Critical Context (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series)
With her first novel, Dreams of Sleep (1984), Josephine Humphreys established a place for herself in contemporary southern fiction. While her focus was on private life, the backdrop of that book and of the two novels that followed it was the Charleston, South Carolina, area, which until recently seemed immune to change. Although one cannot blame changing society for all the problems Humphreys’s characters face, certainly such trends as the disintegration of the family influence their attitudes and their decisions. Neither Dreams of Sleep nor Rich in Love would have developed in the same way if divorce were not an acceptable option. However, it is not social upheaval but natural disaster that sets the stage for The Fireman’s Fair (1991). In it, the survivors of Hurricane Hugo attempt to restore order, both in their community and in their own lives.
Humphreys’s next project involved helping a black woman with an interesting story find a way to write it down and get it published. Gal: A True Life (1994), by the pseudonymous Ruthie Bolton, was both a critical and financial success.
In her work with Bolton, Humphreys demonstrated the generosity of spirit which is so evident in her novels. While she is highly praised for her craftsmanship and for her masterful evocation of the South Carolina setting, Humphreys is perhaps most respected because while admitting that contemporary life is not easy, she insists that order can come out of chaos and that apprehensions about change can be overcome by the power of love.