Over the course of the novel, it seems as though Jenny presents a very negative view of Kitty and of Kitty and Chris’s marriage. Kitty is presented as caring only of her appearance, looking down on Margaret when she calls, and practically vapid. Jenny criticizes Kitty’s time spent in the empty nursery and towards the end of the novel adopts the opinion that Kitty and Chris’s marriage is loveless.
At first, I was on board with this vilification. Kitty appeared as though she were a self-centered, high class woman who was only concerned with her image and personal desires. She has Jenny brush her hair for her and has rearranged and redecorated the entire Baldry estate. I practically cheered as Chris ran to the arms of an earlier love. But as I thought more about the historical time and the feelings that Kitty might have had, my opinion changed.
By all accounts, Kitty is a woman of some social substance prior to marrying into the Baldry family. As such, she would have been trained to be the lady of a household and to outwardly portray all that society demanded of her. Even while receiving guests at the start of the novel, she says, “I’m seeing [Margaret] because she may need something, and I specially want to be kind to people while Chris is away” (52). She is dutifully fulfilling the role that her station in life has thrust upon her. Kitty does all of this while pining for her husband who has gone off to a known bloody war. Additionally, she ensures that the house is running in proper order and that when Chris returns a meal is waiting for him.
When Chris does return, Kitty is faced with the fact that he has forgotten their entire marriage and is in love with a prior fiancé, whom she had no knowledge existed. This is further complicated by the telegram she reads which states that Chris said, “I don’t like little women and I hate everybody, male or female, who sings” (62). Not only has her husband forgotten her completely, but now she questions whether he ever really loved her or was lying about his fondness for her singing.
The final point that moved me to immense sympathy for Kitty is the death of Oliver and her inability to conceive further children. She clearly has trouble accepting the loss of her son as she sits in a furnished nursery that is complete save the child it housed. This grief is exacerbated by the knowledge that no other child will ever take up residence in that room.
At the end of the novel, Kitty is joyous at the “return” of her husband because it means some semblance of balance is returning to what truly appears to be an unhappy life.
Meninsky, Bernard. Study of a mother and a baby. 1918, gouache on card, private collection.