Despite her greediness and tendency to use people, Mrs. Garstin is a brave and resourceful woman who knows how to make the best out of her situation. Faced with her husband's stalled career, she sets her hopes on making advantageous marriages for her two daughters, especially the beautiful and charming (though rather shallow) Kitty.
During Kitty's debut year, she receives a dozen proposals. However, none of her suitors had the requisite rank and wealth. Several more years passed, and soon Kitty had reached the age of 25 without finding a husband. Mrs. Garstin notices that men in their forties and fifties are beginning to become interested in Kitty, and she urges her daughter to lower her standards. Kitty, confident in her beauty and charm, does not do this. Kitty and Mrs. Garstin argue ferociously, with Mrs. Garstin demanding to know how much longer she will be expected to support her spinster daughter and pressuring her daughter to make a match with a man form the professional class.
It is the engagement of Kitty's sister Doris (a plain, rather boring girl) at the age of 18 to the son of a prosperous surgeon who had inherited a baronetcy during the war. Kitty married Walter Fane in a panic.
Kitty had seen Walter at parties before, though she had never taken much note of him. They'd danced together a few times and Kitty had noticed how solicitous and shy Walter was around her, but he had never aggressively pursued her as other men had, and so she thought nothing of it. He visited Kitty's home a few times, though he remained shy and quiet there as well. Mrs. Garstin interrogated Kitty about this unusual man, but Kitty lightly remarks that she would never marry a man such as Walter Fane.
Kitty began seeing Walter Fane more and more at various social events, and though he is still quite reserved, he often seeks out her company. Kitty's father takes a liking to the man, and asks Kitty if she plans to marry him. She says that Walter annoys her a bit. She also wonders if Walter is engaged to someone back in Hong Kong. Kitty is struck by the horror that her younger, plainer sister Doris will be married while she herself is still single, and wrings her hands about all the acceptable suitors she so coldly rejected. Kitty is certain that Doris, so often neglected in favor of her beautiful older sister, will not hesitate to seize the opportunity to mock her.
One day, Kitty runs into Walter at the park. The two chat and take a walk together, when suddenly Walter clumsily asks Kitty to marry him. Kitty is stunned; she never thought Walter loved her, and she hardly knows him, but she mulls over the situation. Walter has to get back to China by November, so Kitty can schedule her wedding before Doris's and avoid being a bridesmaid at her little sister's wedding. Moreover, marrying Walter would get her away from her mother, and away from all of her friends who had married long ago and had children now. Kitty accepts Walter's marriage proposal, provided that they wed at once.
During their marriage, Kitty was rather stunned to see Walter's level of quiet devotion to her; he always stood in when she entered a room, took off his hat when he saw her, and so on. Kitty does not appreciate these gestures, and instead becomes frustrated with Walter's awkwardness at parties and social events. For example, Kitty is quite happy to chat away, but Walter is much more subdued and often frustrated Kitty by providing one-word answers to her observations.
Kitty is also frustrated by the low status of Walter's occupation. They share no hobbies - he likes reading, while she prefers social activities such as sports. Kitty begins to realize how incredibly ill suited they are to each other, despite the fact that he would do anything in the world to please her.
Walter is a sharp contrast to the dashing and elegant Charles Townsend, whom Kitty met at a dinner party. Kitty likes the fancy way that Charles dresses, as well as his interest in sports. The flirtation between the two quickly became something more, and they commenced with their affair.
Kitty had never been in love until she met Charles Townsend, but now she is quite head over heels for him. Indeed, she can hardly even look at Walter now; she disliked her husband before, but now she despises him. She is, however, quite certain that Charlie's love for her is equal to hers for him.
Despite the happy glow that Kitty achieves from being in love, she and Charles are careful to keep their affair a secret. Though he is nearly twenty years older than he is, she delights in being in his arms.
Kitty's mother never considers that it might be her who is pushing away her daughter's suitors through her relentless grasping for social position. Instead, she chooses to blame Kitty for her high standards - never admitting that it was she herself who instilled those high standards.
Kitty's reaction to her sister Doris' wedding reveals a great deal about Kitty's character. Kitty feels no happiness or excitement for her sister; rather, she worries what people will think if she is a bridesmaid at her younger, plainer sister's wedding. Kitty is so desperate to avoid this embarrassment that she consents to marry Walter, with whom she is very poorly matched - the two do not share any interests or values.
The interest that Kitty's father takes in Walter Fane draws a parallel between the two men. Kitty has considered both of them primarily as a means for economic support at different times in her life. Will she ever establish a relationship with either of them based on affection? This remains to be seen.
When Walter proposes to Kitty, he is so desperate and obsequious that she compares him to a dog. "They had a tenderness which she had never seen in them before, but there was something beseeching in them, like a dog's that has been whipped, which slightly exasperated her" (pg. 19). Comparing Walter to a dog, when taken with Kitty's given name, gives the impression of diametrically opposed opposites - which the two certainly are. Given how terribly matched they are, it is difficult to blame Kitty entirely for the affair.