LOVE’S APPRENTICE: THE ROMANTIC EDUCATION OF A MODERN WOMAN opens with Shirley Abbott’s first encounter with love when she is six and her mother announces that she is taking her to the movies. The film was GULLIVERS TRAVELS and thereafter, Shirley Abbott read everything she could find on love. In her Southern hometown as an inexperienced young girl, movies, music, books and magazines were her sources of education in romance. By the time Abbott was in the eighth grade, she was obsessed with love. Her object of obsession became Joey Cash and he remained her love throughout high school.
She met Olivia Fitzmorris, who lived on the floor below her, when she went to college in Dallas. They soon became lesbian lovers; the relationship ended shortly after everyone on campus was talking and the dean of women called them into her office and confronted them. Shirley left for Paris on scholarship soon thereafter. In Paris she read and experienced love and, the “sexual embrace” as she describes copulation. When she went to New York in her mid-twenties to live and work, she finally met and married Allen (Gil) Gillian. They had two daughters, Sarah and Margaret. Abbott called marriage the “Peculiar Institution.” and she watched hers deteriorate over the years.
One day Shirley received a letter from an old lover inviting her to meet him in France. She did and they had a glorious two weeks together before returning home to endure the “Peculiar Institution.”
This memoir is a highly readable work, both enlightening and compelling. Shirley Abbott is a gifted and charming writer.