Heinrich Lee loses his father in early childhood. Thereafter, Frau Lee devotes her life to the happiness of her son. She has a boundless faith in the boy’s future, and methodically she uses her small inherited fortune for his education. A large supply of green cloth, left by the father, is used for Heinrich’s clothing, which earns him the nickname Grüner Heinrich, or Green Henry.
When fifteen-year-old Heinrich is dismissed from school for his part in a student prank, he visits relatives in the country and falls in love with his cousin Anna, a beautiful but frail girl. In the same village, he meets Judith, a well-to-do widow, who loves Heinrich. She knows about his love for Anna but assures him that there is enough room in his heart for both. Judith does not intend to leave their relationship on a platonic basis only, and as a result Heinrich is torn between his deep love for the frail Anna and his attraction to the sensual Judith.
Because it is impossible for Heinrich to complete his course of studies, his mother agrees to help him fulfill his dream of becoming a painter. All of Frau Lee’s friends oppose this idea, for it is unthinkable that the child of a respected citizen should embark on so insecure and uncertain a career. In spite of these objections, Frau Lee arranges Heinrich’s apprenticeship in an etcher’s studio. Thereafter, when he visits the village in which Anna and Judith live, he enjoys being called a painter.
After spending some time in a school in Switzerland, Anna becomes ill and dies. Heinrich guards her body during the night before her funeral.
Before long, Heinrich exhausts the knowledge he can gain in the etcher’s studio. His luck changes when he meets a professional painter named Römer. From the start, Römer shows great interest in Heinrich’s work and agrees to be his tutor for a reasonable fee. As usual, Frau Lee is willing to help her son, even though Römer is regarded as completely unreliable, and his talk about connections with members of the aristocracy make him unpopular among her liberal-minded friends. Furthermore, Römer’s financial situation seems not to be as favorable as he tries to have it appear. Proof of this comes when Heinrich, wanting to discontinue his lessons, is approached by Römer for a loan. Heinrich receives more lessons in return for money regarded as a loan.
One day Römer sells a painting. He decides to use the money for a trip to Paris because life in the town has become unbearable for him. Frau Lee writes a polite note in regard to the loan, and Heinrich tries to appeal to Römer’s aristocratic code of honor in order to get the money. Surprisingly, Römer pays without hesitation. Weeks later, Heinrich receives a letter, telling him that Römer is dying in an insane asylum in Paris; the payment to Heinrich left him without a single franc after his arrival there. Heinrich feels guilty because he believes that he has destroyed Römer’s only chance for a new life. He goes to Judith to discuss his moral guilt. She declares bluntly that Heinrich murdered Römer and that he will be forced to live with his crime. Heinrich tells Judith that he can no longer meet her because he wants to remain faithful to Anna. Disappointed, Judith decides to emigrate to America, taking Heinrich’s diary with her.
Heinrich decides to go to Munich. Once more, Frau Lee has difficulty persuading the trustees of Heinrich’s inheritance...
(The entire section is 1409 words.)