Portrait of Jennie Critical Essays

Robert Nathan

Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy Portrait of Jennie Analysis

Portrait of Jennie combines the Künstlerroman, romantic fantasy, and a love story. The fantasy centers on Jennie as a character. Except for her unusual prescience and insight, she seems to be a normal, beautiful young girl, yet it is apparent that Jennie experiences time differently. Each time she appears to Eben after an absence of two weeks or more, she seems to have aged several years. Jennie leaves for France in early spring and returns in September. The time to Eben is one summer, but the newspaper account of her death reports that she has been away eight years.

Although Jennie is devoted to Eben from the very beginning, her development prompts him to change his interest from aesthetic to romantic, but he succeeds only with the Jennie of his imagination. Appropriately, in a young girl not bound by normal limitations of time, Eben discovers a subject for a portrait transcending time.

The fantasy and idyllic love are first set in New York, in a time of economic hardship that is described in stark realism. Later, the Cape Cod setting reveals both the beauty and the destructiveness of nature. The minor characters are for the most part depicted realistically, yet with one exception they reveal their soft sides in their efforts to support a young artist. Gus Meyer, the friendly cab driver who calls everyone “Mack,” gives Eben free rides except when he knows that Eben has sold a painting. Beneath their crusty exteriors,...

(The entire section is 475 words.)