Sally Benson Philip Wylie - Essay

Philip Wylie

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

["Women and Children First"] is an arrangement of short contes dedicated to the modish principle that the action of human character is best revealed by a lack of character and of action…. [Most] of the stories are counterparts of one kind of New Yorker cartoon: the kind that points out the ego and idiocy of middle-class ladies…. [Miss Benson's] denouements are … one-line captions, and her neatly worded pictures have all the detail and accuracy of pages torn from telephone books….

Moving and diverse entertainment is to be found in Miss Benson's story about the brief vacation of a colored maid, her discussion of the marital fate of a terrible-tempered Mr. Bang and her nice account of the behavior of a convalescent British seaman in an American home. In the main, though, she seems to mistake cynicism for satire…. That is, she deplores much and indicts nothing. Her chief effort is to be slight….

One does not find in "Women and Children First" the nostalgia of Miss Benson's St. Louis recollections, or her humorous compassion for the Junior Miss. Her talent, I suspect, has been molded by editorial policy…. [In] the category of fiction [The New Yorker] has run a Marathon with itself to determine how close slightness may approach zero and yet exist. Some of Miss Benson's themes look like winners.

Philip Wylie, "Confetti in a Vacuum," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1943 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), November 21, 1943, p. 3.