Laura Hobson Essay - Critical Essays

Hobson, Laura Z(ametkin) (Vol. 7)

Hobson, Laura Z(ametkin) 1900–

Laura Hobson, an American novelist, is known for her fictive treatment of controversial themes of social import. Gentleman's Agreement, an exposure of tacit American anti-Semitism, is still her most successful work. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 17-20, rev. ed.)

The Tenth Month is what the trade calls a Woman's Book, a story whose immediate appeal is to women. If The Tenth Month is such a story it is also much more. Somewhat in the tradition of Gentleman's Agreement, Mrs. Hobson's novel deals with prejudice—the prejudice of middle-class, neo-Puritan morality—a morality still far more prevalent in this country than our young people would have you believe.

Theodora Gray, [the protagonist, is] one of the most vital, interesting, forty-year-old women I have ever been privileged to meet between book covers…. (p. 34)

The important thing is not the skeleton of Mrs. Hobson's novel but the flesh with which she envelops it. The plot complications (set against the backdrop of 1968, a year of dismay and murder, a year of riots and dissent) are well thought out. But even they are not important. What is, is that this book is a celebration. A celebration of decency, in a time of calculated indecency. A celebration of life and love, in a time of hatred and death. A celebration of warmth and maturity, in a time of spiritual cold and spiteful childishness.

The writing is always competent and often much more than that. I found myself marking what, for lack of a formal term, I christened Hobsonisms…. There are aphorisms, scattered like spice throughout the pages—enough of them to stop the reader, lap him in a transient wavelet of surprised delight….

To be known for so many years as the author of Gentleman's Agreement must have been irritating for Mrs. Hobson. Perhaps now she will be remembered as the author of The Tenth Month. Wise without being sententious, witty without being brittle, loving without being sentimental, sexual without being pornographic—her novel is all of these, and a rattling good story with an ingenious ending besides. The Tenth Month has something important to say, and says it almost perfectly. (p. 62)

Edwin Fadiman, Jr., in Saturday Review (copyright © 1971 by Saturday Review, Inc.; reprinted with permission), January 16, 1971.

Unwed motherhood always needs to have something nice done for it. Mrs. Hobson has contributed an extremely slick, genteel soap opera, in novel form [The Tenth Month], to the cause. Her heroine is forty, freshly divorced, and having her first baby (she had tried for years). The father is a friendly journalist she decides not to tell. And for the child's good she decides not to tell the world either, but to hole up in the strangeness of 95th St. (she's normally a 5th Avenue kind) until after the birth, and then legally adopt her own. It can be done; Mrs. Hobson tells us, in detail, how.

There are also a weak lover (not the father, not the ex-hub), a strong and wise gynecologist, and various assorted relatives, some of whom fear for their reputations. Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy and the Columbia riots appear as well, for these are troubled times….

During her pregnancy Dori (the heroine) thinks and thinks like that…. Everybody is a professional in this book, but Dori is the professional's professional. (p. 34)

The New Republic (reprinted by permission of The New Republic; © 1971 by The New Republic, Inc.), February 6, 1971.

[In] The Tenth Month, Laura Z. Hobson pretends to take on the problem of the unwed mother. Much anguish is possible in such a situation, but Dori, Miss Hobson's heroine, just doesn't seem all that unfortunate. At 40 she is a beautiful divorcee with a successful career and no lack of lovers—in short, a thoroughly modish lady-magazine heroine…. [With] all the courage of a woman with money, understanding friends and an unbelievably helpful obstetrician, she has her baby. Does Dori find happiness as an unwed mother? The reader won't believe Hobson's choice. It's just too untrue to be good. (p. 90)

Time (reprinted by permission from Time, The Weekly Newsmagazine; copyright Time Inc.), March 29, 1971.

My guess is that ["Consenting Adult"] will have something of the impact of [Laura Z. Hobson's] 1947 novel about anti-Semitism, "Gentleman's Agreement." And for much the same reason: she has taken an issue [homosexuality] that currently agitates the culture and dramatized it in terms of individual lives. This allows for points of personal identification that can do more to establish empathy and understanding than any work of social science, however full, learned, well-intentioned.

Most of Laura Hobson's success in reaching us hinges on the complexity of her two main characters, Tessa and Jeff, mother and son, and also on her decision—unique in the literature about homosexuality—to tell the story from the parent's point of view: we experience events and people through Tessa's eyes, not Jeff's. What little we learn of the texture of his life as a homosexual is the little Tessa herself learns; and Jeff—taciturn, distant, stubborn, belligerently (even brutally) devoted to his privacy—sees to it that communications are minimal.

This is not the docile mama's boy so dear to the psychiatric literature. Nor the proud young revolutionary of counter-myth. Rather, Jeff is a self-sustaining, somewhat inelastic solitary, absorbed first in sports and then in science—and wholly apolitical. When, at the end of the book (by then a 30-year-old doctor), Jeff does "come out," the novel is at its least convincing. This is in part because little in his character or experience has prepared us for the event, and in part because, at about the same point in the narrative, Hobson walks him into the sunset with another Fine Young Doctor. Having worked almost too hard through most of the book to avoid assigning Jeff any stereotypic "gay" attributes, Hobson then capitulates entirely to the counter-stereotypes of settled self-pride and monogamous love….

If Jeff is meant to be viewed to any degree as an emblematic figure—and of course he will be—then our awareness of the range of gay experience and personality will have been valuably expanded in one sense only to be contracted in another. His rugged temperament, his professional success, his monogamous love life are suspiciously close to the official model of what constitutes a healthy heterosexual male. Jeff's qualities seem drawn to the specifics of Tessa's—and perhaps most mothers'—fantasy needs (including Hobson's, apparently: there's nothing in the novel to suggest any differentiation between the points of view of character and author). Yet these needs, derived from the traditional culture, are currently under serious challenge as indices of "maturity" or guarantors of personal happiness. (p. 5)

[Thessa]—and her creator—will be derided, perhaps, as "mere" liberals. Well, would that we had more of them—more of the "merely" decent who push themselves to change, who recognize that we're "at some new threshold" and do their best to cross it, even if that best entails some visceral resistance to a full awareness of the seismic nature of the shift at hand. Those who are tempted to sneer at the book's inadequacies will have to be sure that they are not doing so as a convenient way of evading their own responsibility to match its author's courage and meet her novel's central moral challenge: to try to understand and respect that which is different. (p. 6)

Martin Duberman, "Gentlemen's Agreement," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1975 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), July 6, 1975, pp. 5-6.

The publication, in 1947, of Gentleman's Agreement was a milestone in the history of American anti-Semitism, or at least in the popular awareness of it. The book, and the much-acclaimed movie made from it, touched sensibilities, made people aware, and sometimes ashamed, of their feelings. Perhaps some of them resolved to act differently, no matter what they thought privately.

In any case, anti-Semitism has weakened considerably in the last 28 years, as have some of our other prejudices. In [Consenting Adult], however, Mrs. Hobson tackles the bigotry that Middle America now finds most justified, indeed to the point of fervor—that against homosexuality…. This … story … should, once again, force readers to examine their own feelings. (p. 42)

Cerrulia Kent, in Saturday Review (copyright © 1975 by Saturday Review, Inc.; reprinted with permission), August 9, 1975.