The Painted Veil

The Painted Veil Summary and Analysis of Chapters 49-61


Chapter 49

Kitty looks after the children in the convent, and finds the work to be great refreshment. Kitty is frightened of the Chinese children at first, but eventually grows tender with them.

Still, Kitty cannot get over her feelings of revulsion for one child who suffers from severe developmental disabilities who follows her everywhere. Eventually, Kitty forces herself to hug the child, who then wanders away.

Chapter 50

Kitty sees relatively little of the nuns, though she does still find some time to chat with Sister Saint Joseph. The Sister often speaks of her childhood in the French countryside, as well as her respect for Walter.

Chapter 51

Sister Saint Joseph also explains the history of the convent, and how the nuns themselves built it with their own hands. They nearly starved many times, but were always saved by unexpected donations, particularly from Waddington.

Sister Saint Joseph mentions that Waddington lives with a woman, a Manchu princess, who loves him to distraction. Waddington saved her life during the revolution, and now she follows him everywhere. Sister Saint Joseph does not entirely approve of this illicit romance, but Kitty is intrigued.

Chapter 52

Kitty grows used to Mei-tan-fu and her new life there. One day she realizes that she has not dreamed or thought of Charles Townsend in quite a long time, and she dances for joy with the little children in her care.

Suddenly the Mother Superior enters the room, and Kitty freezes mid-dance. The Mother Superior says it does the heart good to look at her, and praises God for the beauty in the world.

Chapter 53

One day, Kitty visits a Buddhist monastery with Waddington; the place is shoddy and empty, and the monks seem to be awaiting their chance to leave.

Chapter 54

Kitty and Waddington sit on the banks of the river, chatting about Kitty’s work in the convent. She mentions the Manchu princess to him, and Waddington says he likes to keep that quiet, since it would not help his chances of promotion in the service.

He says that she has abandoned everything for his sake, and he will stay in China with her until his death. Kitty asks if she can meet her, and Waddington says yes. Kitty feels as though the Manchu woman is a symbol of another way to live life.

Chapter 55

One day at the convent, Kitty grows nauseous and faints. At first she is terrified that she has finally come down with cholera, but the nuns tell her it is something else – she is pregnant. Kitty is stunned and terrified, and heads home to rest.

Chapter 56

Kitty tells Walter the news. He asks if it is his, and Kitty pauses for a long time. Though she knows that it would sweep away all the rage he has for her is she says that it is his, she doesn’t know for sure and cannot bring herself to lie to him. She says she does not know.

Kitty badly needs sympathy and Walter, shallow and wan, looks like he needs some good news. But Kitty does not regret telling the truth. Walter heads back to work.

Chapter 57

One night, Walter tells her that it would be best for her to return to Hong Kong, given her condition. He has even made all the necessary arrangements. Kitty is rather perplexed by his sudden concern, and asks him if he brought her to Mei-tan-fu with the intent of killing her. He says that this was his plan at first. Kitty shudders, but rather than feeling fearful she simply wonders why he can't let go of his rage when surrounded by death. Kitty replies that she would prefer to stay and continue working at the convent. Walter mocks her for her devotion to the nuns and Chinese children. Rather than being hurt, Kitty calms points out that she doesn't have a soul in the world that she can go to.

Chapter 58

A few days later, Walter brings Kitty over his house and introduces her to his paramour, the Manchu woman. She is clad in rich makeup and clothing, and quite beautiful intimidating. The two women chat through Waddington; he explains that the Machu woman sometimes paints or writes poems, but mostly sits all day. Kitty marvels at this exotic woman, whose life points to a way of being she has never considered before. She explains this to Waddington, and he suggests that she might be looking for the Tao, the way that leads nowhither.

Chapter 59

The nuns are delighted by Kitty's pregnancy, and treat her tenderly. They adore Walter and assume Kitty does also, which makes her uncomfortable. She knows that Walter will never forgive, but wishes he could let go of this burden for his own sake.

Chapter 60

One day, the Mother Superior tells Kitty the story of how she entered the order. As her parents' only daughter, she was terrified about the reaction they would have to her leaving the world, but her mother already guessed her intention and freely offered her blessing. The Mother Superior's father had a somewhat harder time.

The Mother Superior gently pats a child who had walked up to her, and explains to Kitty that there is only one way to become loved: to make oneself like those that one would be loved by.

Chapter 61

Kitty thinks over her circumstances. She wishes she could tell the Mother Superior the truth of her circumstances, but isn't sure how the great woman would judge her. She thinks of Charles with disgust, and wonders what will happen when her baby is born. Walter can be trusted to treat it with kindness regardless of its paternity. Kitty thinks it odd that she should be so unmoved by such a good man.


Kitty's acceptance of the hydrocephalic child is symbolic of her acceptance of her own undesirable qualities, and the parts of her personality that are as ugly as this child. She has grown enough to be disgusted by her selfishness and vanity, but her hatred for these qualities could have been a hindrance in themselves; notice, for instance, how Walter has become so trapped in his own anger and hate.

The day when Kitty realizes she has not thought of Charles Townsend for a long time, either in either desire or hate, marks the beginning of her true freedom. Even the Mother Superior cannot help but remark on her radiance during this occasion. Kitty is not only free from this degrading love, but also free from the rage and hatred that Walter is still mired in.

Kitty's words to Walter following her discover of her pregnancy also mark a turning point for her character. By telling Walter that she doesn't know whether it is his child, she is showing her own commitment to honesty and her refusal to keep lying to her husband. If she had told Walter it was his child, all would have been forgiven and they could have gone back to their peaceful (if loveless) life together. However, Kitty knows she would be lying, and she refuses this easy out.

The comparison between the Catholic convent and Buddhist monastery suggests differences of both religion and gender. While the Catholic monastery is a bustling hive of children and activity, the Buddhist monastery is filled with older men who seem to be waiting their chance to leave. This suggests an unfavorable comparison between Buddhism and Catholicism; the latter is represented as an aging religion, which the former is dynamic and growing. It may also suggest that the nuns, as working women dedicated to the preservation of the lives of children, are more admirable than the monks, primarily men who have renounced the world entirely.