Paul chose for his young protagonist Samuel Graydons family his Linden neighbors
of that surname, transferring to them some of the events of his own childhood and youth
like his mothers "blood-poisoning." The locale, while geographically
Linden, [Malden, Massachusetts] is given the name of nearby Cliftondale. Like Elliot,
Samuel Graydon grows up musical, learning to play the zither and then the piano. Unlike
Eliots, Samuels family is able to send him to the Conservatory in Boston.
If one strand of the plot of Indelible stays close to memories of Linden,
another constitutes Pauls initial and tentative venture into the exotic. In
Bostons immigrant North End - 90% Italian, 10% Jewish - Mischa Borofskys fiery
daughter Lena yearns to play the violin, or "scripka". From being a rag man with
a horse ("Sad Eyes"), Mischa battles his way to become a second-hand clothing
dealer with a shop, and Lena finally gets her violin when its maker sells Mischa cheaply
the one he had made for his own dead child. Lena, too, attends the Conservatory, and when
Mischa dies, her studies are paid for by the local Irish ward boss, who had taken his cut
for getting Mischa his licences. (Paul sharply details the ward-boss system.)1
Seeing Lena at the Conservatory, "the most beautiful girl in the world"
and "the best of the violin students," Samuel makes friends and takes her to
Nantasket Beach for a day. War is imminent: he attempts to enlist but is rejected because
of poor eyesight. (When he entertains the troops at Camp Devens, they only want jazz.) On
the eve of the Conservatory graduation recital, after Lena practices with Samuel, they
embrace. In a moment of horror, the piano lid falls on her left hand, severing fingertips.
She flees. It was Samuels carelessness for not carefully fixing the piano lid post.
Seeking her, he is told she and her roommate Mary have left their Joy St apartment
"and nobody knew where to find them." Through his unsuccessful search in the
North End, he begins to see how the other half lives.2
After a time when he cannot bear to play, "Music has come back to me and
when things are hard to bear, I play and play for hours. When I improvise, the new chords
of Debussy come more naturally to my ear." Earlier, Gabrilowitch "played a piece
called Claire de Lune, by Debussy, and it left me all bewildered. There were
strange, new chords that never seemed to come to rest and pale, weird light gleaming
through." Sorrow has now broadened Samuels receptivity, but he "cannot
seem to hold a job" and "Things are going very badly." He becomes a ticket
seller at the Cliftondale railway station, but "keeps up his technique, so that I
will be ready to take advantage of the first opportunity." It comes when the
violinist Thiron, needing a replacement accompanist and remembering Samuel from a visit to
the Conservatory - when the young pianist was quick to cover up
the violinists mistake - asks Samuel to accompany him on tour.3
Lena, in despair after the amputation of "[t]he ends of two slender fingers,"
and having smashed her violin, nearly sacrifices her virtue - the doors of the notorious
Revere House beckon. But a wealthy Jew, having wondered at her absence from the graduation
recital, finds her and takes her and her friend Mary to his home to live. When a visitor
to the house recognises Mary as formerly a Revere House prostitute, the loyal Lena leaves
with Mary to live on Joy Street once more and takes a job in a canning factory, pasting
labels. Once she travels to Cliftondale to catch sight of Samuel, sees him working at the
railway station, and is frozen with grief at his having abandoned his career. She travels
on, and back to Boston, without contacting him. Had she done so, she would have learned he
was to accompany Thiron. The novel rolls past this Hardy-esque mischance. Lenas
underlying nature draws her back to music - just when she feels Samuel is lost to it - and
although ashamed of having destroyed her violin, she forces herself to visit the shop of
its maker. The old men who play there in a string quartet are overjoyed to see her. (She
is unaware that Thiron and Samuel have been there earlier that day. They fail to mention
it!) Learning of Thirons Boston recital, she decides to attend.
When at the recital Samuel steadies the piano lid post, there is a "little stifled
scream" in the audience. He is instantly convinced that Lena is present. Afterwards,
they meet, embrace and decide to marry immediately. On tour with Thiron, Samuel reads in a
Boston paper that Mary has committed suicide, presumably after (against his advice) she
had told her Italian suitor, home from the War, of her past, and been rejected. He keeps
the news from Lena - who it seems never asks about her lost friend. Samuel and Lena set up
house in Cliftondale, and they buy Lenas late fathers horse and put him out to
grass. Baby Lena is born and Thiron and the string quartet visit. The violin-maker gives
them, for the baby, the now-restored violin.4
Indelibles plot mechanics let it down, and its general grasp of life
is not deep, but the feelings of childhood and youthful anxiety, fear, bitterness and
determination ring true. There is some attempt to see Samuel from the inside, but perhaps
wisely the treatment of Lena is more external. If Samuel is almost brought to a standstill
by his apprehensive, disapproving mother and his own inhibitions, Jewish Lena Borofsky
looks at first like an alternative Samuel, someone who will have her way or destroy
herself in the attempt. That the plot effectively sacrifices Lena for Samuels less
flamboyant musical career, and uses her experience to define his feelings, gives evidence
less of melodrama or chauvinism than of submarine, transposed currents of psychological
necessity. Nor did Indelible, as a first novel, exhaust Pauls experience of
life to date.
1 Richard Kimball says Paul "met Lena Borofsky"
"in the Ghetto north of Beacon Hill" (typescript, New York Public Library, Berg
Collection, 5). Shorter version in Malden Evening News, 12 July 1922.
2 Elliot Paul, Indelible (Boston: Houghton Mifflin,
1922), 148, 176.
3 Ibid., 190, 195, 203.
4 Ibid., 215, 250, 258.