Sixteen-year-old Adriana is beautiful. Her lips are red and full, her breasts high and firm. Her mother, a poor sewing woman, thinks of Adriana as her only capital; the family has been poverty-stricken since the illness and death of the father. Adriana’s mother does not conceal her opinion that their poverty can be traced to her marriage and to Adriana’s unwanted birth.
Thinking her daughter mature enough, the mother takes her to an artist to arrange for her career as a model. Adriana is not embarrassed by undressing before a strange man, nor is she much embarrassed when her mother punches and pats her naked body as she stresses her good points. Nevertheless, her mother’s shrill arguing about the pay is quite rude. She is especially violent with polite people, such as the artist, because they usually give in before her displays of temper.
The artist agrees to pay a higher fee with good grace. As he talks with Adriana afterward, he tries to tell her that her mother loves money above all else. Adriana is unconvinced. The artist is about forty years old and always correct in his behavior. When his pictures do not sell, he has no more work for Adriana. She has little difficulty in obtaining other jobs, because her figure is so fine, even heroic in proportions.
When modeling does not pay well enough, her mother tries to get Adriana a job as a dancer, and she secures an interview with a vaudeville manager. Adriana does her best, but she is miserably conscious of her clumsy feet. Even her mother’s shrewish scolding cannot win Adriana a job on the stage.
Adriana dutifully takes as many modeling jobs as she can, builds up a reputation for virtue among the artists, and sews shirts in the afternoons and the evenings. A turning point comes when she meets Gino.
Gino is soft-spoken and gentle despite his rough workman’s hands. He is a chauffeur for a wealthy family, and when he can, he takes Adriana for long rides. Her mother objects to the friendship, for she thinks Adriana’s beauty can win her a gentleman.
Adriana does not object when Gino invites her to his employer’s villa while the family is away. She willingly goes to his room, and afterward they sleep until past midnight. Adriana was never out so late before, and her suspicious mother is furious. She sets on her daughter with her fists and beats her as long as she has strength. Then she takes Adriana to an all-night clinic and has her examined by a doctor. When the doctor confirms her fears, she is glum but calm.
It is understood that Gino and Adriana will marry, but Gino finds excuses for delaying the wedding. The mother is pessimistic about the marriage. Gisella, Adriana’s friend, is also doubtful of Gino’s intentions and urges her to accept a rich lover while she can. She finally induces Adriana to go out to dinner with Astarita, a rich police official who is anxious to meet her....
(The entire section is 1196 words.)