Lawrence, Josephine

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LAWRENCE, Josephine

Born 1897, Newark, New Jersey; died 22 February 1978, New York, New York

Daughter of Elijah W. and Mary Barker Lawrence; married Arthur Platz, 1940

Josephine Lawrence spent her entire life in Newark, New Jersey. The daughter of a physician, she attended the Newark public schools and later took courses at New York University. In 1915 she joined the staff of the Newark Sunday Call as editor of the household section and children's page. In 1946 she became the women's page editor of the Newark Sunday News, where she also contributed a weekly book review column entitled "Bookmarks."

Lawrence began her writing career as a children's author. From 1921 to 1931, she wrote over 30 juveniles, publishing many of them anonymously. The Brother and Sister series (1921-27), the Elizabeth Ann series (1923-29), and the Two Little Fellows series (1927-29) are among her best known. Lawrence also wrote Man in the Moon, a radio series for children, broadcast in 1921.

Head of the Family (1932), Lawrence's first attempt at an adult novel, drew little attention, but her second novel, Years Are So Long (1934), became a bestseller and a Book-of-the-Month Club selection. It deals with the relationship between grown children and their aging parents, and it is regarded by many to be Lawrence's best work. When the novel opens, Barkley Cooper, age 73, has recently retired from his lifelong job as a bookkeeper. He has saved little money during this period because he always expected his five children to support him and his wife in their old age. It comes as a cruel shock when his offspring show no inclination to do so. After heated family debate, the children decide that the cheapest solution is to separate their parents and move them around among themselves on extended visits.

No one in Years Are So Long notices or cares about the needs of others. The gap between the generations is immense—the parents cannot understand their children's lack of compassion, and the children cannot understand their parents' self-centered expectations. Yet the gap between members of the same generation is also immense—the children can barely exchange civil greetings, let alone communicate. Occasionally, there are unexpected bursts of sympathy felt by one family member toward another, but this feeling is rarely acted upon. The grim realism of this novel is often unbearable and sometimes unbelievable. Lawrence presents a stark world, and she offers no solutions.

Money, or the lack of it, is often a major theme in Lawrence's work. In If I Have Four Apples (1935), a family refuses to face the fact that they are living beyond their means. When reality forces itself upon them, their lives are shaken. In The Sound of Running Feet (1937), young toes press upon old heels in a business world that cannot provide enough money for all. Lawrence is describing a shoddy America in these novels—ideas and ideals are obliterated in the frantic struggle to obtain sufficient hard cash.

Lawrence uses the knowledge she gained as editor of a newspaper question-and-answer column to portray the ordinary lives of ordinary people. Her novels always take place in a working community (such as Newark), and they always deal with the problems of the lower middle class. Sinclair Lewis remarked on Lawrence's "unusual power of seeing and remembering the details of daily living, each petty, yet all of them together making up the picture of an immortal human being." Lawrence continued working up until the last years of her life, retiring from the newspaper business at the age of seventy-three and publishing her last novel, Under One Roof (1975), at the age of seventy-eight.

Other Works:

Brother and Sister Books (1921). Rosemary (1922). Elizabeth Ann Books (1923). Rainbow Hill (1924). The Berry Patch (1925). Linda Lane Books (1925). Next Door Neighbors (1926). Rosemary and the Princess (1927). Two Little Fellow Books (1927). Glenna (1929). Christine (1930). Bow Down to Wood and Stone (1938). A Good Home with Nice People (1939). But You Are So Young (1940). No Stone Unturned (1941). There Is Today (1942). A Tower of Steel (1943). Let Us Consider One Another (1945). Double Wedding Ring (1946). The Pleasant Morning Light (1948). My Heart Shall Not Fear (1949). The Way Things Are (1950). The Picture Window (1951). Song in the Night (1952). The Gates of Living (1955). The Empty Nest (1956). The Amiable Meddlers (1961). In the Name of Love (1963). Not a Cloud in the Sky (1964). In All Walks of Life (1968).


Reference works:

American Novelists of Today (1951). TCA. TCAS.

Other references:

Newsweek (7 Mar. 1938). NYTBR (12 Jan. 1911). Time (30 Dec. 1935). WLB (Mar. 1930).


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Lawrence, Josephine

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