(Brookline, MA. Winter 1939. A scruffy little apartment, with assorted papers & manuscripts strewn about and one small manual typewriter on a desk. Enter Barbara Follett. She is only 25, but looks haggard and much older.)

BARBARA

(looking at her typewriter)

What is art, if it is not to write?

My oft acclaimed “brilliance” and the fame

The authors and the critics heaped on me —

The triumphs that they told me I would have —

Where are those things, and where the compliments

For all the glorious works I’m mean to write?

They’re gone — gone — for a look: I cannot write!

My poor, pathetic life has hit a block

And all is lost. And this malign device

In every way proclaims my impotence:

It mocks me, and it shows what I can’t do.

I sit within a squalid, filthy office,

Take dictation, then I type it out.

This thing was once my angel, now my curse.

(enter Young Barbara)

YOUNG BARBARA

I loved to write, you now I loved to write.

I loved the keyboard, love the carriage bell,

Loved to place reflections on the page

And freeze forever my ebullient prose

And show my love of nature on each page.

How can you hate this blessed machine, when

It meant everything to me — and you?

BARBARA

Those days are gone! They can’t return!

YOUNG BARBARA

They can, they can, as sure as I am here.

So you’re a prisoner in your dreary office —

Life’s not all that you could wish. So what?!

Your spirit still is here: I am the girl

That you once were. Though all your dreams have drowned

In pragmatism’s overwhelming sea,

Still I, your spirit, have survived, and so

Can fill your soul with everything you need.

BARBARA

That’s fine, that’s easy to proclaim

But what about my father, what of him?

(pointing to Young Barbara)

I was but twelve years old when I did write

The House without its Windows, and he helped.

And so adoring was that man, so filled with love

With my first novel that, as master of his craft,

He helped suffuse my work with towering prose

And took my reveries and made them whole.

I should have noticed, even then, that his

Devotion was more vanity than love,

More love of self than love of me; and yet

He proclaimed to all the world — at least to all

His literary friends — that I’m a genius

And my book a youthful masterwork

To be revered: my fame fore’er assured.

YOUNG BARBARA

Adoring critics called me “progidy.”

BARBARA

A prodigy dependent on a man

So wrapped within himself that soon enough

He found another woman and decamped.

I pled that he return to mother and me,

I begged my father think again of all

The pleasures we had had: the trips into

The mountains of the north, where flowers bloomed

And birds cried out in ways that only we

Could hear. I begged him think again of our

Collaboration, dreaming of a new

Prodigious novel we could write — but all in vain.

YOUNG BARBARA

His help was great — no doubt — but all the art

Was mine. I wrote the book — he helped — but all

The inspiration flowed from me, not him, and my

Sweet words inspired everyone. You must

Not think that he and he alone gave life

To what I wrote: I still can write — it’s in my soul —

And as I grew, I dreamt of lovers, strong

And bold, and learned too, whom I’d embrace.

BARBARA

And such a man appeared upon the Vigilant,

The sturdy ship we sailed across the Sea.

He was a sailor but he understood my words

And wrote me oft and most prolifically

Unto the point I thought that he was mine.

Our lovely correspondence lasted years;

And even though he seldom was ashore

And though I saw him less and less,

My sailorman did still inspire me

And gave me hope that one day we’d be wed.

BARBARA

But no! My sailor sailed unto the North,

And less and less appeared within my thoughts —

And even less my arms — so yet again

I was abandoned by a man I loved.

Darkest sorrow tore apart my soul,

And desperately I sought another who

Could staunch the pain and fill the gap

Which twice revealed the faithlessness of men.

YOUNG BARBARA

(dreamily)

And yet I’m cute, they’ve always said I’m cute,

And young, desirable, and filled with traits

That daddy said could capture any man

BARBARA

Or so I thought. Another man appeared:

A worldly wanderer, with feet upon the ground

But dreams within his heart: the dreams we shared.

We took ourselves to Spain, together slept

As man and wife, defying all convention.

He seemed the perfect mate: romantic yet

Well organized, and balancing my dreams

With solid, clear Cartesian thought:

He’d help promote my work as ne’er before.

We wed — and reservations we had none.

YOUNG BARBARA

He was the husband of my fondest dreams!

BARBARA

We moved to Boston, and I tried to write —

But then the Great Depression drained our lives

And that “dear” husband, though I’d see him more,

Consigned himself to business and was scarce

A presence in my life. I saw him less and less

As business trips filled up his days and want

Of money occupied our shallow talk.

I took a job; my writing died, except

The swill my bosses made me write.

YOUNG BARBARA

I still retained a poet’s inspiration and

A dozen friends on whom I could rely.

BARBARA

But hubby wasn’t there, nor were my dreams,

And all that others saw in me went blank.

And as my failing marriage seized my thoughts

And I replaced the fancies of my works

And strained to be the wife that he could love,

He drifted ever further off from me

Until my world became a squalid hell

Of jealously and misery and rage.

And though I tried and tried to be the one

That he’d adore or simply understand,

My efforts drove him off until, on day,

He found, or thought he’d found, another girl

Who gave to him what I most feared: the love

He could not find in me.

YOUNG BARBARA

I always was

Beloved of the men around: this other dame

Perhaps exists in your imaginings

BARBARA

She lives — or e’en if not, he’s using her

As prologue for the day he’ll quit my life.

For whether she’s alive or just made-up,

He’s wounded me with her, and I can ne’er

Escape my jealous, wounded dreams.

YOUNG BARBARA

I always dreamt that one day there’d be kids,

And then my natural life would be complete.

BARBARA

There were no children, none we even thought

That we could have. I had my stupid job,

Commercial ventures occupied his days:

We’d lack of time and lack of money too.

YOUNG BARBARA

But surely you could make the time and give

Your children all the love your parents gave

To you.

BARBARA

I should have done, I should have

Tried to give to them the love of nature

That so often filled my soul. I should have done,

But chose to live within these narrow walls

And tried to satisfy my faithless spouse

With dreary office work that I detest.

YOUNG BARBARA

But even in office work, you could have found

A thousand subjects, filled with joy and sorrow,

Waiting for your art to speak their truth

And so reveal their longings to the world.

BARBARA

I should have done: I should have found their world

An inspiration to my art: a gift

Of writing that might comfort them.

But taken out of Nature I grew mute,

I couldn’t find the words to tell their tale;

Their sorry world inspired me not at all.

I couldn’t write, I’d lost the gift of words.

And so my grim reality is this:

I have no future, have no family tree,

And I’ve got nothing in return. I’ll failed

In everything I’ll do, so all is lost!

YOUNG BARBARA

But still there is a wondrous world out there,

The world of nature you’ve so well described,

The world that did inspire you when you were young

And which you wrote about again and again:

The world your dad explored with you, and yes,

Your husband too. The hills of Maine whereon

Your greatest novel had its end, and where

Your heroine did fuse her life with nature

And was blessed by butterflies who made her Queen.

No sordid business there, no faithless men,

But only flowers, trees, and living creatures

All in love with you in perfect peace.

BARBARA

Yes, yes, ’tis there that I should be, ’tis there

I’ll live without the fogged-up windows of

This gross polluted world. ’Tis there I’ll go —

Redeemed from every hurt and every injury

This wretched life can hurl at me.

YOUNG BARBARA

But it is bitter cold and look: the snow

Completely masks the earth: there’s danger there!

BARBARA

(defiantly)

’Tis there I’ll go, and lie upon a bed

So soft and pure, so free of mankind’s rage,

That Nature’ll tuck me in. And I will wed

The plants that I have known and all

The animals that I have loved — without

The ghastly humans who did crush my soul

And took from me the only boons I ever sought:

A family life within a loving home

And novel writings I will never write

My future lies within that sacred snow.

(Exit Barbara. The lights dim, and Young Barbara looks in the direction in which Barbara has exited and says, very softly:)

YOUNG BARBARA

And at my novel’s end I wrote prophetically: “She would be invisible forever to all mortals, save those few who have minds to believe, eyes to see.”

(Slow fade-out)

Editor’s Note: The dramatization is based on the life of Barbara New­hall Follett, born in 1914, who grew up in New Hampshire and wrote critically acclaimed novels at ages 12 and 14. Depressed by her marriage, she left a Brookline, Massachusetts, apartment in December, 1939, and was never seen again.

Cheiten, a Princeton-based writer and playwright, has had his works produced by Off-Broadstreet Theater in Hopewell and Princeton Summer Theater, among others.

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