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name Agnes Boulton Burton. Her First Adventure tells of Jenny Nielsen, sixteen, a shopgirl, ashamed of her shabbiness and the sounds and smells of poverty in the tenement flat she shares with her married sister. Jenny is beautiful, and that is how she got her job in a fashionable shop, but she despises her poverty, and one day finds herself obsessed with a furtrimmed cloak in a secondhand shop. She has a reckless impulse to spend all her fourteen-dollar weekly wage on it, and with it, she believes, she will be able to observe—and know—the women who can afford the fine products she merely wraps at the store: “For a little while she wanted to explore the beauty of the world. There was no possible beauty or romance in her own life—but beyond that she could see a glittering life that she could not quite grasp.”35 Walking on Fifth Avenue, wearing the cloak, she encounters a handsome man, Julian, who asks her to dinner. She goes with him to his apartment and discovers “that real life [is] as romantic as the life in novels.” The erotic dimensions of the scene are implied but never spelled out, as the older, married man (his wife is away in England) sizes up this ingenuous girl in her elegant cloak. The cloak is, by wild coincidence, one that his wife had worn and then discarded. He asks Jenny to think of him as a brother, a protector, a friend. Then she departs, not even knowing his name. It is like a dream to her, but she holds in her hand a bouquet and in her pocketbook one hundred dollars. Julian aims to be pure in his intentions toward this naive woman, but she can hardly live up to the ideal suggested, as much as anything else, by his wife’s discarded cloak. She lacks the resilience and intuitive grasp of a Sister Carrie—or indeed Agnes Boulton, schooled by Harry Kemp and her own mother—who knew quite well what lies behind most glittering surfaces. The next day, the sudden upturn in the quality of Jenny’s clothing draws the attention of her sister, who, after learning how the money had been obtained, insists upon its return. Her drunken brother-in-law takes a different attitude: “If you’re as far gone as all that, you might as well help to bring in a little money for the family!” Julian, however, is overwhelmed by the transformation (“You are a woman tonight”), but troubled about what course to take. His constructive vision of her is that she should be an artist, a musician. A day later, the brother-in-law has thrown her out of the apartment, and so she turns to Julian, and at once the story moves beyond “dreary, sexless Mid-Victorian” storytelling: “In that long kiss that seemed to set fire to Jenny’s soul, they extinguished the universe and stood trembling on the edge of unbearable ecstasy.” Though he is secretly racked with 40 • Another Part of a Long Story guilt, she is not, and she accepts with pleasure the offered apartment and maid and music lessons. As it turns out, though, the study of music interests her far less than she had thought it would. She has fallen in love with him. Julian is real, she believes, even if she is not. One night they dine at a restaurant up the Hudson, and there they both register the awkwardness of being joined together from such different classes. Julian points out a woman at another table: “Look at her beautiful, restless, predatory eyes. Her smartness can be branded at once as imitative. Look at the smiles she gives to the man she is with—what a lack of attention they cover! She is his mistress.” There is a lesson here for Jenny, and for Boulton’s readers, pointing to the artfulness needed for female survival in the modern world, serving the illusions of men in a way that usually disappears. Julian, however, perhaps because of that very recognition, cannot sustain the affair for long and eventually confesses he is married. “Fascinated ,” he watches as she crumples into “a sorry little heap.” The novelette ends some weeks or months later with a Madame Butterfly sort of epilogue . A woman comes to the door of Jenny’s sister’s apartment—it is Julian’s wife, and she is there because “they” feel some reparation is due. Too late...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780472027057
Related ISBN
9780472117178
MARC Record
OCLC
657217551
Pages
328
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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