The title of Patricia Highsmith’s story refers in one sense to the reading tastes of the protagonist , Isabel. The story takes place in Manhattan, New York City. Despite living in a city, Isabel is a rather solitary character. The young, single woman is an avid reader of romance...
The title of Patricia Highsmith’s story refers in one sense to the reading tastes of the protagonist, Isabel. The story takes place in Manhattan, New York City. Despite living in a city, Isabel is a rather solitary character. The young, single woman is an avid reader of romance novels, which help relieve the tedium of her office clerk job. Another important character is Dudley Hall, a handsome man whom she meets at work; although he does appear in much of the story, he is significant as a catalyst for Isabel’s further actions when he makes and then breaks a date with her.
Isabel had no previous boyfriends because she was occupied caring for her ill parents, who have both died. After their death, she had opted not to pursue a sexual affair with a married man. Isabel is shown to be awkward and does not do well at small talk when she attends a party. She seems socially awkward in comparison to the other, vivacious secretaries at the office, so her date set up with Dudley puts her “in the clouds.” After he cancels, citing work, her disappointment is short lived. Rather, she reflects on her enjoyment while waiting for him in the restaurant. She thinks that it “had been enchantment. Black magic.”
Through the course of the story, Isabel becomes increasingly independent and starts to go to bars by herself. Another man from work asks her out and she accepts, but at the last minute, she decides not to keep the date. Instead, she opts to be on her own. “I prefer my own dates,” she thinks.
The story traces her actions and gives limited insight into her motivations. Highsmith does not assert any future trajectory, but the reader may infer not only that Isabel will continue to become an even more assertive person, but that she might begin picking up men in the bars.