Josephine Bentham (1901?-1987?) had a long and varied writing career. She wrote short stories for magazines, had a very successful play (Janie) on Broadway in the mid-1940s, and published a couple of Gothic thrillers under the pseudonym Serena Mayfield in the 1970s. But she never wrote another serious novel after Outsiders. So for some reason a distinctive voice got choked off. I have to wonder if somewhere there's a trunkful of Bentham manuscripts that couldn't find a publisher in the 1930s.
Outsiders by Josephine Bentham. Henkle (1929), 296 pp.
Leslie Barrett, a laid-off newspaperwoman with a background in vaudeville and a degree from Vassar, meets Paul Royden, a former divinity student who’s wealthy enough not to worry much about a new career. She’s something of a free spirit. He’s well meaning but straitlaced. It’s a match based on complementary needs: hers for security, his for duty. They marry and move into a large house overlooking the Golden Gate. When Leslie begins to feel lonely and disoriented, she adds some people from her past to the household: Isabel Greenshaw, the woman who raised her; Kit Greenshaw, Isabel’s son, an unemployed dancer; and Jennie Jacobson, an old pal with romantic problems. Paul is less than pleased. But he realizes that transforming Leslie will be a long and complicated process.
Outsiders is Bentham’s second novel, and she has written it with even more insight and precision than her first one, Bright Avenues. The lead characters, Leslie and Paul, are doubly opposite. They have conflicting personalities and come from different social classes. (Fans of the Myers-Briggs test will be tempted to categorize Leslie as an ENFP and Paul as an ISTJ.) They are soon wondering how much they will need to give up in order to sustain the marriage. In standard romance fiction love would keep them together. Here, however, it’s not clear that love is what fostered their relationship in the first place. The minor characters are engaging. Their interventions in the lives of Leslie and Paul keep the story from slowing down. This may not be a great book. But if it could get into some kind blind competition with the famous novels of 1929 (A Farewell to Arms, The Sound and the Fury, Look Homeward, Angel, et al.), it might rate pretty high.