Things We Never Had: The Painted Veil

SEPT / OCT 2014: BY HANNAH PRICE

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Dramas, epics, tales of bravery and courage, true love, unfaltering loyalty, adventures and fantasies tend to enthrall and enrapture us as an audience. We all love a good hero, and even a good villain if their side of the story is interesting and understandable. We love watching characters pursue true love against all odds. We love happy endings. But what if the hero and the villain are wrapped up in one? What if the story is full of sad, human, flawed people that make mistakes and mess things up? What if the ending isn’t a fairytale one? Can we ever truly enjoy watching such a story unfold, or revisit said story over again? If a story doesn’t follow the traditional “love story” path, will we still feel a romance unfolding?

Such is the story of The Painted Veil, the tale of Kitty and Walter Fane, an unhappily married couple dealing with the aftermath of marital betrayal and infidelity. The narrative takes an unblinking, unyielding look at the harsh realities of lost love and misplaced priorities. It takes the audience to tough places emotionally and visually. There is sickness, pain, misery, mental turmoil and many, many tears. However, it is one of the most fulfilling and inspiring stories I have ever encountered, full of redemption, grace, forgiveness and hope.

Unlike most period romances, this tale isn’t one about falling in love or finding love so much as learning to give love and love those around us. Walter and Kitty meet and marry in a short amount of time but their coupling is for two very different reasons. Walter is an honorable man who loves Kitty, but Kitty simply wants to get out of her parent’s house and avoid being an old maid. The life they lead together isn’t exciting, adventurous, or passionate, something that Kitty longs for. She meets a dashing married man named Charlie Townsend. The two instantly connect and begin a clandestine affair to spice up their “dull lives,“ disregarding the potential hurt to their respective spouses. Walter eventually finds out and offers Kitty a deal: go with him to China where he’ll be investigating an outbreak of cholera or he’ll divorce her publically; he also offers the alternative of a quiet divorce if Charlie will leave his wife and marry Kitty. Charlie refuses, so Kitty is forced to move to China with Walter. What transpires in a cholera stricken village is transformative in both their lives. While Walter meant the move to be punishment for her transgressions, having to spend so much time together means they start to see one another in a different light. Kitty learns to recognize the simple beauty of her “boring” husband, for even though he doesn’t lead an exciting life, he is constant, patient and dedicated in all things. In turn, Walter comes to appreciate Kitty’s personality and strengths and learns to love her again.

One of the things that sets this story apart as a romance is that the lead characters aren’t the most sympathetic or lovable. Walter is a sensitive, caring man, but his dark side emerges when he seeks to punish his wife for her indiscretions. He can be cold and harsh and at times it is hard to like him. The same goes for Kitty; her goodness is often overshadowed by her pride and selfishness. She longs for things in the beginning that at the end she realizes won’t bring lasting happiness. While in China, Kitty often writes to Charlie, hoping for a change of heart on his part. She holds out hope that his claims of love were true and he’ll eventually rescue her from her dull, oppressive life. But her letters go unanswered and she has to painfully abandon her trust in him, turning instead to the slow mending of her relationship with Walter.

This leads me to the subject of grace and forgiveness. There isn’t much of it at the beginning of the story where all Kitty and Walter can focus on are their own personal purgatories. But grace is discovered through the course of the story, buried deep inside the characters like ancient treasure, covered by the sands of frustration, distrust, sorrow, pain and resentment. Once they get over their disappointment in each other, work through their distrust and pain, and sift through their anger, their eyes start to open and they can appreciate the good qualities in each other. Walter sees Kitty helping out in the school and children’s hospital wing and sees her as something other than selfish, self-centered and shallow. He puts aside his emotional wounds and antagonism to forgive his wife. Kitty sees Walter’s love of people, especially children, his selfless placing of others before himself, his intelligence, innovations and ideas brought to life, and the positive impact he has on the village as a whole. They discover each other as if for the first time, and years after their marriage grow to love one another as husband and wife. The biggest testament to this change comes when Kitty discovers she’s pregnant, and is uncertain who the father is. It could be Walter’s, or it could be Charlie’s child, something she tearfully confesses to her husband. At this point grace takes precedence in Walter’s heart and he comforts Kitty with the knowledge that it doesn’t matter; he’ll accept the child as his own regardless.

I wish I could say the story has a fairytale ending, but cholera has no such grace and robs the Fanes of growing old together, stealing Walter away in his prime. However, I suppose in a way the ending is fitting. Kitty returns to England alone and heartbroken, but receives solace in her new son. Years later she meets Charlie again, but even though he expresses interest in renewing their acquaintance, she does not. Charlie realizes from her boy’s age that he could possibly be his son, but it doesn’t matter to Kitty as it didn’t matter to Walter. Her son has her husband’s name, and she tells Walter Jr. when he asks whom Charlie was that he is quite simply “no one important” anymore. ♥

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR Hannah Price thrives on creativity and loves to be inspired by the creativity of others. Her passion is storytelling in all its forms of expression. Some of those loves are American Sign Language, theater, film, audio drama and the varied mediums of art (painting, drawing, etc.). She wants to be involved in film production someday, as she is already involved in theater production and would like to be able to turn her hobbies into a full time occupation. 

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