Before Love Story: A Brief Catalogue of Jennifers
“What can you say about a twenty-five-year-old girl who died?”—Erich Segal
I was already over a year old when Love Story by Erich Segal was published on Valentine’s Day, 1970, sending my name soaring in popularity, filling my grade school with Jennifers. I’ve read the book and seen the movie, but still, something is missing. I look for a Jennifer from history or literature to connect with, but it isn’t that easy. I find Jennie Churchill, rumored to have created the Manhattan, but she is actually a Jeanette. I find Jenny Lind, and though we share Swedish blood and she has a memorial in Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey, she was a Johanna.
I find Jenny Cavilleri in Love Story. This update of Verdi’s La traviata, itself a retelling of The Lady of the Camellias by the younger Dumas, features a girl named Jenny who dies of leukemia—though of course, it is tuberculosis in the opera and most of the nineteenth century. In all versions of this story, there is wealth and family misunderstanding. In La traviata, Violetta Valéry is a courtesan redeemed by the purity of love. The resolution and return of the beloved always happen too late, but I, at least, was born before love meant never having to say you’re sorry.
Editor’s Note: A prose poem surrenders enjambment; therefore, the narrative flow must instead provide ample space for the reader to digest the imagery. This poem combines creative memoir with allegory: what is love’s purpose?