When She Was Good

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When She Was Good
First edition
AuthorPhilip Roth
CountryUnited States
PublisherRandom House
Publication date
May 12, 1967
Media typePrint (hardcover)
813/.54 20
LC ClassPS3568.O855 W46 1995
Preceded byLetting Go 
Followed byPortnoy's Complaint 

When She Was Good is a 1967 novel by Philip Roth.[1] It is Roth's only novel with a female protagonist.


Set in a small town in the American Midwest during the 1940s, the novel portrays a moralistic young woman, Lucy Nelson.


When still a child, Lucy Nelson had her alcoholic father thrown in jail. Ever since then, she has been trying to reform the men around her, even if that ultimately means destroying herself in the process.


In the New York Times, critic and writer Wilfrid Sheed observed Roth remains a comic novelist: “His best scenes are still his lightest, the ones you aren't looking for.” Sheed continued, “At the same time, it should be emphasized that ‘When She Was Good,’ both in its sustained theme and its detail work, is a step in class above most recent novels: up on the ledge, in fact, where stringent standards set in. Roth is a serious writer, willing to turn his face against fashion and the expected. . . Roth is one of our few important writers concerning whose future it is possible to feel anything like real curiosity.”[2]


  1. ^ Dubrow, Heather (August 22, 1967). "Smalltown America". The Harvard Crimson. Near Boston. Retrieved May 6, 2021.
  2. ^ Sheed, Wilfrid (June 11, 1967). "Pity the Poor Wasps". The New York Times. New York City. Retrieved May 6, 2021.