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.)