The James Purdy Society
Synopses of James Purdy's Works,
with Performance Notes
Where Quentin Goes
During the First World War, Julia, a striking young French orphan girl with a riveting countenance, falls in love with an American soldier stationed there. He is from a small American town and has a son from a former marriage though his young wife has died in childbirth. By the intense gaze in their eyes they are destined to be together and are drawn towards each other in a powerful way despite their difference in age and background. She becomes pregnant and, as he is to be stationed elsewhere, he sends her back to America to the care of his father. He planned to marry her when he returned home. He died a hero in the war instead.
His father doesn’t see Julia in the same way. Once he learns of his son’s death a campaign of disgrace is leveled against her which she is too weak and confused to fight. She eventually even allows her child to be taken from her. She is a foreigner, under age, abandoned, friendless and penniless. Being a female she is punished, as is the custom in America, down to the last drop of her blood for her ‘mistake’. Her young baby, Dana, is given over to his grandfather to be brought up without the influence of his ‘terrible’ mother.
18 years later
Julia has become what she had been accused of from the first. But she has become it with a style, grace, sophistication and power which has never been seen in this part of the country. She has created a realm of grandeur which is a reflection of her own individual spirit and born of a deep, pronounced understanding and fierce intelligence. A shadow life greater even than what she felt the real world had had in store for her. A life which celebrates man as he ought to be, not bound up with chains as she has discovered him to be. It was built with all the pain and bitter disappointments of her young dreams which were brought down. A lesser woman would have collapsed under the weight of such a trial but it has made Julia stronger, deeper, more all-embracing. She no longer tastes of joy directly but is content if she can see that others are for a few moments released from the servitude of their own lives. Just so they can feel what it is. So they can feel joy!
The play begins as:
Quentin, Dana’s older half-brother and legal guardian is in the law office of Gamaliel Endors. He is in a heated argument with the elder attorney because Mr. Endors allowed his late grandfather to draw up a will which has a proviso that Dana must make the acquaintance of his mother shortly after his 18th birthday if he is to come into his inheritance. Endors tells Quentin that his grandfather was passionate about the stipulation. Quentin with his fundamentalist background is appalled that his brother has to be in the presence of such a woman.. Endors wants a short meeting which he would preside over but Quentin insists on accompanying his younger brother himself and without Endors. Endors feels Quentin is far too judgmental and rigid in his ideas about people. As Quentin slams the door on his way out the old attorney wants to see him after life has tried him a little, maybe then he won’t be so lily white pure.
He visits his grandmother. And still in a fury over the lawyers response, he practically pounds the door down. She lights up right in front of him and says she’ll soon be smoking the catalpa right off the tree. She is worried that Quentin has no fun out of life. Everything is work work work. He doesn’t drink or smoke and never has, though once he chewed a plug of tobacco with the owner of the blacksmiths shop when he bought him out, but only because he had to. She keeps trying to get him to have even some coffee, he won’t allow himself. He’s trying to find a way out of the stipulation of the will. She doesn’t feel however that the grandfather’s request is all that unreasonable. He yells at her as if she were on trial. She knows Julia and feels the family has wronged her. She also sees that Quentin has been too close and over-protective of the boy and this has not been good for either of them. They also live in a secluded place part way up the mountain and that doesn’t help. Quentin, however, is carrying on far too much for a simple request.
Gaining no support to get around the grandfather’s terms, Quentin decides he’ll have to brace Dana for what they’re going to see. Dana is aware that Quentin seems to be blowing this out of proportion. He already knows about his mother and the kind of establishment she is said to run. And besides he doesn’t even care about the money and would be content if everything just remained the way it is.
Lily, Quentin’s girlfriend, discovers Dana with Quentin’s Garand rifle out on the table. She senses something is wrong. Lily has seen Dana’s mother many years ago and stresses upon him that this meeting would be right even if there were no will.
Julia has received the letter with the request for the meeting tomorrow. She is in her sitting room with her assistant Sadie. Sadie has never seen her so agitated. Julia feels the meeting is wrong. It is some last humiliation on the part of the grandfather, just when she thought that long ago wound had healed. Though she nearly died of grief when they took her boy away from her, it was like another age, another woman from her. She thought this day would come but she thought she would have gotten out of it somehow. She would be dead, perhaps, when the day did come. But that is not how life comes down on us. We pay and pay and pay. Sadie guides her to the decision that she will see them but Julia insists she will not change the character of the house to make it look like something that it’s not. She had thought of closing the house down last year, but then she realized it was the only true house. Greater and happier than any church because it celebrates men and women the way they are and are meant to be. She will never close its doors. Especially now they would bring her boy here to make her feel her unworthiness. To make him never wish to see her again. To prove that his grandfather had been right to take him away from her. No, she will not try to disguise the house, she will not try to change the leopard’s spots. It is a house of assignation and she will act like what she is, the Madame of the house.
Quentin buys Dana some new clothes. He has worked himself up into a pitch. Dana tries them on and is transformed so he looks almost like a clothes model. They get in the car and drive in the rain to Julia’s several counties away.
The meeting is formal with everyone agreeable and proper. Sadie leaves the room so Julia can be more alone with them. A young gentleman serves drinks and Quentin this time partakes. They can hear the music and laughter coming from the other rooms. He freshens his drink. Quentin leaves and sees the ballroom where couples are dancing and there is live music. He has been dominating Julia’s attention up to now and he asks her to dance. Dana has never seen him like this. He tries to impress on Julia that he is not like the Quentin his grandmother and Dana know. There is another side to him they don’t know about. Quentin drinks more, they dance and then he begins to dance alone, more wildly, until he falls and cuts open his head.
The next day Julia is deeply troubled. Sadie thinks the meeting went well. It hadn’t. It couldn’t have been more disastrous. When Quentin had come into the room Julia’s heart had come to a full stop. Quentin looked exactly like his father had looked when Julia was with him in France. She thought in fact that it was he who had come into the room. Her own son had nothing in his heart for her. It was Quentin who brought back everything that was precious, everything that can be expected from living. Sadie cannot believe Julia was feeling such strong emotions. Julia tells her it is because she has learned here in this house of joy never to remember her own smiling happiness or her own fall. She has become a kind of lady in the wax works. Though Sadie stresses they want to come back, Julia sees the calamity that would occur. They must never come again. She must never see them again. Their young lives would be consumed in all the pain and sorrow she has kept in her heart. She would destroy them once they saw into her sorrow and pain. She tells Sadie that they live with each other in their own shadowland of joy, not experiencing the joy directly but savoring some of the joy felt by others. If the young men would come back, their lives would be shattered by the young men’s strength and vitality. Sadie and Julia can dream all they want but they must not let in full bodied life.
Quentin had mumbled in his sleep that night. He didn’t go to work the next day. Dana tells Quentin he was sorry he went there; sorry she’s his mother. He had hated her and he would have liked to have killed her. Quentin is only interested in what he said in his sleep. Dana tells him he said the name Julia, Julia , Juilia. Said he wanted to hold her, kiss her. Dana knows where Quentin will be wanting to go as soon as it’s night. To Julia’s house To the house of joy.
Quentin visits his grandmother. He has not been to work in days. He accepts the brandy this time and starts right in on it. He looks more pale and thin to her. Gwen tells him how his brother, Dana, has changed; how he is angry and heartbroken. Quentin tells her he has changed also. He has searched his heart and soul and he is in love with Julia. He thinks it is her house more than anything. It has filled his whole body and soul for the first time. Julia calls it joy. But he calls it life. Gwen sees that Dana is right, Quentin has ‘changed character’ as he had put it. She tells Quentin he has to stop drinking He should stay here with her until he becomes himself again. Quentin doesn’t want to go back to his old self now that he has awakened. He wants joy, joy.
Quentin, looking more disheveled, refuses to accept from Saidie that Julia will not see him. Julia hears the argument and appears. She tells him their meeting, now several days in the past, was all play acting, ceremony. They have fulfilled the stipulations of the will and are free now to go on about their own individual lives. Quentin tells her that her mouth says one thing and her eyes say another. That they care for each other. That she can’t just entertain a man lavishly one day and then shut him out like a beggar the next day. That his life has been nothing but slavish work and duty caring for his brother. He wants to be able to see her in her house of joy. Julia, who has been struggling throughout, finally acquiesces. After Quentin leaves, Sadie feels Julia has gone back on everything she has told her, gone back on their whole way of life. Julia tells her she will never abandon her but something stronger than their way of life or the house has obliterated the past, obliterated what she was or is.
Dana visits his grandmother. Gwen sees that her own words have come back to haunt her. Quentin has completely changed character. She sees what has taken the place of his devotion to work. He now never goes to work and he is drinking heavily. There has to be a balance she tells Dana in how we are and how we live. Dana feels Julia has taken over Quentin as a revenge for what the grandfather did to her. But she feels Quentin will change back. She will talk with Julia. Dana feels his grandmother may talk with ‘that woman’ and she may get Quentin away from her, but Quentin will never be his brother again, not now, not after what’s happened. He has his blood money and he will use it to get as far away as possible.
Quentin is visited by his girlfriend. They had planned to marry one day. He has already been drinking and, though it is early in the day, he gets some brandy and drinks some more. Quentin tells her he has fallen all the way a man can fall and not knock his brains out. That he has changed. That he doesn’t understand how a man can be one thing one day and the next day, he’s another totally different man, breaking with all he’s been, all he’s lived for. He’s now in love with a woman he wouldn’t have allowed in his house a short time ago. She tries to accept this and not judge him saying she will always care for him. But her heart is shattered, though she tries not to let him see this, and she must leave.
Neal Astor threatens to bring the house down around Julia if she doesn’t marry him. He has heard of Quentin and senses her attachment to him. He and Sadie are like family to Julia and though their relationship is long over she has kept faith with him up to now. But Julia is one woman no one has ever truly frightened. Gwen visits Julia and sees Neal. She thought he was still in prison and is taken aback that Julia goes on seeing him. Julia confesses to loving Quentin even more than she loved his father. Gwen doesn’t understand that it has done as terrible a thing to Julia, as it has to Quentin. Julia hopes she will have the strength to close all the doors and close all the joy there is for both of them. It was her own boy Dana who should have been her care and love, but his brother came between that deeper love and parted them.
Quentin sees Neal leaving as he comes to call on Julia. He is upset by this and is upset by what he realized in his breakup with Lily, that he doesn’t know where he stands with Julia. He wants to be the only one in Julia’s life. He wants all the feeling Julia has for everyone else, Sadie, Neal and her own son Dana. He does promise, however, to try to bring Dana back with him soon. He begs her to love him. She is galvanized by the power of his feeling and loses her resolve. She gave her word silently. With her eyes and lips she told him, and he holds her to that commitment. They spend the night with each other.
Julia has changed, though she considers this a pallid word to describe what has happened. She impresses on Neal that she will never leave him, but her feelings toward him are different now. She knows now, after her night with Quentin, that she has ended all possible relationships with her own son. Dana despises her. He will never love her.
Quentin returns, this time with his brother, Dana. But his younger brother has something up his sleeve. He wanted to come, he didn’t have to be coaxed. It’s as if he’s calling the shots now. They soon find out he has come there to say good-bye. With his inheritance he has booked himself on a cargo ship to the North Sea. After nearly coming to blows with Quentin, he accuses Julia of robbing him. She took his family away from him not once but twice. His brother is now a stranger to him and what he calls life is, for Dana, just drunkenness. He doesn’t even want him back, as he would be getting back only the husk. The Quentin he knew is dead. Julia accuses him of seeing only black and white - one is either innocent or guilty. In life, just the opposite is true. Dana will never know what it is like to be alone and friendless in a society of men who make all the rules. He has never known cold, hunger and disgrace. She knows all the pain she has caused him but he will never understand the pain life has visited on her . Perhaps she fell in love with Quentin because he looked like Dana’s own father when she saw him . Dana could never understand her sorrow at losing him. Dana listens but responds with his good-bye. Before Quentin brought him there they were unknown to each other. They will be unknown to each other now forever. Julia is sure she will never see her son again. Quentin feels Julia leaving him. He is right. She is gone and she will never come back. Though she lets him hold and kiss her, her thoughts are elsewhere. She sees a new day coming for both of them.
Neal and Sadie are standing in Julia’s study as the house is being dismantled around them. The movers have packed up a good deal of the furnishings. The house is already sold and the papers are being drawn up for Julia’s final signature. A large concern is the purchaser. Endors who has arranged the sale has arrived. He tries to talk Julia out of her decision as she will never be able to find a property this magnificent . She is ready for him and tells him that she has grown to hate the house because it bestows happiness on everyone but her. She is like the starving looking in at the feasters at a banquet. Her hunger has grown over the years until it is famine. The house is for her airless, without substance or nurture. She has been wasting away from the misery of her hunger. She will miss it, she will pine for it probably for the rest of her life. But she will no longer be the beggar at the feast. She will be quiet, at peace and finally still. Endors will never forget her or her words. Though she doesn’t know if it is the right thing, she leaves Endors with a letter for Quentin as Endors has arranged to meet him there tomorrow. She signs the document finalizing the sale of the house and experiences a strange feeling of lightness as she does so. She will leave with Sadie and Neal. Perhaps another kind of life is waiting for them elsewhere.
Quentin is standing in the empty house with Endors. Though he looks sober and his appearance is more neat, he is in a grave condition. Julia’s instructions were that he was to read the letter in the presence of Endors. Endors tells him that everything is change in this life. And change is very painful. Quentin is unable to read the letter because of his tears and he hands the letter back to Endors who reads it aloud. One day he will understand why she has left him, and it is her belief that he will on that day thank her. She will thank all the powers that be that she was able to share the precious hours with him. Had they remained here seeing each other she would have finally taken away their love itself and left him with bitterness and regret. She is not leaving him but keeping their love perfect forever. Quentin does not know if what she said is true. Maybe it is maybe it isn’t. He only knows he has been deserted. .He asks Endors if he can stay on alone just a bit longer in the house. Endors approves but tells him the new owners will be arriving and they may not want him to be here. Before Endors leaves Quentin has something to admit to him which harkens back to Quentin’s behavior that first day in Endors office. He takes hold of Endors arm as he realizes that had he never been so headstrong as to insist on accompanying his brother, had he never met Julia, he would not be experiencing the fierce pain and endless loss that is his now. As he has lost her , lost Julia and lost himself. “You see Mr. Endors she gave me life and then she snatched it away from me.” Endors embraces him in the empty room.
Setting: A small town in the hill country of middle America. 1930’s. A mansion several
Characters: Great part for young actor in his late 20’s.
Great part for actress in her late 30’s. (Isabelle Adjani, Anne Brochet type)
Great part for actor 18. (young Montgomery Clift type.)
Great part for older character actor.
The appeal of this material if done properly is massive. It has a European opulence set against a backwoods Americana style. There is a bold penetration into the essence of prostitution on the grand scale which has never been presented on screen. It has a justification of decadence and a substantiation of sensual pleasures which constantly challenges the small puritanical mind. It also deals with the treatment of women during the early part of the century. It attacks fundamentalist morality on several fronts. When the house is closed down one gets the feeling that a pall is cast over the entire world of sensuality forever in much the same way as the present epidemic has cast its shadow over the sexual revolution.