By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept and the Assumption of Rogues and Rascals Summary

Elizabeth Smart

By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept and the Assumption of Rogues and Rascals

First published in 1945, BY GRAND CENTRAL STATION I SAT DOWN AND WEPT has since been acclaimed as a masterpiece. Written in the first person, it lays bare the profound and complex emotions of a young woman obsessively in love with a married man. The man returns her ardor, and they embark on a passionate affair, but he eventually goes back to his ailing wife. The narrator, who is pregnant, is devastated. She feels that love itself has been betrayed. She imagines—or perhaps actually plans—suicide.

The narrative is ambiguous and oblique. The course of events has to be inferred from scraps of conversation and reportage mingled with sensual descriptions of dream, nightmare, and fantasy. The language is poetic—rich and rhythmic, layered with classical, biblical, literary, and Freudian reference and metaphor, yet grounded in details of everyday living.

In a comparatively explicit passage, the lovers are arrested, presumably on an immorality charge, while crossing a U.S. state border. The author interlaces her report of the interrogation with lines from THE SONG OF SOLOMON. The contrast between the banality of the policeman’s language and the voluptuousness of the biblical quotations highlights the author’s central proposition—that love is the sole reason for living, transcending all other considerations; that the unhappiness and moral indignation of those around her, especially the women, spring from compromises forced on them by social pressures.

In THE ASSUMPTION OF ROGUES AND RASCALS the young woman, anticipating motherhood, asks herself searching questions about love, compromise, and survival. She is gradually breaking through her period of desolation. Her style is more explicit and includes passages of sardonic satire.

An editorial note explains that the novels were inspired by the author’s love affair with the English poet George Baker, with whom she had four children.