Resilience in the Face of an Epidemic: W. S. Maugham’s the Painted Veil and Its Film Adaptations

Conference: The Asian Conference on Media, Communication & Film (MediAsia2021)
Title: Resilience in the Face of an Epidemic: W. S. Maugham’s the Painted Veil and Its Film Adaptations
Stream: Film and Literature: Artistic Correspondence
Presentation Type: Virtual Presentation
Irina Stanova, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium


William Somerset Maugham’s classical novel The Painted Veil (1924) and its three Hollywood adaptations (1934, 1957, 2006) explore a marital crisis set against a cholera epidemic in China in the 1920s. The source text and the film adaptations approach the epidemic from different perspectives, exploring its dramatic potential, metaphorical aspects and an overall impact on the population. They also offer a possibility for a (post)colonial (re)evaluation of the role of Western imperialist powers in disease management. Based on the material provided by the selected literary and cinematic works, resilience in the face of an epidemic is considered from three perspectives. Firstly, the particularities of individual and group resilience are contrasted, and it is demonstrated that the disease and resistance to it are handled differently at the personal level and at the level of specific social and ethnic groups. Secondly, resilience is seen as built up and maintained in diverging ways when regarded from a scientific perspective as opposed to religious or spiritual approaches. Finally, resilience reveals itself differently in the context of the local versus Occidental response to the epidemic, bringing forward the East-West dichotomy. These tensions and contradictions are proved to be dependent to a significant degree on the evolving beliefs and attitudes, predominant ideological trends, and particular historical and political contexts of the novel and film production.

Virtual Presentation

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