Monday, 24 July 2017

Reviews of the Works of Edward Frederic Benson (1867-1940)

The purpose of this blog is to review, and to gather together other critics' opinions of, the entire works of E F Benson.  'Fred' is known today almost exclusively for his Mapp and Lucia novels and his ghost ('spook') stories, but in his day he was a popular and versatile author, whose career of almost 50 years saw him tackle a wide range of subjects in both fiction and non-fiction.

I've set myself the task of reading his entire literary output, though I'll probably have to draw the line at titles such as English Figure Skating and A Book of Golf, which would very likely kill me.

Though Benson is one of my favourite authors, I'm not an apologist ~ if a book's bad, it's bad ~ and he did, sadly, write rather a lot (mainly novels) that wasn't good.

Anyway, here goes ~ I hope you enjoy the blog and find it useful.

I realize there's no particular order to all this (other than The Order I Read Things In, which is no use to anyone, not even me), and as I can't get the 'Search this blog' function to work for the site, here's a handy alphabetical linked index instead.  The novels ~ all 63 of them ~ are in bold italic; everything else isn't:

N.B. Items marked NEW! ~ these are reproduced free of charge and in full for, as far as I'm aware, the first time ever to the WWW readership.
1886, aged 19
Account Rendered
Across the Stream 
Act in a Backwater, An
Adventure of Hegel Junior, The 
Afrit of the Sea, An
Age of Walnut, The 
Alliance of Laughter, The
'And No Bird Sings ...'
'And the Dead Spake ...'
Angel of Pain, The
Ape, The
1889, aged 22
Archaeology in Literature
Arturo's Boat
Assunta's Sacrifice
As We Are 
As We Have Become
As We Were
At Abdul-Ali's Grave 
At King's Cross Station
At the Farmhouse 
Aunt Jeannie [unpublished play]
Aunts and Pianos 
Autumn and Love
Autumn and the Spring, The
Autumn Sowing, An
Babe, B.A., The
Bagnell Terrace 
Baron, The
Bath-chair, The
Bed by the Window, The
Between the Lights 
Birds NEW!
1893, aged 26
Blackmailer of Park Lane, The
Blotting-book, The
Blue Stripe
Book of Golf, A
Book of Months, The
Box at the Bank, The
Boxing Night
Bread of Deceit, The
Breath of Scandal, A 
Brick, The >>> Dodo and the Brick
Bridge Fiend, The
Bridgwater Club, The
Brontës, The 
Buntingford Jugs
Bus-conductor, The
By the Sluice
By the Waters of Sparta 
Call, The
Capsina, The
Card of Casuistry, A
Case of Bertram Porter, The 
Case of Frank Hampden, The >>> Return of Frank Hampden, The
1898, aged 31
Cat, The
Challoners, The
Charlotte, Anne and Emily Brontë
Charlotte Brontë
Cherry Blossom
China Bowl, The
Chippendale Mirror, The
Christmas with the Old Masters
Christopher Comes Back
Clandon Crystal, The
Classical Education
Climber, The
Climbers and Godmothers
Clonmel Witch Burning, The >>> Recent 'Witch Burning' at Clonmel, The
Colin II
Comedy of Styles, A
Complementary Souls
'Complete Rest' 
Confession of Charles Linkworth, The
Corner House, The
Countess Hatso, The
Countess of Lowndes Square, The
Country House Parties
Courtship of Lord Arthur Armstrong, The
1904, aged 37
Creed of Manners, A
Crescent and Iron Cross
Cricket of Abel, Hirst and Shrewsbury, The
Crotalus, The 
Curious Coincidence, A >>> At Abdul-Ali's Grave
Daily Training
Daisy's Aunt
Dance, The
Dance on the Beefsteak, The 
Dark and Nameless
Daughters of Queen Victoria >>> Queen Victoria's Daughters
David Blaize
David Blaize and the Blue Door 
David Blaize of King's >>> David of King's
David of King's 
Day In, Day Out
Death Warrant, The
Defeat of Lady Grantham, The
Defeat of Lady Hartridge, The 
Demoniacal Possession
Desirable Residences
Deutschland über Allah >>> Crescent and Iron Cross
1909ish, aged 42ish
Dicky's Pain
Dinner for Eight 
Disappearance of Jacob Conifer, The
Diversions Day by Day
Dives and Lazarus 
Dodo [play]
Dodo: A Detail of the Day
Dodo and the Brick
Dodo's Daughter [i.e. Dodo the Second]
Dodo's Progress
Dodo the Second
Dodo Wonders
Dorothy Crystal Syndicate, The NEW!
Double Misfit, A
Drawing-room Bureau, The 
Dummy on a Dahabeah
Dust-cloud, The 
Early Brontë
Earthquakes at Atlanta 
Eavesdropper, The 
Economies of Mrs Hancock, The NEW!
Education of a King, The
English Figure Skating 
English Skating
1914ish, aged 47ish
Entire Mistake, An
Everlasting Silence, The
Exposure of Pamela, The
Face, The
Fallacy at the Heart of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, The
Fall of Augusta, The
False Step, The
Fascinating Mrs Halton, The >>> Daisy's Aunt
Femme Dispose
Ferdinand Magellan
Final Edition 
Fine Feathers
Five Foolish Virgins, The
Flint Knife, The
For His Friends
Freaks of Mayfair, The
Friend in the Garden, The 
Friend in the Garden, The [play]
Friendly Russia NEW!
Friend of the Rich
From Abraham to Christ 
Future of the Novel, The
Gardener, The
Garden Gate, The
Gare du Nord 
Gavon's Eve 
George Moore
George's Secret
Ghost in the Secret Garden, The 
1925ish?, aged 58ish?
Givers and Takers
Godmother, The 
Golden Temple of Amritsar, The 
Gospel of the Gourmet, The 
Governments Who Dig Their Own Graves NEW!
Guardian Angel, The
Guy's Candidate
Hanging of Alfred Wadham, The 
Hapless Bachelors, The
Harmonious Blacksmith, The
Heart of India, The
Henry James: Letters to A. C. Benson and Auguste Monod
Hidden Power, A 
Home, Sweet Home 
Horror-horn, The 
House of Defence, The
House of Help NEW!
House with the Brick-kiln, The
How Fear Departed from the Long Gallery
Image in the Sand, The
Imaginary Interviews 1: Chamberlain and Kruger
Imaginary Interviews 2: The Marquis of Salisbury and Lord Rosebery
Imaginary Interviews 3: The German Emperor and Dr Leyds  
Inheritor, The 
Inscrutable Decrees
In the Dark
In the Tube
Jack and Poll
Jamboree, The
James Lamp
James Sutherland, Ltd.
1927ish, aged 60ish
Jill's Cat 
Jill's Golf
Joy of the Chase, The
Judgment Books, The
Julian's Cottage 
Kaiser and English Relations, The
King and His Reign, The (I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX, X, XI, XII)
King Edward VII
Lady Massington's Resurrection
Lambeth Palace
Liberty of Law NEW!
Life of Alcibiades, The
Light in the Garden, The
Like a Grammarian
Limoges Manuscript, The
Little Headache, A
Lovers, The
Lovers and Friends
Love's Apostate 
Lucia in London
Lucia's Progress
Luck of the Vails, The
Luck of the Vails, The [play] 
Mad Annual, The
Magic White and Black
1930ish, aged 63ish
Male Impersonator, The
Mammon & Co.
Man Who Went Too Far, The
Mapp and Lucia
Margery >>> Juggernaut
May 29th, 1928
Michael >>> Mike
Middleman, The
Miss Mapp
Miss Maria's Romance
Money Market, The
Mother of Men, A
Mr Carew's Game of Croquet 
Mrs Ames
Mrs Amworth
Mrs Andrews's Control
Mrs Lauderdale's Office
Mrs Naseby's Denial
Mrs Ross Puts Her Foot Down
Mr Teddy
Mr Tilly's Seance 
Murder of Alan Grebell, The
1935ish?, aged 68ish
My Friend the Murderer
Mystery of Black Rock Creek, The
Naboth's Vineyard
National Service or National Disgrace? NEW!
Negotium Perambulans
Noblesse Oblige 
Notes on Excavations in Alexandrian Cemeteries
Number 12 
Oakleyites, The
'Oh, to be in England ...' 
Old Bligh, The
'O lyric love half-angel and half-bird'
Once a Year
On the Decadence of Manners
On Undesirable Information
Oriolists, The 
Orozco at Dartmouth College
Osbornes, The
Other Bed, The
1938ish, aged 71ish
Our Family Affairs 1867-1896
Our Hard-working Royal Family NEW!
'Our Sister, the Death of the Body'
Outbreak of War 1914, The
Outcast, The
Outside the Door
The Passenger
Paying Guests
Peacock Enamels, The
The Peerage Cure 
Pharisees and Publicans
Philip's Safety Razor
Poland and Mittel-Europa >>> White Eagle of Poland, The
Poor Miss Huntingford
Portrait of an English Nobleman
Princess Sophia, The
Professor Burnaby's Discovery 
Progress of Princess Waldeneck, The >>> Dodo's Progress 
Psychical Mallards, The 
Public Schools Alpine
Puce Silk, The
1939ish, aged 72ish
Queen Lucia
Queen of the Spa, The
Queen Victoria
Queen Victoria's Daughters
Question of Taste, A
Ravens' Brood
Reading in Bed 
Reaping, A
Recent 'Witch Burning' at Clonmel, The
Red House, The
Relentless City, The 
Renewal, The
Return of Dodo, The
Return of Frank Hampden, The
Robin Linnet
Roderick's Story
Room in the Tower, The
Rubicon, The
Sanctuary, The
Satyr's Sandals, The
Scarlet and Hyssop
1940ish, aged 72ish
Sea Mist
Secret Lives
Sheridan Le Fanu
Shootings at Achnaleish, The 
Shuttered Room, The
Simple Life, The
Sir Francis Drake
Sir Roger de Coverley 
Sketches from Marlborough
Snow Stone, The
Social Customs
Social Sickness
Social Value of Temperance, The
Sound of the Grinding, The
Souvenir of the Air Raids, A
Step, The
Story of a Mazurka, The
Superannuation Department, AD 1945, The
Tale of an Empty House, The
Technique of the Ghost Story, The
Temple, The
Ten Days in the Peloponnese
Terror by Night, The
There Arose a King
Thersilion at Megalopolis, The
Thing in the Hall, The
Thorley Weir
Thoughts from E. F. Benson (1913)
Thoughts from E. F. Benson (1917)
Three Old Ladies, The
1940ish, aged 72ish
Thursday Evenings
To Account Rendered
Top Landing, The
Tortoise, The >>> Mr Teddy
Tragedy of a Green Totem, The
Tragedy of Oliver Bowman, The
Travail of Gold
Trouble for Lucia
Two Days After
Unusual Autobiography, An
Unwanted, The 
Up and Down
Valkyries, The
Victorian Biography - and Afterwards
Vintage, The
Weaker Vessel, The
When Greek Meets Greek
White Eagle of Poland, The
Winter Morning, A
Winter Pastimes
Winter Sports in Switzerland
Wishing-Well, The 
Witch-ball, The 
Woman's Ambition, A
Worshipful Lucia, The >>> Lucia's Progress
Zoo, The 

Countess of Lowndes Square and Other Stories, The
Desirable Residences and Other Stories
Fine Feathers and Other Stories
Flint Knife, The
More Spook Stories 
Sea Mist
Six Common Things
Spook Stories
Visible and Invisible

Mapp and Lucia

Monday, 12 December 2016

The Climber

Fiction ~ novel
Published 1908
Approx. 138,000 words
Available online here

From certain points of view the heroine of Mr. Benson's new novel, The Climber, may be likened to the immortal figure of Becky Sharp. Like Becky, Lucia is absolutely unscrupulous, cold-hearted, and selfish. Like Becky, she is brilliantly successful in the early part of her career, and, again like Becky, she comes to absolute grief in the end. She has not, however, Becky's financial excuses for her downfall, her brilliant marriage and subsequent magnificent establishment being extremely unlike Becky's elopement and the house in Curzon Street owned by Mr. and Mrs. Rawdon Crawley. The whole of Mr. Benson's story is occupied with the figure of the heroine; and if it is necessary to portray in great detail so unattractive a figure, it must be acknowledged that Mr. Benson's study
is eminently successful. But this is where we find the great difference between clever modern novels and that great classic to whose heroine we have compared Lucia. In Vanity Fair Becky Sharp, though marvellously drawn, is only one figure in a gallery of masterly portraits. In a modern story, if the author takes the trouble to give one character drawn in careful detail, he builds up the whole structure round this figure and makes the rest of the book entirely subsidiary to it. Therefore, while Vanity Fair is read with ever-renewed pleasure, books like The Climber are merely painful and morbid studies of social disease. Mr. Benson has his good heroine ~ her name is Maud ~ but she is only drawn in outline, the one attractive figure in the story being Lucia's aunt Cathie. The Climber is not an immoral book in the sense of vice being triumphant, but, inasmuch as the overthrow of the heroine is due to the imprudence of being found out, it can hardly be said to what our forefathers would have called “improving reading.”
~The Spectator, 21/11/1908

Mr. Benson evidently believes there is still a serious novel-reading public. He has written a solid book which refuses to be skimmed, and which might even bear a second reading. Yet it exploits no virgin field, has no dubious scene, no purple patches, and no apparent purpose other than the dramatic representation of character. The social group to which most of the persons belong is a cultivated section of the English upper class, or—more democratically speaking—of the 'smart set.'
The Climber, Lucia Crimson, is a near spiritual relative of Mr. Pinero's Iris and Mrs. Wharton's Lily Bart. Living in quiet boredom with her two tea-drinking, patience-playing maiden aunts—capitally drawn and differentiated—she nourishes a dream of luxurious self-realization. She finds her opportunity in the priggishly æsthetic, very correct young Lord Brayton, who is not only affected by her personal charms, but is also persuaded that she can make his home the centre of a 'New Set' devoted to a very refined type of culture. This æsthetic lord seeks the beautiful in life and art with curious self-conscious and humorless gravity. Lucia, clear-headed and hard-hearted, conducts a Napoleonic social campaign, winning every battle, fulfilling every self-indulgent desire, till at last real passion touches her. Then, relentlessly, as she took Lord Brayton from her best friend, she takes away her best friend's husband. High tragedy cannot befall the two diversely fervid egotists of the drama; but such disaster as their souls are capable of comes swiftly upon them.
No other novel of Mr. Benson's shows such sobriety and maturity of workmanship. The story moves firmly, harmoniously, if somewhat slowly, forward under the conduct of a critical intelligence. The earlier chapters, indeed, make one a little impatient. The author is in no haste to get into action. He describes his field with excessive particularity as if assured of an attentive hearing. He has the bad habit of explaining the precise significance of every important speech, and he gives the reader a sharp nudge when the speech is clever. He has worked with such laborious conscientiousness that he cannot bear to let any good stroke pass unnoticed. Yet his characters are complexly alive, they develop, and they meet in sharp dramatic conflict. One may detest them all; but they survive the closing of the book.
~The Nation, 25/02/1909
Formerly the social climber was the parvenu, the vulgar person, recently enriched, who sought by means of her wealth to associate with people of position. That is the class of person held up to ridicule in such books as The Yellow-plush Papers, Ten Thousand a Year, and The Potiphar Papers. Nowadays the social straggler must enter the fray with a far more complete outfit than that of mere money, or she stands no chance of success. Intelligence, a certain amount of culture, real or imitation, never-ending perseverance and a goodly proportion of that cleverness that is quick to perceive and profit by the weaknesses of others—these are the weapons with which the climber of to-day seeks to capture the desired position.
In describing the career of Lucia Grimson Mr. Benson has given us one of his best stories and drawn some of his best characters. First of these is Lucia herself, beautiful, clever and condemned to that hopelessly dull existence which is the lot of the British alone among the nations of the earth, and from which matrimony seems to offer the only escape. Lord Brayton appears upon the scene, and to secure this eligible husband Lucia exerts every effort and ruse. Brayton is something of a prig, but a good fellow withal, desirous of doing his duty as a citizen, and sincere in his wish to have his influence, his house, and his name stand for something higher than mere fashion. His appreciation of culture is real, though perhaps a little conscious and laboured, and it is by playing skilfully upon this trait of character that Lucia wins him, and deliberately, although she knows that her best friend, Maud, is in love with him.
After a few years of married life she begins to find her husband rather tiresome and realises the difficulty of keeping up her pose of caring only for the higher things of life, but she has gained so much by her marriage that these are but trifles. Up to this time her heart, such as it is, has been entirely untouched when, suddenly, comes her emotional experience. Maud has married a cousin of Lord Brayton's and is very happy. Charlie is attracted by Lucia, as all men are; she begins by liking to exert her power over him, and before she knows it, the mischief is done and each is aware of the other's sentiments. No feeling of loyalty to the man who had given her so much, no touch of pity for the woman whom she is again robbing, assails Lucia. She encourages Charlie and draws him on, with the usual result of detection, exposure, and the Divorce Court. Maud sends her husband away for six months, at the end of which time he is to choose between his wife and Lucia. Should his choice be the latter, Maud will do what she can to make their marriage possible; should he decide in favour of his wife, she will take him back. Lucia goes back to the dull home in Brixton to await her sentence, which comes, six months later, in the form of a paragraph in the paper announcing that Mr. and Mrs. Charles Lindsay are in town for the remainder of the season. Her doom is sealed, and from thenceforward her life stretches on before her like a dusty road, dull and hopeless.
Lucia is plainly the descendant of Dodo, the author's earlier creation, though a little more modern, a little better educated, and far more of a manoeuverer. Her selfishness is a little more decently covered, but she is just as hard and worthless. The characters of the two old aunts are wonderfully well drawn: Aunt Cathie, with the severe appearance and demeanour and the tender heart, and Aunt Elizabeth, soft in manner, but really as hard as nails. Mr. Benson is a very prolific writer, but it is long since he has given us as good a story as The Climber.
~Mary K. Ford in The Bookman, 03/1909
Mr. Benson's book is a study in selfishness. One Lucia Grimson, poor, discontented, but ambitious, schemes deliberately to 'grab' the things in life that she considers worth while. Her wants are insatiable. To quote her own extravagant language, "I want the Pleiades to wear in my hair; I want to wear the moon as a pendant round my neck; I want Saturn and Jupiter to shine in my girdle; I want Venus." By ingenious deception, a titled husband, wealth, and social standing are secured, but these are not enough. Finally, the dangerous experiment of winning the affections of her friend's husband is tried, and this marks the beginning of the end.
The theme is not a pleasant one. The book contains few lovable or interesting characters with the exception, possibly, of the ridiculous but whole-souled Aunt Cathie with the queer dress and manners of a dim past. Even the goodness of the wronged wife is of the milk-and-water variety and calls forth little admiration.
The end of the story finds several lives wrecked and Lucia back in the small world with its round of monotonous duties from which she had struggled so frantically to escape. The outlook is hopeless for all, and it is with a sense of dreariness that the reader closes the book with the question in his mind if the society life of to-day is really as bad as it is painted.
~The Literary Digest, 06/03/1909
In his latest novel Mr. E. F. Benson shows himself in a graver and sterner mood than is habitual with him. The Climber is a merciless and very clever vivisection of an utterly unscrupulous and self-centred nature.
~The Outlook, quoted in endpapers to Juggernaut
In all the people whom he introduces he interests us, and his story is written with striking effect. It contains many passages one would like to quote, there are some fine descriptions in it, and those little Bensonian touches which reveal the author's wonderful power of observation are to be found on almost every page.
~The World, quoted in endpapers to Juggernaut

An unsparing analysis of an ambitious woman's soul ~ a woman who believed that in social 
supremacy she would find happiness, and who finds instead the utter despair of one who has 
chosen the things that pass away.
~?, quoted in endpapers of In the Morning Glow by Roy Rolfe Gilson
In The Climber by E F Benson, we are pleased to welcome the author in familiar mood. Lucia Grimson, who lives in comparative poverty with her two aunts, deliberately sets herself to capture the wealthy Lord Brayton, with whom she knows her friend Maud to be in love. Having climbed, her business [is] to keep waving the flag her husband hoists. But after two or three years with a man whom she does not love, and to whom she is opposed in all her tastes, she is quite ready to yield to the passion she feels for her husband's cousin, Charlie Lindsay, even though she is the husband of the friend she wronged so deeply before. She is divorced by Lord Brayton, Charlie Lindsay returns to his wife, and Lucia goes back to live with Aunt Cathie. This is the bare outline of a story that is full of good things. Vividly interesting characterisation which touches many sides of life, brilliant dialogue, and well pictured scenes all contribute to make this one of the most realistic and excellent of Mr Benson's novels. No one is more adept at unfolding a tale than this author, and, though there is no striking originality of plot in The Climber, the book holds attention from the first page to the last.
~The Manchester Courier, 06/11/1908