Sally Benson Rose C. Feld - Essay

Rose C. Feld

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Sally Benson is a gentle satirist. She deals no brutal blows that leave ugly bruises, but with greater art strips her subject of all pretences and affectations and lets her stand naked, not as God made her but as time and friends and circumstances have made her. Sometimes the creature that remains is likable, sometimes not, but always she is human and understandable. "She" is used advisably, for Sally Benson is concerned almost exclusively with the female of the species. The male, to be sure, is an important figure in the background, but he plays a secondary role.

In "Emily" …, Mrs. Benson again produces an interesting gallery of female portraits, running in range from that of a girl 16 … to that of a woman of more than sixty…. The stories are slight, the characterization excellent. In the [former] she recalls that desperate stage of youth between childhood and maturity when the world of ice-cream cones and dancing with girls seems too young and the one of drinking and county-club dancing too old. In the [latter] she writes of the peaceful time of life when a woman has fulfilled her responsibilities to husband, home and children and once again can relax in the company of her own sex and her own age….

In the span of years between these two lie twelve other stories which give short but brilliant glimpses of women caught in some moment of ambition, fear, regret or vanity….

Most compassionate of all the portraits in ["Emily" is the title story]…. Emily is dead when the story opens, but Emily comes deeply alive in the laconic conversation held between her sister and Emily's housekeeper….

These stories are good in the first reading and better in the second.

Rose C. Feld, "The Satires of Sally Benson," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1938 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), July 31, 1938, p. 6.