Woman in the Novel

John’s parents sent him to college to become a lawyer but he became a wandering artist instead, in love with love. While sketching in the countryside, he saw a young woman attending to a group of small children as they played. He asked her permission to sketch them but she gathered the children and hurried away. A few moments later, an older man came up the road to confront him, saying: “Who are you? What are you doing around here?” John showed the man his sketch book, and said: “I’m an artist. I just want to draw some pictures, sir. I don’t mean to harm anybody.”

The older man looked at the sketches, and said: “You’re a good artist. Let’s go to the house. You can draw more pictures down there. I’m the caretaker of this estate. The owner’s away on an extensive trip. The young woman to whom you spoke is betrothed to the owner, in an arrangement to payoff her family’s debt. She earns money from the local government by attending to the orphaned children who stay here.”

John remained for a while at the estate helping the caretaker with odd jobs and sketching portraits. He didn’t touch the young woman even though he thought she wanted to have sex with him when she posed nude for a painting. Later, when he looked at the finished painting he could see the desire expressed in her eyes. He had captured her perfectly. “This could be my masterpiece,” he concluded. And he brought the painting to a respected dealer in the capital city to get his evaluation.

“Who is she?” the dealer wanted to know.

“Just a model,” John replied.

“She’s too young to be posing like that, with that look of desire in her eyes. This picture is almost pornographic. It’s beautiful. But it’s not something I can sell here.”

Being a young man himself, John had not seen her as being too young. Yet, during the encounter with the dealer, he realized how the painting might suggest he had sex with the model, and he decided to keep it for himself. After hanging the painting in his small studio loft space, he thought about covering it because he felt her eyes following him around. He quickly adjusted to that, however. In fact, he began to actually enjoy it.

She became a real presence in his life and he started talking to her while standing in front of the picture, staring into her eyes. He even imagined himself making love to her. And he composed a love letter telling her of that. But when he traveled to the estate, wanting to hand deliver his love letter, he learned she had been taken by the owner to an undisclosed location in preperation for their marriage.

John returned home and placed the letter on a shelf beneath the painting. In order to ease his pain, he began to write a fictionalized account about having an ongoing relationship with the young woman in the painting even after she had married. Words flowed from his heart as he stood before the painting looking into her eyes.

The novel had immediate commercial success, allowing him to take his painting, which had inspired him throughout the writing process, and move to a much finer studio in the capital city. He thought about placing the painting on public display, or even using it to promote the novel, but he decide against that. He wanted to keep her all to himself. Plus, she might be recognized and everyone would assume she actually was the woman in the novel.

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7 Comments on “Woman in the Novel”

  1. missgypsy Says:

    Nice story, Definatly room for expansion (if you ever submitted it in a short story contest for example).


    • Thanks for reading it, missgypsy. You’re right, there’s room for expansion. This is a sketch to which I’ve been meaning to retrurn.

      I was thinking about Goethe when I wrote it. The Woman in the Novel is similar to the actual story behind his book, “The Sorrows of Young Werther,” which was his first book to gain recognition, bringing him enormous fame as a writer in 1774.

      Goethe actually met the beautiful young woman in his novel, Charlotte, or Lotte, while she was taking care of children. In his novel, Werther falls in love with Lotte, even though she is engaged to a man 11 years her senior. The three of them become good friends. It gets to be too much for Lotte, and, after the wedding, she ask Werther to stop visiting them so ofter. They have one final visit alone and they are both overcome with emotion. Afterwards, Werther is tormented by the realization that Lotte will never be able to requite his love, and he commits suicide.

      Goethe himself, of course, went on to become one of the greatest literary figures in recorded history. He’s the Shakespeare of the German language, some believe.

      I don’t read German so I’m basing my judgement on a translation into English, but Mephistopheles from Goethe’s version of “Faust” is one of my favorite characters.

      Goethe wrote a lot of poetry, you’d like him. The story of Goethe’s life is totally amazing. He lived long and well. His biography is a good read.

      I probably won’t have my character in “Woman in the Novel” commit suicide. But his life, and hers, will become disrupted when the painting is shown in public and people recognize the woman as the wife of a very important person.

  2. missgypsy Says:

    It’s a fascinating story, I like the sound of Goethe too. I could feel the tension rising as soon as he had painted the picture, the way he get’s weird about putting it up right away. Your good at building it up.


    • Thanks for your empathetic comments, missgypsy. Goethe is someone you’d like, I believe. He was first of all a poet. He wrote poetry almost every day of his adult life and he lived to be 82. His writing often has an edge to it, even his love poems, which he sent to the many women he admired. Some of his writing seems overly sentimental on the surface yet it has many layers of depth for the more inquiring mind to pursue. His character, Mephistopheles, the devil from Faust, reveals many of Goethe’s personal attitudes about life, in my mind.

      I’ve been thinking of finishing Woman in the Novel and posting it at fictionaut.com. For that version, I’m changing the scene where he paints the young woman in the nude. This time he’s overcome by her charms and they make mad, passionate love before and during the painting, which is expressed through her eyes in the finished product. Everything else pretty much remains the same. Yet, because they did have sex in the beginning, that adds to the tension later on, it seems to me as I begin to write the second part.


      • Goethe’s name is impossible to pronounce for English speakers, according to Thomas Mann. My dictionary says it’s: Go-te. But everybody pronounces it: Ger-ta. And some Germany speakers will tell you there is no “r” sound and yet when they pronounce it, it sounds like: Ger-ta. Whatever.

  3. missgypsy Says:

    I went over to look you up on the new posts boards on fictionaut.com, saw the Atonment Story. I HATED when it ended, I could have read it all day. I didn’t even get around to writing before work this morning, good job đŸ™‚ Sean’s awsome!


    • Thanks for going over there and reading Atonement. It’s the beginning, chapter-A, of the novel I should finish and promote first, if I ever get around to doing such things. Fictionaut.com has some publishing pros in a-tin-dance there. Maybe I’ll get lucky. Why not me? But I’m not holding my breath. You would probably do well over there, if you cared to go through their changes. They want you to comment on other writer’s works. That’s what I’ve been doing mostly ever since they invited me. Yet I’ve only receive one comment and it was for a short stream of consciousness piece I had just deleted. Such is life. Perseverance furthers, according to the I Ching, the Book of Changes.


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