The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Portrait of Jennie combines the fantasy romance with the Künstlerroman in a lyrical and highly imaginative, yet poignant, celebration of humanity’s ability to triumph over time. In 1938, Eben Adams, a New York artist, is experiencing a winter of the mind, a time when nothing he paints turns out right. Walking through Central Park on a cold afternoon, he encounters a young child playing hopscotch and converses with her. She gives her name as Jennie Appleton but offers no explanation of her unusual aloneness. As they part, she asks him to wait for her to grow up.

Later, in an effort to sell his landscapes, Eben goes to a gallery operated by Mr. Mathews and his assistant, Miss Spinney. Mathews shows little interest in the paintings but purchases a sketch of Jennie, which Eben inadvertently had included in the portfolio. Mathews suggests that Eben paint women because painters’ feminine subjects reveal a timelessness that their male subjects lack.

When Eben later encounters Jennie ice skating in the park, she appears to have grown older, as though approaching her teen years. He makes further sketches after their brief encounter, and Mr. Mathews buys them as well. Afterward, Jennie appears at his apartment and twice sits for her portrait. Each time she seems to have aged, and each time she manages to disappear as unexpectedly as she had appeared. During one of her visits to his small studio, she tells him that her parents...

(The entire section is 510 words.)

Form and Content

(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

Portrait of Jennie is a fantasy that depicts romantic love as a source of artistic inspiration. Its fifteen chapters are narrated in the first person from the viewpoint of the main character, Eben Adams, a New York artist. In the narrative, Adams takes a retrospective on his experience in 1938 from an indefinite future time. The Manhattan setting, beginning in winter during an economically depressed period, contributes to the optimistic theme that love, even tragic love, can enable one to triumph over adversity.

The book opens with Adams confessing that he is experiencing a “winter of the mind” when none of his paintings seems to be inspired and little hope exists that any will be; he suffers from an artistic loss of confidence. Adams paints mostly landscapes during a time when the market for them is poor. During an aimless walk through Central Park on a winter afternoon, he meets a beautiful young girl playing hopscotch alone. In conversation, she identifies herself as Jennie Appleton but puzzles Eben by explaining that her parents are acrobats at the Hammerstein Music Theater, a building that had burned several years earlier. She sings a childlike song that indicates that her origin and destination are shrouded in mystery, and, when they part, she asks Eben to wait for her to grow up.

Eben later makes a few sketches of Jennie and inadvertently places one in a collection of landscape paintings that he hopes to sell to Mr. Mathews, the owner of a small gallery. Although he has little interest in the landscapes, Mathews is taken by the sketch of Jennie and buys it, along with one other painting. The sale provides rent...

(The entire section is 675 words.)