‘Portrait of Jennie’ Review

Michael Parke, Staff Writer

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 Portrait of Jennie, by Robert Nathan, is a tragic love story set during the Depression era.

     Readers follow Eben Adams, a poor painter in the city, and his walk back home through a park. He encounters a girl named Jennie Appleton, and together they walk to Eben’s apartment where she disappears. Each time we see her she gets older until one day a disaster strikes.

     What I like in this novella is the characterisation of each figure: Jennie as a person of the last, Arne as a person of now and Eben as a man truly stuck in between. There are clues hidden throughout on impending danger, like with a painting that Eben himself does and presents to his customer, or with the chilling poem Jennie recites:

“Where I come from

Nobody knows;

And where I’m going

Everything goes.

The wind blows,

The sea flows—

And nobody knows.”

(P 283 from Stories to Remember Vol. 1)

Nathan manages to make the story a bit grey, somber and tragic in this space restriction, and all of it feels natural.

     If I had to make a comparison with something else it’d be with The Twilight Zone. The story predates the show by almost two decades, but it has an impact comparable to that of any episode of the series. In 1948 Hollywood made a film adaptation of Portrait of Jennie, going by the same name, and although I have not watched the film, its reviews are as stellar as the book’s.

     Overall I liked it. I liked its message of letting go of the past, its characters and the mood created throughout. Although the pacing could’ve been quicker for people of the modern age, I believe that readers must keep some things in mind: it was written in the late 1930s; the breaks between Eben and Jennie’s moments together reflect their experiences. It is necessary for any book, especially one of this matter, to create this connection with people. If you need to read a classic science fiction piece, check this out.

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‘Portrait of Jennie’ Review