I love the 2006 adaptation of the movie, and I read the book for the first time last year. Only yesterday I borrowed the book again because I wanted to write a brief comparison between the two. However, this is not a dissertation. See it more as an observation.
In the film, Kitty is seen as very spoilt and self-righteous but that whole feeling is exemplified about a hundred times more in the book. I quickly grew bored of her bleating on and on about how she loved Charlie more, etc etc…I was in fact very curious about the way that Walter is portrayed in the book; seeing as he is portrayed beautifully in the movie by Edward Norton, of Fight Club fame. However, one crucial point is that in the book there is no romantic journey completed by Walter and Kitty, as happens in the movie. They do not come out of it in the end reunited by love but parted by death. They are just parted by death. The end.
Furthermore, I think the emotional distance between Kitty and Walter seems as big as an ocean in the book. Walter comes across as very socially awkward but clever and he also hates society and the gossip mongering that is commonplace in Kitty’s world. In the film this is established through Kitty’s derivative comments about Dorothy Townsend’s unfortunate marriage in an offhand conversation to Walter. His response is to raise his eyebrows in bafflement, but the expression was just so understated and perfect for the scene.
In regards to Charles Townsend, Kitty’s lover, in the book I thought him to be a character similar to Jack Favell from Rebecca. Apart from that, I thought nothing of him as a character. In the book his story isn’t really tied up – yes, we see that he has used Kitty again and doesn’t care about her. You feel like his story arc could carry on forever and ever, with him seducing the wives of friends and colleagues while his wife endlessly forgives him. I still think that the film wins in the regard that it ends Charlie and Kitty’s story (more like a soap drama.) when she obliquely snubs him when she’s in London out with her son. (FURTHER SPOILERS BELOW.)
A big question that has been swilling around, I believe, in literary and movie forums concerned with the book and the film is…WHAT DID WALTER DIE OF? Yeeeeees, everyone knows it was cholera but there have been hints in the novel that perhaps it was something more. Did he commit suicide? Did he die of a broken heart?
My personal opinion is that it was perhaps a mixture of both of those. Maybe it was the intention of the Maugham dude who wrote the book in the first place to make a flawed hero who would die a martyr for the sake of medicine and what he believed in, coupled with the various references to suicide (for example, the scene with the unboiled food.) Perhaps a broken heart was in the mix, too, because he clearly loved her and he did try very hard to love her for what she was. I also loved the scenes in the book when the nuns talked about Walter’s fondness for babies.
I would welcome your own viewpoint on this. Many thanks for reading x