Literature / Jennie

Jennie is a novel by Douglas Preston first published in 1994. It follows the life of an extraordinary chimpanzee named Jennie and her experience being raised by humans in the 1960s and 1970s. Despite the format of interviews and excerpts from memoirs, the story is entirely fictional and is mostly based on the life of a chimp in the 1930s who was the inspiration for Curious George.

This novel provides examples of:

  • Author Tract: In the author's note at the end, Preston notes that while the novel was fiction it was all based on real research on chimpanzees. He notes what remarkable creatures they and the other great apes are and encourages the reader to learn more about conservation of our closest genetic relatives.
  • Break the Scientist: The people who know and study Jennie are constantly annoyed by other people referring to her as a monkey. Sandy nearly gets into a fight with some other children over the wrong terminology. He parrots his father's phrase that "monkeys are inferior."
  • Driven to Suicide: When Jenny realizes that she is permanently in the chimp colony and no one from home is ever going to rescue her, she runs full force at the bars of her cage and fractures her skull.
  • Elephant in the Room: During Palliser's first visit, everyone is trying to pretend he's not there about Jennie. They try to make small talk as she tears through the kitchen making a huge ruckus.
  • Fingore: The final straw for Jennie being sent to the chimp colony is Sandy losing a finger.
  • Henpecked Husband: Reverend Palliser.
    "I could see the Reverend was having trouble concentrating on the conversation. Clearly his wife had put him up to this visit, just as she made him weed the dandelions out of our yard when she believed we were not home. I felt quite sorry for Palliser, with such a wife."
  • Interspecies Friendship: Jennie and her human companions, especially Sandy.
  • Never Speak Ill of the Dead: Averted. Dr. Epstein remarks that this is disrespectful and quotes Voltaire on the subject: "'To the living we owe respect, but to the dead only truth.' I honor Hugo's memory by telling the truth about him."
  • Screw Politeness, I'm a Senior!: Dr. Epstein.
    "I am being facetious, of course. Don't print that. I'm eighty-five years old, and I have gotten into the habit of saying whatever I damn well please."
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: The story is inspired by Meshie, a chimp reportedly raised as a human in the 1930s.