Boston Adventure, Stafford’s first novel, was also her most popular work. Although critics do not consider it her best novel, they do point out how effectively Stafford presents the inner life of the protagonist, much in the manner of the nineteenth century novelists Henry James and Marcel Proust.
The story is divided into two parts, each of which has been given the title of a place. Book 1 is called “Hotel Barstow,” after the summer place on the North Shore across from Boston, where Sonia Marburg, the poverty-stricken protagonist, sees the wealthy Bostonians whose lives she yearns to imitate. Book 2 is titled “Pinckney Street,” after the exclusive area in Beacon Hill to which Sonia is taken by a benefactor.
Sonia has good reason to want to escape from the place of her birth. The daughter of two immigrants who have failed to achieve the American Dream, she spends her childhood in a drafty shack, listening to her parents’ quarrels, which are interrupted only by their bouts of drunkenness. Her beautiful but bad-tempered Russian mother, who works as a chambermaid at Hotel Barstow, hates her husband, a German shoemaker she met on the boat trip to America, because he cannot give her the luxury he promised. From her earliest consciousness, Sonia feels unwanted; indeed, her father tells her that she should never have been born.
Sonia cannot help contrasting the chaotic atmosphere of her home with the order of the Hotel Barstow room occupied by an aristocratic Boston spinster, Lucy Pride. Because...
(The entire section is 632 words.)