Maugham - the Author and his Achievement
1.2 Painted Veil – Discovering Love in Unexpected Circumstances
1.3 The 2006 Film Adaptation
1.4 Conclusion

2 Chapter Two: Bridges of Madison County - Adulterous Affair Renews Sense of Life
2.1 Robert James Waller – Professor of Economics writing about Love
2.2 The Bridges of Madison County – Four Days of Adulterous Transcendence
2.3 The Movie – Emotions as Close to the Original as Possible
2.4 Conclusion

3 Chapter Three. The Notebook – Nicholas Spark’s Beautiful Tearjerker
3.1 The Notebook – Three Thematic Levels of Love
3.2 Literary Techniques Revealing Love
3.3 Symbols and Metaphors
3.4 Over-sweeten Kitsch or the Movie about Real Love?
3.5 Conclusion




Any kind of love, including the ideal of unconditional agape, is dependent on some form of pricing. When the linguistic aspect of ‘love’ word is being analysed, one will quickly realize that the word ‘love’ goes back to the very roots of the English language. The word is recorded from the earliest English writings in the eighth century (Partridge 2006: 1741).

This paper’s aim is to present the various attitudes towards the concept of love as approached by the chosen three writers. The first of them, William Somerset Maugham is the author perceived as the novelist enjoying the longest career in Europe. The love story chosen by the author of this paper is Maugham’s Painted Veil – the bitter-sweet history of people whose marriage proved failure and it took tragedy and death of one of them to have the heroine mature and understand the value of love.

Directed by John Curran, the film is a faithful retelling of the story. It does the Maugham’s book full justice, artfully and intelligently recreating the story's portray of a young woman's passion, follies, sensitivities, humanity and finally coming to maturity. Naomi Watts' portray of Kitty is particularly convincing. Edward Norton is also excellent. The scenery and the filming are very impressive, so is the direction.

The second author, Robert James Waller and his best-selling novel Bridges of Madison County offer slightly different approach to love. This novel can be described as the one about the memory of something good but also about the weight of loss and the reasons behind the sacrifice. Waller’s heroes are matured people, in contrast with Maugham’s young and beautiful characters. Bridges of Madison County depict people who are fully aware of their duties and the norms of the society. Nevertheless, they allow themselves the comfort of indulging passion. And then they split.

It was an amazing idea to put two of the best actors around these days together in this good old fashioned romance. Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood, who also produces and directs the movie, look amazingly elegant and fit together on screen. This film is beautiful in so many ways; the majestic and evocative settings, the wonderful use of colour and light, but most of all – the passionate love story that is the heart of this film. Clint Eastwood is truly an accomplished director and producer of films now as well as a very fine actor.

Finally, the most modern of the books – the one coming from under the pen of the best-selling writer – Nicholas Sparks. Everyone who read any of his stories is aware that his love stories are touching and extremely emotional. The chosen novel, The Notebook is not different. However, his story goes beyond one layer of ‘here and now’ and shifts between two periods in the lifespan of the lovers. This book shows the complex idea of love and devotion – perhaps it might be seen as over-sweet and not realistic, but it gives hope that love can be beautiful and last the whole life, despite the obstacles.

Nick Cassavetes took on Nicholas Sparks’ bestselling novel The Notebook and paired Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams in an extremely romantic, causing constant tear-flow story about both the young and undying old love. The opening images can be felt like a postcard, but they smoothly ease into the gentle interaction between two retirement home residents-Duke, and Allie Calhoun, who tries to listen as her mind drifts in and out of dementia. The movie was basically well received and gathered positive reviews. The movie is about looking at the past, present and future of love, and it has the potential to attract the viewers of all ages.

It is the author’s intention to analyse the novels and also the film adaptations of the above mentioned novels. Each movie had a wide audience and drew varying critique. But still, people enjoy watching the movies about love, they do like wondering if there is this true love that lasts ‘till death do us apart’ – it is not surprising, as love and its various shades were the constant power behind the literature all over the world.

1 Chapter One: Painted Veil – Maturing to Love

This chapter is focused around the person of the writer Somerset Maugham as well as his splendid work that was filmed titled Painted Veil. The writer was a modest person and never aspired to be treated as the canonical persona in the novelistic stardom. Therefore, in his own words:

I have no illusions about my literary position. There are but two important critics in my own country who have troubled to take me seriously and when clever young men write essays about contemporary fiction they never think of considering me. I do not resent it. It is very natural. […] clever people like Virginia Woolf and her friends had long ago reached the conclusion that there was not much to be said about Maugham (Maugham qtd. in Curtis 1987: 1).

Amongst the biographers, there is a slightly bizarre history regarding the attempts to accomplish a biography of W. Somerset Maugham as he discouraged any biographers. What is more, towards the end of his life, he burned his private correspondence and publicly requested his closest friends to also destroy any papers that might have been written from him and remained in their possession. As Robert L. Calder, the author of Somerset Maugham: A Life states: “In his will, he instructed his literary executor, Spencer Curtis Brown, not to authorize the publication of any of his unpublished writing or to cooperate with any biographer. Moreover, the fact remains that full-scale essays in the English language on Maugham’s work in this pre-World War II period are hard to find” (Meyers 2004: 360).

1.1 W. Somerset Maugham - the Author and his Achievement

“The modern writer who has influenced me the most”

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Although Maugham was often taken for granted and denied lengthy evaluation, he was himself, as he admitted, largely to blame and he kept on repeating that he does not resent it. For him, it was very natural while he never treated himself as a propagandist” (Maugham 1938: 135). William Somerset Maugham is said to be the author who had one of the longest careers of any writer in the English language.

Maugham was born in 1874 in Paris, where his father was attaché to the British Embassy. Maugham’s mother, often described as an extraordinary beauty, died of tuberculosis of the lungs when Maugham was eight; the author often repeated that fifty years of active living, wide travels as any modern writer and all that have failed to heal the wound caused by his mother’s death. His father died two years later of cancer, and Maugham went to live with his father’s brother, a vicar in Whitstable near the mouth of the Thames. According to Holden, Maugham’s experience there was unhappy, and Whitstable appears as Blackstable character in many of his subsequent novels (Holden 2008: 1). It is understandable that life in this small town offered a sharp contrast to Paris.

At thirteen Maugham entered preparatory school at Canterbury, where his first year was difficult to bear, with his masters bullying him because of his speech difficulty and frail health. Because of this ill treatment, Maugham refused to go on to Oxford to study for the clergy. After studying at the King’s School in Canterbury, Maugham decided to go to Heidelberg for a year to attend classes at the university.

It was there that he met the American aesthete John Ellingham Brooks, and understood his real sexual orientation. Demastes and Kelly also point out that this was the period of Maugham’s life when “he immersed himself in fin de siècle culture. He developed an interest in the writings of Arthur Schopenhauer, an admiration for the operas of Richard Wagner, and an enthusiasm for works of such iconoclasts of the modern theater as Henri Becque, Hermann Sudermann, and Henrik Ibsen” (Demastes--Kelly 1996: 278). He went so far as to translate a German edition of Ghosts into English in an attempt to learn Ibsen’s dramatic technique.

By the time Maugham returned to England in 1892, he had chosen to study medicine as a hedge against poverty. He came to London and continued his training as a doctor at St. Thomas’s hospital from 1892 to 1897, but at the same time he circulated in bohemian circles, and in a free time, he committed himself to writing. In his own words:

The medical profession did not interest me, but it gave me the chance of living in London and so gaining the experience of life that I hankered after. I entered St Thomas’s Hospital in the autumn of 1892. I found the first two years of the curriculum very dull and gave my work no more attention than was necessary to scrape through the examinations. I was an unsatisfactory student. But I had the freedom I yearned for. I liked having lodgings of my own, where I could be by myself; I took pride in making them pretty and comfortable. All my spare time, and such that I should have devoted to my medical studies, I spent reading and writing (Maugham 1938: 41).

His first novel, Liza of Lambeth which appeared in 1897, created controversy because of its realistic description of working class life in South London, and encouraged Maugham to abandon a career in medicine to become a full-time writer. The appearance of Liza of Lambeth marked him as a young author of promise, but for ten years after the novel’s publication he led a financially precarious existence, experimenting unsuccessfully with a variety of prose and dramatic forms. The only novel written in this period that Maugham later considered of importance is Mrs Craddock (1902), which transplants Flaubert’s Madame Bovary to the rural Kent of his adolescence, its protagonist an intelligent and passionate woman trapped in a marriage to a boorish gentleman farmer.

Unnerved by the social panic against homosexuality after the trials of Oscar Wilde in 1895, Maugham also spent a considerable amount of time travelling in Europe, with periods of residence in Spain, Paris and Capri (Holden 2008: 2). After a lean decade, Maugham achieved celebrity when his play Lady Frederick was staged in 1907. He quickly became one of the most successful playwrights of the early twentieth century. At one point, he had four plays running simultaneously in the West End in London, and Punch published a cartoon showing a frustrated Shakespeare posed angrily in front of a poster advertising Maugham’s current productions.

Maugham, as he records in The Summing Up, trained himself as a writer of a prose singularly clear and unobtrusive by reading such masters of lucidity and simplicity as Dryden, Swift, Arnold, Voltaire, and Hume (Maugham 1938: 20-21); his prose is filled with the irony and disillusionment of some of these masters. This accent appears in both his plays and his fiction.

From personal point of view, the decade after 1907 was also the time in which Maugham attempted relationships with women: he had affairs with Violet Hunt, the actor Ethelwyn ‘Sue’ Jones, and eventually married Syrie Barnardo, daughter of the philanthropist Dr. Thomas Barnardo, after being named as respondent in her divorce from the pharmaceutical businessman Henry Wellcome. The marriage produced a daughter, Liza, but was unhappy and almost immediately disrupted: on service as a volunteer in the ambulance corps in the First World War, Maugham met the Paris-born American, Gerald Haxton. Two decades Maugham’s junior, Haxton became Maugham’s secretary, lover, and companion until his death in 1944, and their turbulent relationship was expressed through conflicts between protagonists in Maugham’s numerous novels. According to Demastes and Kelly: “The nearly thirty years of their relationship, until Gerald’s death in 1944, were the years of Maugham's best writing; all his major works, with the exception of Of Human Bondage ( 1915), were produced during those years” (Demastes--Kelly 1996: 279).

During the First World War, Maugham returned to fiction, publishing the semi-autobiographical novel Of Human Bondage (1915), perhaps his finest work. In subsequent years, he wrote short stories, travel narratives and novels set in the South Pacific and East and Southeast Asia, as well as pioneering espionage fiction in Ashenden (1928). Yet the author’s fiction also paid close attention to domestic issues, exploring the pitfalls of English literary celebrity in Cakes and Ale (1930) and the hypocrisy of the London theatrical world in Theatre (1937). Accordingly:

Maugham’s fiction offers him more freedom and allows him to display to the full an urbane, curious, and-some readers judge-unprejudiced mind. The merit of Of Human Bondage has already been suggested; the hero ‘frees’ himself from the tyranny of existence by deciding that the meaning of existence is but the pattern each man wills to create. In many of Maugham's other novels, we see men less fully studied than the hero of his best novel who also try to trace out (Maugham’s phrase echoes Henry James) ‘the pattern in the carpet’ (Magill--Koehler 1958: 733).

The sparse bibliographic sources state that Maugham spent much of the Second World War in the United States, and published his most successful novel, The Razor’s Edge, in 1944. He continued to be an active writer until his late eighties. If Maugham’s works were, in his own estimation, ‘only easel pictures, not frescoes’ (The Summing Up 81), his significance in the general sense of culture is perhaps greater than his place in the canon. Through his friendship with Hollywood finest and most famous, such as director George Cukor, Maugham became one of the first major British writers to be actively involved in Hollywood productions of his works.

In 1963 Maugham made headlines when he tried to adopt his lover, Alan Searle, and disinherit his daughter, Liza, on the grounds that she was illegitimate. Increasingly ill and senile, he lived “out his last days in a nightmare” (Coward 1999: 607), which only ended on 15 December 1965 with his death from pneumonia.

Summarizing the uniqueness of Maugham, Magill and Koehler state that:

The long life of W(illiam) Somerset Maugham offers one a view of the fashions and current ideas during more than half a century. Maugham exploited shrewdly and brilliantly the public taste of his time; a deft and facile workman in both the novel and the drama, for many decades he managed to be faithful both to his international public and to himself. His basic idea rests on a perception of the relativity of human morals; his works illustrate this perception entertainingly and sometimes penetratingly (Magill--Koehler 1958: 732).

In the twenty-first century, Maugham’s legacy is complex. He continues to be widely read, and his stories are still frequently adapted into Hollywood movies: István Szabó’s Being Julia (based on Theatre, 2004) and John Curran’s The Painted Veil are only the latest in over fifty film versions of his works. However, critical attention has always been poor – the only monograph-length academic study of the author that I was able to track down during the research for the this paper, is Philip Holden’s Orienting Masculinity, Orienting Nation from 1996. As it was mentioned above, Maugham himself was aware of, and affected not to be worried by, his declining critical reputation during his lifetime. One cannot omit the fact that Maugham candidly admitted that he wrote his plays not for posterity, but for the present.

1.2 Painted Veil – Discovering Love in Unexpected Circumstances

In the 1920s, Maugham turned more extensively to what he called his ‘exotic fiction’. Travels in China and Southeast Asia with Haxton resulted in writing for which Maugham is perhaps best known. The vignettes of expatriate life in On a Chinese Screen (1922) were followed by the novel The Painted Veil (1925), set in Hong Kong, and The Gentleman in the Parlour (1930), an account of a journey Maugham and Gerald made from Burma to Indochina in 1923 with Gerald’s role discretely omitted (Holden 2008: 3).

Maugham knew little of the cultures or languages of the Asian countries he visited, and in many ways his fiction set in Malaya and elsewhere repeats exoticising images from earlier generations of colonial fiction. In contrast to predecessors such as Joseph Conrad or Rudyard Kipling, however, Maugham examined the domestic half-world of empire.

According to Curtis and Whitehead, the material for the novel Painted Veil was gathered during Maugham’s journey to China in 1919-1920. Maugham explains himself in the Preface to the novel that the inspiration for this story was a line from Dante’s Purgatorio which was interpreted for the author by a young with whom he was staying in Florence. She tells the story of a woman who committed adultery and was taken to a castle filled with noxious vapours he had hoped would kill her. When she survived for a good while, he threw her out of the window and killed her. The author also points out that because of a libel action brought when the novel was being serialised in Nash’s Magazine and a second threatened libel action, the name of the protagonist was changed from Lane to Fane, and Hong Kong to Tching Yen. Sometime after the novel had been re-issued in the Collected Edition of Maugham’s work, the name of Hong Kong was restored, and as a result of adverse criticism, in particular in the New Statesman, the final paragraph was revised (Curtis--Whitehead 1987: 160).

The title is meant as a reference to Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “Lift not the painted veil which those who live”. The sonnet goes:

“Lift not the painted veil which those who live
Call Life: though unreal shapes be pictured there,
And it but mimic all we would believe
With colours idly spread,- behind, lurk Fear
And Hope, twin Destinies; who ever weave
Their shadows, o’er the chasm, sightless and drear

I knew one who had lifted it—he sought,
For his lost heart was tender, things to love,
But found them not, alas! nor was there aught
The world contains, the which he could approve”

(Shelley 1818: available online)

The Painted Veil is the beautifully told story of one self-absorbed woman and what it takes for her to discover joy in loving others. Kitty, an Englishwoman, was always pressured from a young age to marry well by her mother, who tried to overcome her own sense of failure through her daughters. Kitty shared these social ambitions but could never find the right mate. Out of desperation, she married Walter Fane, a scientist, and returned with him to Hong Kong where he conducted his work. Kitty was never happy in her marriage, although he fell in love with Kitty at first sight and – in his own way – tried to make her feel loved. The novel depicts young bride in the following words:

Kitty, coming to Tching-Yen on her marriage, had found it hard to reconcile herself to the fact that her social position was determined by her husband's occupation. Of course everyone had been very kind and for two or three months they had gone out to parties almost every night; when they dined at Government House the Governor took her in as a Bride; but she had understood quickly that as the wife of the Government bacteriologist she was of no particular consequence. It made her angry (Maugham 1938: 11).

In China she meets Charlie Townsend whom she finds attractive and therefore, she quickly gets involved into sexual relationship with the handsome assistant colonial secretary who seems almost perfect to her, compared to her husband. When Walter finds out about her affair, he asks Kitty to either come with him to Mei-tan-fu; otherwise, he will sue her for adultery. Nevertheless, he makes an attempt to agree for her getting the divorce from him. In a final stage of their discussion, Kitty says: “I don’t think you know what love is. You can have no conception how desperately in love Charlie and I are with one another. It really is the only thing that matters and every sacrifice that our love calls for will be as easy as falling off a log” (Maugham 1938: 76).

Kitty, blinded by love, thinks Charlie, who is also married, will leave his wife for her and they will live happily together. Charlie, however, has no such intention: it is too impractical for a man with his career he tells her. Heart-broken and without any other option, she travels with Walter to Mei-tan-fu, suspicious that his intention is for her to catch cholera and die.

When they arrive there, the tension between Kitty and Walter persists. Waddington, a local customs official, becomes a kind of counsellor to Kitty, helping her out with keen insight and observations. He introduces her to the French nuns who are working with the poor in the area and taking care of the many orphans. So impressed by their spirit of self-sacrifice, Kitty begins working for them and helping out around the convent. It is a beautiful portrait of a person’s growing up – maturing to become humane to the needs of the others. Especially touching is an exchange between Mother Superior and Kitty when she is about to begin her work:

“I promise you I will do my best. I am very grateful to you for the opportunity that you are giving me.”

The Mother Superior opened the parlour door, but as she was going out she hesitated. Once more she gave Kitty a long, searching and sagacious look. Then she laid her hand gently on her arm.

“You know, my dear child, that one cannot find peace in work or in pleasure, in the world or in a convent, but only in one’s soul.” (Maugham 1938: 158).

It would be too much to say that Kitty changed; As some unsigned critic of New York Times in March 1925 wrote: “Mr Maugham knows that such people do not; that human nature in general remains thoroughly constant. But by virtue of her confined situation in a ghastly township, the quarrel with her husband depressing her spirits, Kitty began to develop and find new resources within herself” (qtd. in Curtis--Whitehead 1987: 161).

One day while at work, she discovers she is pregnant, though she does not know who the father is. Despite her many attempts to rectify the situation with her husband, his cold demeanour does not lighten, and Kitty is awakened one night to the news that he has come down with cholera. Kitty and Waddington barely make it to him before he dies, and he is hardly conscious at all. And in the moment of the realization that he is going to lose him – the unloved, unwanted husband, whom she was cheating and whom she could not understand, that he is going to die, she breaks and pleads for his forgiveness:


A shadow passed over his wan and sunken face. It was less than a movement, and yet it gave all the effect of a terrifying convulsion. She had never used that word to him before. Perhaps in his dying brain there passed the thought, confused and difficulty g rasped, that he had only heard her use it, a commonplace of her vocabulary, to dogs and babies and motor-cars. Then something horrible occurred. She clenched her hands, trying with all her might to control herself, for she saw two tears run slowly down his wasted checks.

“Oh, my precious, my dear, if you ever loved me - I know you loved me and I was hateful I beg you to forgive me. I’ve no chance now to show my repentance. Have mercy on me. I beseech you to forgive.” (Maugham 1938: 221).

Kitty remains about a week after his death and burial before heading back to Hong Kong briefly before sailing to England to return to her family. Her hope of not seeing Charlie Townsend is dashed when she is met by his wife, Dorothy, who insists that she stay with them while she is in Hong Kong. Still bitter and angry towards Charlie after the way he treated her, she tries to keep her distance, but winds up faltering and yielding to his advances. Kitty becomes disgusted with herself; she thought she was a changed woman and is ashamed at how easily she fell back into her old ways. She leaves two days later.

Kitty’s mother dies shortly before she returns. Her father, however, is apparently not very distraught by it. Kitty realizes that the family has largely taken the father for granted, as an unloved source of income. He has received and accepted a commission as a judge in the Bahamas and looks at it as an escape. Reflecting on the spirit of sacrifice in the nuns, which made them so happy, Kitty asks her father if she can come with him, resolving to do everything in her power to make him feel loved and happy. After all the malevolence of their stupid past Kitty and her father face a new life together and weigh its possibilities. So Kitty utters these last words in the novel:

I have hope and courage. The past is finished: let the dead bury their dead. It’s all uncertain—life and whatever is to come to me, but I enter upon it with a light and buoyant heart. There’s so much I want to know; I want to read and I want to learn. I see in front of me the glorious fun of the world, people and music and dancing, and I see its beauty, the sea and the palm trees, the sunrise and the sunset and the starry night. It’s all confused, but vaguely I discern a pattern. And I see before me an inexhaustible richness—the charity, the Way and the Wayfarer, and perhaps in the end—God (Maugham 1938: 286).

That is a good deal to expect, especially from the heroine of a Somerset Maugham novel. And, although Kitty’s father remains in the shadow, somewhere in the background of the novel. But still, somehow the reader knows well, throughout the words of this splendid work. That is the genius of Maugham’s words who was no some sort of literary intellect while it cannot be stated that he was choosing every word deliberately, or arranged the flow or rhythm of the sentences, nor did he played with elaborated puns. His style is simply sharp and mostly perceived as casual because he tells a story that needs no beautification – it only needs to be lived together with the words that tell it.

That is the story about love – love in various dimensions. One, very particular type of love is ‘self-love’ which Kitty practices almost all the time. She expects to be loved and she precious herself. She is obviously capable of falling in love because she has a crash on Charles. Kitty’s passions when compared with her husband’s coolness and calmness, are not dictated by reason and therefore, they all the time threaten to make a mess within the correctness of so-called ‘moral code’ of colonial society. In contrast to Walter and Charlie who are masters of deciding what and when can be shown when love is concerned, Kitty’s passions can be represented throughout the metaphors depicting various emotions such as: madness, illness and also the actions of torture or captivity:

She leaned towards him. Her body became limp and yielding against his aim. The love she felt for him was almost torture. His last words had struck her: perhaps Walter loved her so passionately that he was prepared to accept any humiliation if sometimes she would let him love her. She could understand that; for that was how she felt towards Charlie. A thrill of pride passed through her, and at the same time a faint sensation of contempt for a man who could love so slavishly (Maugham 1938: 60).

But this love has two (at least) negative aspects – it is an adultery which would always be condemned socially. Moreover, Kitty hurts the feelings of Walter and therefore, as it can be read between the lines, she would not be able to fully enjoy it. Apart from that, her blind passion, which she describes as the biggest love on earth is shattered when Charles is no more than happy to abandon her, almost simultaneously when Walter makes his ultimatum.

The positive emotions, such as devotion, happiness, satisfaction and finally – realization that she needs and loves her husband come as the story unfolds. Kitty does not change but she step-by-step matures. The reader is never in doubt as to her character. Maugham weaves it all in by dialogue and action, as integral parts of the story and he paints Walter and Charles at full length also.

In summary of the novel, it is worth quoting New Statesman’s reviewer, P.C. Kennedy who depicted the book in the following words: “The end of The Painted Veil is the silliest ever inflicted by a brilliant writer on a brilliant story. But, up to the last few pages, the book is so good that I should doubt whether the whole year will show more than two or three novels fit to be mentioned beside it” (Kennedy 1925 qtd. in Curtis--Whitehead 1987: 165).

1.3 The 2006 Film Adaptation

Given what an awful stiff Somerset Maugham can be, it’s remarkable how many movies have been made of his uptight tales of civil servants sweating it out in British colonies (48 for the big screen alone). John Curran’s fresh take on Maugham’s novel The Painted Veil, from a crisp script by Philadelphia screenwriter Ron Nyswaner, is sober and delicate but downright buoyant compared to a dull 1934 adaptation starring a miscast Greta Garbo, and a 1957 remake, The Seventh Sin, that tanked on arrival. […] The Painted Veil lifts Maugham’s story clear of its prissy, attenuated spirituality, and into genuine passion (Taylor 2006: 80).

The Painted Veil movie version advances at an extremely slow pace and it seems that it is dictated by the inability of the characters to say what they mean until it is almost too late. The actors performing two leading roles – Naomi Watts and Edward Norton deliver terrific performances as the desperately lonely couple, who seem a poor fit from the very first moment they meet. Sheila Roberts, from Movies Online web-page interviewed Watts, soon after the movie came to Broadway. The actress expressed what were her emotions connected with the role, script and the character she was supposed to play:

I loved Kitty from the first moment I read the script. She just kind of leapt off the page. She was ahead of her time or at least she thought she was in refusing to conform to conventions and she just got swept up in this frivolous world of who’s who and how one should look and she can’t stand her family breathing down her neck constantly saying, ‘You’ve got to do something. You’ve got to get married.’ She’s sort of enjoying this floating by and the attention of many rather than just focusing on one person. So, when she gets this proposal, it’s a form of escape (Roberts 2006: online).

The emotions that accompanied the actress and the skill with which she was able to ‘become’ Kitty was appreciated by the press. One of the film critics Lisa Schwarzbaum in the Entertainment Weekly claimed that: “The always surprising Watts creates a woman at once contemporary and retro” (Schwarzbaum 2006:

As two previous versions made little impact, even despite Greta Garbo’s presence in the 1934 melodrama, John Curran’s film definitely has much more to offer. Interestingly, Norton, who studied Chinese history at Yale, chose Watts as his co-star, while Watts chose Curran, for whom she appeared in 2004’s underrated We Don’t Live Here Anymore. Filmed on location, the striking production is, in many respects, just as old-fashioned as its source material and for example sex is merely suggested and Kitty is shocked that their English neighbour (Toby Jones) has a Chinese lover.

According to David Gitten, the reviewer of The Daily Mail:

We think of film sets as glamorous places where movie stars arrive in limousines, to be deposited at the doors of their air-conditioned luxury trailers, each as big as a house, and waited on hand and foot. The Painted Veil, a period drama based on a Somerset Maugham story from the 1920s, and starring Edward Norton and Naomi Watts, comes across as just that sort of film. It was shot in the southern Chinese province of Guangxi. The scenery is overwhelmingly beautiful and it looks exotic and expensive. But for the cast and crew, the reality was quite different. For the best part of a month, they were living in remote rural outposts. Life was hard, their living quarters were barely habitable and the food on offer was highly dubious (Gitten 2007: 98).

Edward Norton, who, as one of the film’s producers, spent almost seven years trying to put it together, was adamant the film must be shot in China, where the story is set. Norton studied Chinese history at university and his father works in the region for a charity. What is more, he had grown up watching ambitious big-screen epics such as Out Of Africa and Lawrence Of Arabia, filmed in faraway locations.

Filming began in Shanghai and Beijing, huge, modern cities where the only problem, says costume designer Ruth Myers, was the heat: “It was 490C. The actors’ makeup was dripping; stiff-fronted shirts were going limp” (Myers as qtd. in Gitten 2007: 99). After location scouts scoured 5,000 miles of China to find a suitable base, filming moved to the small city of Guilin in the province of Guangxi. Here, the cast and crew first saw the remarkable limestone peaks along the Li River that became the film’s most memorable visual image, rising up dramatically from the water’s edge.

As it was explained above, The Painted Veil was actually shot in China – a rarity for a US film, apparently – with the makers taking full advantage of the country’s stunning scenery resulting in a movie that, in its own way, is as good looking as someone could expect after great actors taking part in so promising production.

The movie begins slightly different than the book, while the film opens when husband and wife Walter and Kitty Fane (Norton and Watts) are trekking across rural China, both of them looking thoroughly miserable as they are carried across the stifling landscape in sedan chairs by locals. Through a series of flashbacks, we learn the couple were only recently wed, but already their relationship is on the rocks. Mismatched from the start, the flighty Kitty has jeopardised their marriage thanks to a fling with a local civil servant (Liev Schreiber) and now Walter has devised an ingenious - and unbelievably cruel - way of getting his own back.

According to David Edwards from The Mirror: “Nobody does forbidden passion like Maugham, who once said the only love that lasts is the unrequited variety, and his favourite theme of just who holds the power in a relationship is very much to the fore throughout. And as the movie progresses, you find your allegiances to Walter and Kitty switching back and forth” (Edwards 2007: 2).

The tag line of the movie was what intrigued the author of this paper and it said: “Sometimes the greatest journey is the distance between two people”. Due to the fact that the author of this paper have previously read the book, after finishing this movie, there was the feeling that the movie was more enjoyable than the book because the movie portrayed more of Kitty’s realization of love for her husband. It is a love situation that happens more often than we thought. A woman has a good man, but thinks that another man has something that her man does not possess, only to realize in the end that her man is the better man after all. Sadly, to Kitty, the realization came too late.

While the movie is slow, and a little predictable, the time that the book was written in demands this kind of slowness, and it lends the movie even more poignancy. Those who do not like classic literature or need a lot of action in their entertainment probably will not like this movie, but for those who like classic literature and historical movies, the deliberate building up of the pace adds rather than detracts from the movie.

Basically, this movie is so refreshing to the mind-set people have today regarding the concept of love. Many people misunderstand love for short lived emotional impulses which in turn are not foundational for longevity in a lifetime relationship. This is exactly, what one feels about Kitty’s concept of ‘love’ towards Charles. And therefore, the author of the web-site The Evening Classes points out that:

[…] the film’s opening montage is a masterful superimposition of historical tableaux, bacterial activity, and floral evanescence, suggesting that beneath surface appearances, behind the incalculable, is what we must learn in order to love (Guillen 2006: online).


Excerpt out of 54 pages


The motive of love in the book-to-film adaptations by Somerset Maugham, Robert James Waller and Nicholas Sparks
"Painted Veil", "Bridges of Madison County" and "The Notebook"
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
bridges, veil, sparks, somerset, robert, painted, notebook, nicholas, maugham, madison, james, county, waller
Quote paper
Marta Zapała-Kraj (Author), 2019, The motive of love in the book-to-film adaptations by Somerset Maugham, Robert James Waller and Nicholas Sparks, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • No comments yet.
Read the ebook
Title: The motive of love in the book-to-film adaptations by Somerset Maugham, Robert James Waller and Nicholas Sparks

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free