Five act relationship
Five act relationship1
“The Romance of a Busy Broker” – first act: Exposition – Setup
Harvey Maxwell is the main protagonist of the short story The Romance of a Busy Broker.
He is a portrait of a modern man.
He is a broker.
He is a busy broker.
He is a very busy broker.
Harvey Maxwell has a personal assistant named Pitcher2 and a private stenographer – Miss Leslie – at his disposal. They merge naturally into his hectic schedule, which starts at the moment Harvey enters his office. Maxwell is “working like some high-geared, delicate, strong machine–strung to full tension, going at full speed, accurate, never hesitating, with the proper word and decision and act ready and prompt as clockwork. Stocks and bonds, loans and mortgages, margins and securities — (his world) was a world of finance, and there was no room in it for the human world or the world of nature”3.
The narrator supports Harvey’s workaholic frenzy. He quotes Walter Scott – “The poet sings of the “crowded hour of glorious life” “4 – as a preliminary description of the broker’s eventful day. This quote is a vote of confidence in the man who has to deal with telegraph’s nonstop messages, with the phone’s constant ringing and with the people who rush in and out of his office – shouting, delivering letters, adding stress and commotion.
Despite this frantic turmoil, Maxwell remains calm and focused, “transact(s) business after the manner of a toe dancer” and “with the trained agility of a harlequin.”5
In spite of this success, the juggling of Maxwell the broker takes its toll from Maxwell the man. The better he is at his job, the more isolated he becomes from his environment and from his emotional status. Those who do not relate directly to the stock market are being pushed aside by Maxwell’s demanding occupation. His center of attention is his work. It seems as if he does not even know that other people are there.
Luckily for Harvey, the outside world finds a sophisticated way of entering into his mind and heart: “… through the window came a wandering–perhaps a lost–odour–a delicate, sweet odour of lilac that fixed the broker for a moment immovable. For this odour belonged to Miss Leslie; it was her own, and hers only. The odour brought her vividly, almost tangibly before him. The world of finance dwindled suddenly to a speck.”6
In a spur of the moment decision, Harvey dashes “into the inner office” and charges “upon the desk of the stenographer”, asking her to marry him – pleading to give her answer quickly, since “those fellows are clubbing the stuffing out of Union Pacific7.”
Miss Leslie’s shocked response reveals to the readers what was implied early on at the beginning of the story:
“It’s this old business that has driven everything else out of your head for the time… Don’t you remember, Harvey? We were married last evening at 8 o’clock in the Little Church around the Corner.”8
Indeed, the tumult of life, especially in a big, competitive city, can pull in one direction so much that one might lose track for a moment. It is a good thing that the opposite, meaningful dimension pulls even more strongly.
Dougherty’s Eye Opener – second act: New situation
“Big Jim Dougherty… belonged to that race of men… strong, artful, self-sufficient, clannish, honorable within the laws of their race, holding in lenient contempt neighboring tribes who bow to the measure of Society’s tapeline… “Big Jim” Dougherty had a wife, but he did not wear a button portrait of her upon his lapel… He was always vaguely conscious that there was a Mrs. Dougherty. He would have received without denial the charge that the quiet, neat, comfortable little woman across the table at home was his wife. In fact, he remembered pretty well that they had been married for nearly four years.”9
Jim Dougherty is one stage above Harvey Maxwell: the fact that he is married has not escaped him. But this advantage does not imply that someone like Jim Dougherty will allow his quiet, “neat, comfortable little woman” to disrupt his strict daily routine. After all, a man must meet his friends, even if he does so every night.
Each evening at seven o’clock he eats the delicious dinner his wife Delia prepares for him, but that’s as far as it goes. One day, the quiet, “neat, comfortable little woman” decides to ask her husband to take her out, formally and publicly, for dinner. Three years had passed since they had done such a thing, but her request comes as a complete surprise to Big Jim Dougherty.
Nevertheless, he agrees, providing, of course, it would not be for too long.
The following day, at the designated hour, “she descended the stone steps… (wearing) a dinner gown made of a stuff that the spiders must have woven, and of a color that a twilight sky must have contributed. A light coat with many admirably unnecessary capes and adorably inutile ribbons floated downward from her shoulders… “Big Jim” Dougherty was troubled. There was a being at his side whom he did not know… In some way she reminded him of the Delia Cullen that he had married four years before. Shyly and rather awkwardly he stalked at her right hand.”10
Unlike his name, Big Jim does not make big plans for the night out with his wife. Furthermore, he would rather hide their date from his friends. Exhibiting his matrimonial status or complaining about it, is neither favorable nor recommendable, due to the fact that “uxoriousness was a weakness that the precepts of the Caribs did not countenance.”11
Something intimate and quiet, that was his initial intention. And then the vision of Delia appears.
Her beauty overwhelms him. Instead of proceeding to a distant and remote place, he walks with her proudly down the street and enters a restaurant known for its elegance.
” “Big Jim’s” wife gave her order. He looked at her with respect. She had mentioned truffles; and he had not known that she knew what truffles were. From the wine list she designated an appropriate and desirable brand. He looked at her with some admiration. She was beaming with the innocent excitement that woman derives from the exercise of her gregariousness. She was talking to him about a hundred things with animation and delight. And as the meal progressed her cheeks, colorless from a life indoors, took on a delicate flush. “Big Jim” looked around the room and saw that none of the women there had her charm. And then he thought of the three years she had suffered immurement, uncomplaining, and a flush of shame warmed him, for he carried fair play as an item in his creed.”12
Big Jim is not the only one captivated with Delia’s new / true appearance. “The Honorable Patrick Corrigan, leader in Dougherty’s district and a friend of his”13, a notorious womanizer, together with Jim’s long time old friends –all join him and become infatuated with her. Delia amuses, enchants and fascinates them. They cling to every word she says, gaze at her in admiration and laugh whole-heartedly at her witty remarks.
But Delia’s magic works a different spell on Jim – while all the others become enthusiastic, he turns speechless. The words he cannot say separate him from the happy crowd and allow him to review with a new perspective his quiet, “neat, comfortable little woman”.
Her wit, sharp answers, that are now heard, and her delightful, sparkling repartee proves to Jim that in the last three years of their marriage his eyes were had been closed.
“At the door of their home Delia paused. The pleasure of the outing radiated softly from her countenance. She could not hope for Jim of evenings, but the glory of this one would lighten her lonely hours for a long time.
“Thank you for taking me out, Jim,” she said, gratefully. “You’ll be going back up to Seltzer’s now, of course.”
“To — with Seltzer’s,” said “Big Jim, “em-emphatically. “And d– Pat Corrigan! Does he think I haven’t got any eyes?
And the door closed behind both of them.”14
The Rubaiyat of a Scotch Highball – Third act: Progress
The unbalanced relationship between men and women is exhibited in previous acts. It faults the male.
The following case of Bob and Jess Babbitt shifts the weight of revelation towards the woman.
Bob and Jess Babbitt met on one sunny July day and married in early November. During the happy days of their romantic courtship, they used to recite verses of their beloved, favorite poet – Omar Khayyám. When they arrived in New York, Bob and Jess allowed themselves to be swept away by the intoxicating rhythm of bohemian life. They arranged their lives according to the fashionable rules of the big city. Doing the right thing – socially – had become their main concern. Jess began drinking, smoking and furnishing their home according to bohemian convention, while Bob “learned to keep his foot on the little rail six inches above the floor for an hour or so every afternoon before he went home.”15
The same eye-opening twist that altered the lives of Jim and Delia Dougherty reoccur in this story, when Bob will “drop […] in at the Broadway bar that he liked best”16, just in time to hear his friends describe ever so lively his last night intoxication: “Babbitt walked to the bar, and saw in the mirror that his face was as white as chalk. For the first time he had looked Truth in the eyes. Others had lied to him; he had dissembled with himself. He was a drunkard, and had not known it. What he had fondly imagined was a pleasant exhilaration had been maudlin intoxication. His fancied wit had been drivel; his gay humors nothing but the noisy vagaries of a sot. But, never again!”17.
Bob returns home, quiet and sober, unlike his usual self. This abnormal behavior alarms Jess. Even though she initially disapproved his drunken temper, she learned to accept it with time and mostly to embrace it as an integral part of the bohemian manner. It may not have been a cause for pleasure, but it was the way things were carried out in the big city, and consequently it should continue.
It was not Bob’s serenity that troubled her mind, but the fact that no one had notified her about the sudden unexpected change. She felt angry and confused, cast aside from her husband’s life and from the life she learned to know and love:
“She took up a book and sat in her little willow rocker on the other side of the table. Neither of them spoke for half an hour. And then Bob laid down his paper and got up with a strange, absent look on his face and went behind her chair and reached over her shoulders, taking her hands in his, and laid his face close to hers. In a moment to Jessie the walls of the seine-hung room vanished, and she saw the Sullivan County hills and rills. Bob felt her hands
quiver in his as he began the verse from old Omar:
“Come, fill the Cup, and in the Fire of Spring
The Winter Garment of Repentance fling:
The Bird of Time has but a little way
To fly–and Lo! The Bird is on the Wing!”
And then he walked to the table and poured a stiff drink of Scotch into a glass. But in that moment a mountain breeze had somehow found its way in and blown away the mist of the false Bohemia18. Jessie leaped and with one fierce sweep of her hand sent the bottle and glasses crashing to the floor. The same motion of her arm carried it around Bob’s neck, where it met its mate and fastened tight.”19
The poems of Omar Khayyám, the thread that once joined Bob’s and Jess’s hearts together, is again relevant in their present relationship, this time with a better understating of its meaning20. Both of them realize that they had misinterpreted the words about love and faith and happiness. They thought it meant something about acting according to bohemian prerequisites. Only when they let go of this false misconception, they feel again the great love that they still share for each other – the one thing, the only thing, which made everything else so worthwhile.
Extradited From Bohemia – fourth act: complications & higher stakes
Medora’s faith was doomed. It wasn’t the Oracle or a premonition that determined the sad course of her life but a simple and rather trivial act: Medora had moved to New York. She had left her pastoral village, rented a cheap room and began to study the art of painting – two lessons a week – with Professor Angelini , “a retired barber who had studied his profession in a Harlem dancing academy.”21
Neither the people from her village22 nor the citizens of New York support Medora’s move to the big city, but while they point the blame at Medora and her mistake, the omniscient narrator knows all too well who’s truly to blame: Bohemia’s false and alluring exterior.
“The most pathetic sight in New York — except the manners of the rush-hour crowds — is the dreary march of the hopeless army of Mediocrity. Here Art is no benignant goddess, but a Circe23 who turns her wooers into mewing Toms and Tabbies who linger about the doorsteps of her abode, unmindful of the flying brickbats and boot-jacks of the critics. Some of us creep back to our native villages to the skim-milk of “I told you so”; but most of us prefer to remain in the cold courtyard of our mistress’s temple, snatching the scraps that fall from her divine table d’hote. But some of us grow weary at last of the fruitless service. And then there are two fates open to us. We can get a job driving a grocer’s wagon, or we can get swallowed up in the Vortex of Bohemia. The latter sounds good; but the former really pans out better. For, when the grocer pays us off we can rent a dress suit and — the capitalized system of humor describes it best — Get Bohemia on the Run. Miss Medora chose the Vortex and thereby furnishes us with our little story.”24
Bohemia, which led Bob to drunkenness and Jess into foolishness, leads Medora to self-destruction. Her trials in the art department had concluded in one big failure. Surprisingly enough, it was not the ever-pouring rain, the financial shortage or the overall rejection that made that abundantly clear. No. It was yet another dinner in a rather exclusive restaurant – Cafe Terence25, in the heart of Bohemia.
At Cafe Terence Bohemia manifested itself to the fullest: endless blathering of self – importance. A rabble of Basilisk’s26 gazes, “the shine of a bubble of Wurzburger, the inspiration of genius and the pleading of a panhandler”27. It seems genuine but soon reveals itself as a wretched fake: people chatter nonsense, using high words and arguing passionately about unimportant matters, offering their theoretical merchandise about everything, without having anything substantial to offer. In Bohemia, where every commoner becomes a professor and every waiter is a scholar, even the wine at dinner seems hot, although it is ice – cold when you drink it.
“Medora sat in transport. Music — wild, intoxicating music made by troubadours direct from a rear basement room in Elysium28 — set her thoughts to dancing. Here was a world never before penetrated by her warmest imagination or any of the lines controlled by Harriman29. With the Green Mountains’ external calm upon her she sat, her soul flaming in her with the fire of Andalusia.”30
Out of a great sense of distress, Medora decides not to struggle any longer: “I have succumbed to the insidious wiles of this wicked world” she writes to her beloved Hoskins, back in Harmony, Vermont. “I have been drawn into the vortex of Bohemia. There is scarcely any depth of glittering iniquity that I have not sounded. It is hopeless to combat my decision. There is no rising from the depths to which I have sunk… I am lost forever in the fair but brutal maze of awful Bohemia.”31
Indulging herself with her new tragic persona, Medora chooses to shape her life as a tribute to the temperamental Mary, Princess Royal and Countess of Harewood and the three courtesans – Camille, from Alexandre Dumas novel – The Lady of the Camellias (1848), Lola Montez – “The Spanish Dancer” who was Ludwig I’s mistress32 and Zaza, the heroine of the play under that same name33.
Luckily for Medora, Hoskins doesn’t understand her noble surrender to the false powers of the city and he arrives right away (three days later) to “rescue” her and bring her safely home.
Extradited from Bohemia is far more sophisticated than it appears to be at first sight: the narrator enriches the story with references to artists, authors and a famous magazine.
Painters such as Anthony van Dyck, Jean-Léon Gérôme and Jules Bastien-Lepage. Bastien-Lepage, a French naturalist, portrayed the country life in clean, pure perspective. He first made his mark in 1874 with his painting – Song of spring, a study of rural life. The painting illustrated the image of a country girl, sitting on a hill and looking down over her village, very much like the fictional character of Medora who came “from near the village of Harmony, at the foot of the Green Mountains”34. This resemblance allows the narrator to sharpen the importance of Medora’s identity – a naïve country girl – and thus to better exemplify her incompatibility to stormy, hot – aired Bohemia.
That and more: when Professor Angelini wishes to congratulate Medora’s art, he compares her to Rosa Bonheur, the famous painter from the 19th century. Bonheur, who was also a sculptor, was a Realistic artist, known for her great affection for animal’s paintings. This was also the center of two of her most famous works: Ploughing in the Nivernais (1848) and The Horse Fair (1885).
This motive is yet another linkage between the two nature-lovers, Rosa Bonheur and Medora35
The story also mentions two famous characters from the literary world – Henry James and Jane Goodwin Austin36. The hint to Austin is made through a reference to a character from her story Outpost (1867), a lost baby named Toinette who becomes Miss ‘Toinette in Extradited from Bohemia. The relationship to Austin is extremely important due to her pervious book – Dora Darling, or The Daughter of the Regiment (1865), which bears close affinity to Extradited from Bohemia‘s heroine’s name.
The criticism of Bohemia is also delivered through a cynical allusion to Puck magazine: “It was no secret that (Mr. Vandyke) had once loaned $10 to a young man who had had a drawing printed in Puck. Often has one thus obtained his entree into the charmed circle, while the other obtained both his entree and roast.”37
Puck was the first successful humoristic American magazine to publish comics, caricatures and political satire. The young man’s painting must therefore bear a significant meaning to its time. However, the theme of his work is not emphasized nor it is even mentioned. It is the narrator’s way to imply that Bohemia is not really important, when you look at it with a realistic, sober perspective. Mr. Vandyke even wishes to be released from the paper as soon as possible: “Say, Maddy,” he whispered, feelingly, “sometimes I’m tempted to pay this Philistine his ten dollars and get rid of him.”38
A Philistine in Bohemia – fifth act: The final push and aftermath
The love of Katy Dempsey and the tenant who hires the furnished room at her house, Mr. Brunelli takes place in the place that caused such great tumult in Medora’s life.
Mr. Brunelli was elegant in his appearance and had a habit of punctuality to pay his rent on time. His polite manners had given him the air of a foreign European nobleman. This could have been considered as an advantage – but not in the eyes of Katy Dempsey. As a matter of fact, it is a major setback in Mr. Brunelli’s intention to turn their relationship into something more than an acquaintance between a tenant and a landlord’s daughter.
Katy questions the perfect exterior of her refined suitor: Perhaps his stylish classiness is merely a camouflage for a professional forger? Perhaps the punctual payments are illusion, meant to conceal the true identity of a pauper?
“Mr. Brunelli continued his calorific wooing. Katy continued to hesitate. One day he asked her out to dine and she felt that a denouement was in the air… in the midst of her Lucullian repast Katy laid down her knife and fork. Her heart sank as lead, and a tear fell upon her filet mignon. Her haunting suspicions of the star lodger arose again, fourfold. Thus courted and admired and smiled upon by that fashionable and gracious assembly, what else could Mr. Brunelli be but one of those dazzling titled patricians, glorious of name but shy of rent money, concerning whom experience had made her wise?”39
Katy is the first of all O. Henry’s female characters who does not fall for the façade of Bohemia. Quite the opposite: it is the pretense of the city that makes Katy rethink her emotions to Mr. Brunelli, who she has learned to know and care for with every passing day. Will he turn out to be an impressive individual as his image implies or will he be exposed as a foolish daydreamer?
The answer is given when he takes Katy to a restaurant, where his character unfolds.
Mr. Brunelli is not an ordinary Bohemian. He is the cook and the owner of the restaurant that bears his name. This fact alone is enough to remove any shade of a doubt from Katy’s tormented heart and have Mr. Brunelli “receive the knightly accolade.”40
He is the real thing, and most importantly – he sees things as they really are.
As does Katy.
O. Henry’s five stories portray five very different relationships in the big metropolitan that is New York i.e. Bohemia.
First there we have the most popular portrait of the urban life – labor.
Second there is the desire to establish oneself as someone important – someone with influence with a respectable reputation. Success and social influence – two aspirations that inevitably jeopardize something far more meaningful: life. And love.
The third story understands the risk embodied in such perspectives and therefore tries to withhold the city’s false pretenses. This bold decision almost costs the life and love it is meant to preserve.
Luckily, it was just almost.
The fourth story is harsher than its predecessors: the magnificent Bohemia had lost it glow and the city is being exhibit as a gloomy place, where there is no chance for love – only loneliness.
The fifth story shows Bohemia for what it truly is – a state of mind. Love is everywhere – you just have to look in the right direction.
There is great love in O. Henry’s world. It has little to do with big city life.