The Truth About Lorin Jones

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 7)

Polly Alter begins as a biographer who believes that she knows the truth about Lorin Jones. Jones was a genius, who was first taken up by the distinguished art critic Garrett Jones, who married her and exploited her, and then by a much younger man, Hugh Cameron, who also took advantage of her and abandoned her shortly before her death. Other men—including her father, her brother, and at least one male art dealer—treated Jones with a callousness that contributed significantly to the sensitive artist’s early death. In short, Lorin Jones was a victim of male chauvinism.

Polly’s personal life confirms her belief that most men do not treat women as equals. Polly has broken up with her husband after twelve years of marriage, realizing that his move to Colorado and his bland assumption that she would give up everything for his career are only the most recent manifestations of a male attitude that has kept women from fulfilling their talent. Polly had begun with ambitions to be a painter, had abandoned her hopes for many years, and now has found it impossible to recover the inspiration and the stamina required for long hours of dedication to her art. To write a biography of a great painter, then, is one way of vicariously sharing in another’s genius. By examining the tragically short career of a female artist, Polly also hopes to uncover what went wrong in her own life.

At first, Polly finds the parallels between herself and Lorin striking and reassuring. Like Lorin, she is an only child, Jewish, and intensely dedicated to the art world. At the beginning, at least, Polly seemed to have as promising a career as Lorin’s. Polly’s father is rather like Lorin’s, charming with the ladies but not a reliable partner and helper for them—or so Polly thinks at the outset. Later she discovers several things about Lorin’s father that suggest that women (including the woman he married after the death of Lorin’s mother) appreciated his loving, energetic sexiness. Moreover, her own father surprises her by exhibiting a thoughtfulness and responsiveness she did not think he could manage.

Although Polly does not say so, she evidently regards herself as one woman helping another, telling the truth about Lorin Jones that none of her men would dare to confess. In her own life, Polly has the support of Jeanne, a lesbian who counsels wariness of men and encourages Polly in her militantly feminist version of Lorin’s life.

Yet things begin to come apart, both in Polly’s life and in her biography of Lorin. Jeanne proves to be rather manipulative. She moves in with Polly and tells her how to run her life, how to rear her son, and how to treat the men who come into her life. At the same time, the men whom Polly interviews for Lorin’s biography appear to be far more sympathetic and complex than she had imagined, and Lorin herself becomes a much more elusive, more complex, and less endearing heroine than her biographer had supposed. Jacky Herbert, the art dealer, reveals aspects of Lorin that suggest that she was virtually impossible to work with—insulting major patrons of the gallery and removing her works while they were on exhibit.

Polly visits Garrett Jones. His courtliness, his apparent frankness about his marriage to Lorin, and his vulnerability when remembering his love for the artist deeply impress Polly. Even though the critic is also something of a lecher who turns out not to have told Polly the whole truth, his picture of Lorin as an artist craving solitude and a woman whom he could not satisfy is convincing.

Similarly, Hugh—described by many of Polly’s sources as an infantile playboy who took Lorin away from Garrett for the thrill of it and probably for her money—proves to be a sensitive, down-to-earth man who probably loved Lorin more than she ever loved him. His story that he supported her makes sense, since Lorin had only a few thousand dollars and was not selling her paintings. Not that Hugh is blameless; in fact, he seduces Polly, pretending to be a workman letting her into Hugh’s house. She is angry, but the incident only serves to prove how wide off the mark these men are from the monsters she had pictured in her feminist screed.

For a period, Polly’s love for Lorin turns to hate, for she sees how her subject allowed men to take care of her. Only when she tired of the man—when Garrett, for example, took an intrusive attitude toward her work, prying into the creative process in ways that made her feel...

(The entire section is 1844 words.)

Techniques / Literary Precedents

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

The Truth about Lorin Jones is a retelling of Henry James's nineteenth-century novel of social criticism, The Bostonians....

(The entire section is 395 words.)

Related Titles

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

With The Truth about Lorin Jones, Lurie continues her acerbic exploration of American society, specifically the relationship between...

(The entire section is 943 words.)


(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 7)

Booklist. LXXXIV, July, 1988, p. 1755.

Kirkus Reviews. LVI, July 1, 1988, p. 924.

Library Journal. CXIII, September 1, 1988, p. 183.

London Review of Books. X, September 1, 1988, p. 24.

Ms. XVII, October, 1988, p. 88.

The Nation. CCXLVII, November 21, 1988, p. 540.

The New York Times Book Review. XCIII, September 4, 1988, p. 3.

Newsweek. CXII, October 10, 1988, p. 74.

People Weekly. XXX, November 7, 1988, p. 38.

Publishers Weekly. CCXXXIV, July 8, 1988, p. 39.

Time. CXXXII, September 19, 1988, p. 95.

The Times Literary Supplement. July 8, 1988, p. 759.