The Painted Veil

The Painted Veil Summary and Analysis of Chapters 17-27


Chapter 17

Kitty imagines how wonderful it would be if she and Charlie were both free and could marry. She reasons that this is exactly what might happen if Walter discovers the affair: Charles will divorce his wife Dorothy, Walter will divorce her, and Kitty can live happily ever after with Charles. She dreams of what a devoted wife she would make for him. Still, Kitty cannot help but feel an apprehension that soon turns into fear - Walter will be home soon, and he might confront her. Kitty steels herself for this possibility: she never loved him anyway, and this will give her the opportunity to marry Charles!

Chapter 18

Walter is pale and quiet when he comes home, and the great confrontation that Kitty expected never happens. Instead, there is an ominous silence between the two. They make small talk, and they go to bed without discussing anything. Kitty is in a state of dread.

Chapter 19

Kitty calls Charles and demands that he meet her at the curio shop. He grudgingly agrees.

Chapter 20

Kitty pours out her heart to Charles - she is certain Walter knows about their affair, and his disturbing silence is his passive way of dealing with the problem. Charles is quite puzzled at how upset Kitty is about a little silence, but he suggests that perhaps Walter won't want a confrontation, and that he will allow the whole thing to blow over. Kitty finds this preposterous; she knows how madly in love Walter is with her. Charles replies that women often think men are more in love with them than they actually are. Kitty is deeply disturbed by these words from her lover, but Charles reassures her of his affections and support. The two make love.

Chapter 21

Kitty and Walter dine at the club that night, and Walter's odd silence continues. He looks pale and preoccupied, and can barely make small talk with the other guests. Kitty wonders if he will just look the other way as she continues the affair, or if he is plotting some kind of awful revenge on her. She once again compares the introverted, awkward Walter with the dashing Charles. Still, she is stunned by the sadness in Walter's eyes.

Chapter 22

The next day, Walter wakes Kitty from her nap and explains that he is going to a town called Mei-tan-fu, which is in the grip of a horrible cholera epidemic. Kitty is horrified by this news - the epidemic is so severe that it is a death sentence to go there. She is completely unprepared when Walter says that she will go with him. Kitty protests: the danger is too great; she will surely die. Walter replies that she out to accompany her dear husband. When Kitty protests more vehemently, he threatens to file a petition against her.

Chapter 23

Walter explains that he has all the proof of her affair necessary to do this. Kitty protests that she should be allowed to divorce him herself, and Walter replies that the only way Charles Townsend will marry her is if the scandal is so great that his wife Dorothy is forced to divorce him. Kitty flies into a rage. She and Charles love each other, and he is only too eager to marry her.

She says that she never loved Walter, and he replies that he already knows she married him so that she would be wed before her sister Doris. Walter explains that he knew how stupid and shallow Kitty was, but he loved her anyway. Kitty shouts at Walter, explaining how she was always so bored by everything he tried to make her do. Walter stays completely calm in the face of her rage, which unnerves her. At last, Walter says that he will not take Kitty to Mei-tan-fu and will allow her to divorce him if Charles promises divorce his wife and marry Kitty. Kitty is exultant - at last, her dream will come true! Walter chuckles ominously, but Kitty rushes off to see Charles.

Chapter 25

Gently, Charles says that this is out of the question - nothing will induce Dorothy to divorce him. He adds that he has his sons to think of, and though he and Dorothy rarely sleep together, they are close friends and he depends on her a great deal. Kitty asks him about his promises of love, and Charles replies that he does love her, but he must think of his career and the potential resulting scandal.

He did fall in love with Kitty, and he's quite willing to offer her help, but he doesn't want to spend the rest of his life with her. Kitty replies sardonically that he will have no problem bearing any inconvenience she has to suffer.

Chapter 26

Kitty explains that Walter wants her to go with him to the cholera epidemic in Mei-tan-fu, or else he will bring an action against her. Charles comments that this is really quite decent of him, to Kitty's utter astonishment. Charles observes that Walter probably wants to get Kitty out of harm's way, and she should be fine in the midst of the epidemic if she's careful about what she eats and drinks. He emphasizes once again that he will not marry her. With sudden clarity,

Kitty realizes that this was always Walter's plan - he knew that Charles would not marry her, and he wanted her to see her lover's duplicity with her own eyes. Utterly heartbroken, Kitty suggests that death from cholera may be a release, and goes home.

Chapter 27

Kitty tells Walter that she will go with him to Mei-tan-fu. He says that they will leave tomorrow, and that he has already told the amah what she will need.


Kitty oscillates between terror at Walter's reaction to the affair, and wild delight at finally having the chance to marry Charles. However, the confrontation she desires is very slow in coming; rather than meeting her in a rage, Walter is quiet and polite and consumed by a secret sadness. For the chatty Kitty, this is even more frightening than if Walter had confronted her screaming.

This chapter assumes a familiarity with divorce law in early twentieth-century Britain. If Walter brings a petition against Kitty and Charles, this means he is taking legal action against them for adultery. If he simply allows Kitty to divorce him (which became legal after the high rate of troubled marriages following the First World War), this will be a private legal matter without serious ramifications.

Why does Walter want Kitty to go with him to Mei-tan-fu? What purpose does his wager (he will divorce Kitty and allow her to stay in Hong Kong if Charles will agree to marry her) serve? In part, Walter may want revenge - being in the midst of a cholera epidemic will be unpleasant and perhaps even fatal for Kitty. He says that Kitty will not have to accompany him to this dangerous place if Charles will marry her, and at first she is delighted, because this is her dream. However, Walter has an acute understanding of Charles' personality, and knows that he will not risk his relationship with his wife or his position to marry Kitty.

During one of their prior rendezvous, Charles remarks to Kitty, "Well, you know, women are often under the impression that men are much more madly in love with them than they really are" (pg. 36). Though he quickly assures Kitty of his affections for her, this quote foreshadows Charles' reaction when Kitty asks him if he will marry her; though he insists her does love her, he does not have strong enough feelings to want to abandon his wife and children for her.

Walter having told the amah what Kitty will need for the journey to Mei-tan-fu indicates two things: firstly, he was certain that Charles would reject Kitty's request for marriage, and she would willing go with Walter into the epidemic; it also demonstrates that Walter believes he knows as well or better than his wife does what she'll need for this arduous journey.