The Rise of Jennie Cushing

November 15, 2009 at 1:24 am (Uncategorized)


Mary Stanbery Watts was born in Delaware County, not far from the Girls’ Industrial Home which she later used as the setting for her 1914 novel, The Rise of Jennie Cushing.  Educated at the Sacred Heart Convent in Cincinnati, the budding writer married a successful businessman and remained in the Queen City the remainder of her life.  However, in her writings Watts often returned to her childhood on the farm.  A frequent theme of her novels was the once-prominent family whose fortunes were on the decline – a theme drawn from her own experience.

The Rise of Jennie Cushing was Watts’s fifth novel, but the first to deal with the problem of marriage between different social classes.  As a child of the slums, Jennie is made a ward of the state and placed at the Home (aka Girls’ Industrial School).  Upon her release at the age of 18, she makes her way in the world working for various families, and eventually becoming a hairdresser.  Then Jennie meets a painter, Donelson Meigs, who falls in love with her and takes her with him to Paris.  However, when he learns of her past, Jennie flees back to America to avoid humiliating him.  Meigs follows her to Delaware County where she operates a home for orphans, but she refuses his offer of marriage.  For reasons she has difficulty expressing, she does not feel it would be right.

In 1917, The Rise of Jennie Cushing was filmed by the famed director, Maurice Tourneur. However, the ending was apparently tweaked a little bit.  According to The Motion Picture Guide (edited by Robert B. Connelly), when Meigs first proposes to Jennie, her response is, “No, I won’t marry you – but I’ll live with you.”  Meigs then counters, “You’re on.”  But unlike Watts’s heroine, this Jennie finally agrees to a traditional marriage, despite their class differences.

Note:  When the film played Kansas, the state Board of Review required the following edits: Eliminations: REEL 3 – ELIMINATE SUBTITLES “IT SEEMS WRONG AND VILE. I WILL GO WITH YOU.” REEL 6 – “I WANT YOU TO BE MY DEAR AND HONORED WIFE, ETC.” “NO, I DON’T WANT YOU TO MARRY ME.”

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