Dorinda was written for children, a novel by Elizabeth Howard. This copy isn’t the actual book I read but one I searched for, I think I bought it from Abebooks. It’s the story of a girl, Dorinda, about 13 years old, from Boston, who travels West to stay with relatives, an entirely different existence for her. And for me. I don’t know who gave it to me, or where it came from; I may have been 10 or 11 when I read it. I was entranced, the writing beautiful, lucid, and I cherished Howard’s descriptions of Dorinda’s life in her new home.
Chapter Fifteen starts: “The November day was bright and cold and still. In the schoolroom Miss Elliot had built up a roaring fire in the fireplace, but the corners of the room were chilly….” All of the images wrapped around me, put me there. I absorbed every word. I read it the way that a child does, losing herself in it and in her imagination. Curiously, when I read Dorinda, I was also reading books from my two older sisters’ bookshelves—DH Lawrence, Sartre, Mailer. Curiously, also, no one I know has ever read this lovely novel. And, maybe children don’t read books like this anymore. Dorinda was published in 1944, before widespread T.V. and everything else that makes this moment contemporary.
I remember being puzzled by Sartre’s collection of stories, Intimacy, and why a man in one of the stories smelled his wife’s underpants. I had a sense about it, only that. Reading these books alongside Dorinda, I didn’t question it. I was very curious, and they were in the world I wanted to know. I think, when very young, categories are unimportant, learning isn’t closeted, reading one book or another isn’t either good or bad for you. Something else, something richer and more generous, goes on in a young mind, able to do its own sorting and find its own pleasures.
Lynne Tillman is a novelist, short story writer, and cultural critic. She is the author of six novels, most recently Men and Apparitions, five collections of short stories, two collections of essays, and two other nonfiction books. She lives in New York.