Tuesday, 1 January 1980

The Mapp and Lucia series

Fiction ~ six novels, two short stories
Published 1920-39

Benson's Mapp and Lucia series consists of six novels and two short stories:
(1) Queen Lucia (1920; Lucia only)
(2) Miss Mapp (1922; Mapp only)
(3) Lucia in London (1927; Lucia only)
(4) The Male Impersonator (1929; Mapp only)
(5) Desirable Residences (1929; Mapp only)
(6) Mapp and Lucia (1931; both)
(7) Lucia's Progress (1935; both; known as The Worshipful Lucia in the USA)
(8) Trouble for Lucia (1939; both)

There are, of course, whole herds of proto-Lucias and pseudo-Mapps, not to mention Lucias-in-waiting, Mapps manquées, mini-Georgies, the odd Major Benjy, beefy parlourmaids with their lesbianic mistresses, snobs, cats, bitches, pseuds, prudes ... and umpteen stories (some comic, some spooky) set in Tilling, Tillingham, etc. etc. scattered throughout the works of E. F. Benson from 1893-1940.
I've read the whole lot of them umpteen times and the comedy never palls for me.

Daily Training

Non-fiction ~ sports/health
Published 1902
Benson edited with his friend Eustace H Miles

The title of this book, which belongs to the "Imperial Athletic Library," indicates its purpose. It is intended to give rules, rules always founded on principles, not for preparation for feats of strength, but for general well-being of body. It is a treatise on "daily" training, not the special cultivation of an abnormal strength, a cultivation which may be easily overdone and end in collapse, but of the general cultivation of a good physical habit. Diet is, of course, one of the main points. Our authors are strongly disposed to a modified vegetarianism; then there are exercises, for which very detailed instructions are given, and some admirably sound advice on morals. Altogether this is a book which any one may read with profit.
~The Spectator, 22/11/1902
With commendable simplicity and reasonableness, suggestions and directions are here set down concerning such exercises and general regimen as may contribute to the acquisition or preservation of health. Rules are based on the experience and observation of both authors, one of whom is a vegetarian, the other a meat-eater; one takes regular, the other sporadic, outdoor exercise; one a hot, the other a cold, bath; one uses tobacco, the other abjures it. They claim to be in harmony on fundamentals, and their advice is doubtless the more acceptable and effective because of their differences in practice. Argument for physical culture goes deeper than the simple invigoration of the body: "There is no healthful habit of body which does not exercise healthful influence on the soul," say they.
~The Outlook, 21/03/1903

The King and His Reign III: Ireland

Non-fiction ~ article
Published in The Spectator, 8th March 1935

The third of EFB's articles written to commemorate the silver jubilee of King George V isn't available online, for some mysterious reason.

King Edward VII

Non-fiction ~ biography/royalty
Published 29th June 1933
Approx. 86,000 words


Mr. E. F. Benson's literary activities are more than admirable, they are amazing, and his agile pen has perhaps never been more happily, or more usefully, employed than in drawing for us his "speaking" likeness of the Monarch who, in nine short years, stamped himself indelibly on English and European, history. Mr. Benson's admiration for Edward VII is born of intimate knowledge of that King's character and career; he gives many a subtle story, many an important sidelight, many a stinging detail not to be found in Mr. Sidney Lee's 1,600 closely written pages, the avoirdupois of which may have been a little discouraging to the general reader. [...]

Mr. Benson has shown Edward VII to be intensely human, prone to the faults from which his father was free but possessing merits wholly beyond the outlook of that virtuous Prince. Generous no less than just, King Edward will go down to posterity as a most dignified, and withal most lovable, personage, and posterity will do well to hang up on their walls the faithful, if highly coloured, portrait due to Mr. Benson's skill. It is no figure of speech to suggest that unless the first output of King Edward the Seventh is of unusual dimensions, successive editions will rapidly follow, and it is therefore not ungracious to point to one error. Lord Kitchener waited on King Edward when King Edward's end was near, not to tender his resignation as Commander-in-Chief in India, but to receive absolution from the promise he had been coerced to make with regard to assuming the unnecessary and unsatisfactory Mediterranean Command.
~George Arthur in The Spectator, 29/06/1933 [heavily abridged: the original is 1,050 words]
The only criticism which can be made of this excellent book is that it does not handle its subject in the direct and intimate manner which has hitherto characterized the work of its author. E. F. Benson has already published two charming volumes of memoirs covering the period which is the theme of this book: As We Were and As We Are. One gets the impression, in reading his biography of King Edward, that he was a little hampered by these earlier works. For Mr. Benson was a contemporary of King Edward; he knew the greater part of the actors in the drama, he was their friend and their intimate; but it is only rarely that he allows himself in this work to make use of the remarkable personal knowledge he has of his subject. He writes of Edward VII as an excellent and conscientious historian, but a little as he might write of Henry VIII or Richard of Bordeaux. That doubtless was the task which he set himself; the reader, however, cannot but prefer those passages in which Mr. Benson consents to forget that he is a historian in order to become a memorialist.
~André Maurois in The Saturday Review, 23/09/1933 [again heavily abridge: original 1,195 words]
This is not a contribution to biography, or to history, or to literature, but it has its uses. Mr. Benson presents all the salient facts in the life of Edward VII, and in the main he discusses them fairly and intelligently. He does not become indignant at the King's well-known lapses from sound Christian morals, but instead tries to explain them as the result of the cold and Puritanical training of his youth. As sovereign he certainly was not a shining light, but equally certainly he was not stupid. "By virtue of a detached fairmindedness he could both disagree and appreciate," and unlike his mother, he always differentiated between persons and politics. Altogether, he was probably a good change for England after Queen Victoria. There are many illustrations, and also an index.
~The American Mercury, 11/1933
A generation has almost grown up since King Edward died, and far less than half the population can clearly remember when he was Prince of Wales. Yet he seems a wonderfully familiar figure to us all; and here is the third important book to be published on him within a few years. The official biography by Sir Sidney Lee was published in 1927, and a short, brilliant study by Mrs H E Wortham this year. It is, therefore, inevitable that this book has little that is new in it, but if Mr Benson leads us along familiar paths, he guides us with such zest and originality that it is difficult to remember that we knew it all before. I think that he has described the historical and political background with a clearness and simplicity that are wholly admirable, in front of which the King stands out ~ a shrewd, gay, vital, friendly man. [...]
When the historian of the future comes to decide the importance of King Edward in European history, he may not agree with all that Mr Benson says in his appreciation of the King, but he can hardly fail to be stimulated and charmed by this delightful study of a very human man.
~Roger Fulford in The Yorkshire Post, 29/06/1933

The Age of Walnut

Benson provided a brief foreword to this book on furniture, published in 1932

Assunta's Sacrifice

Fiction ~ short story
Published in Vanity Fair, December 1928
more details to follow ~ we hope

Vanity Fair winter number is always good reading; that issued to-day is no exception. The stories by E F Benson, Max Pemberton, and other well-known writers are agreeable and seasonable reading.
~Pall Mall Gazette, 03/12/1898


Spook Stories

Fiction ~ collection of short stories
Published April 1928

The collection comprises twelve stories:

The Face
Bagnell Terrace
A Tale of an Empty House
Naboth's Vineyard
Home, Sweet Home
"And No Bird Sings ..."
The Corner House
The Temple

For reviews of the individual stories, click on the links above.  For reviews of the book as a whole, see below.
The whole book is available online here.

[Next to G K Chesterton] Mr E. F. Benson is perhaps the amateur who has had most success in devising thrillers. Mr Benson's forte is the short mystery story. His new book of these, Spook Stories […], is an amateur detective series rather than a collection of ghost shockers. The setting is usually a picturesque little cottage where murder has been done, the villain in the piece a house agent, who entices thither two aged gentlemen on holiday bent, and thrills and light relief are provided by their encounters with ghosts when they would much rather have been enjoying a quite game of solitaire.
~Aberdeen Press and Journal, 05/04/1928
One does not take seriously a book entitled Spook Stories […]. For one reason the use of the term 'spook' suggests humour rather than horror. Not even E. F. Benson's name as author can impart any significance or gravity to the fantastic tales here assembled. The first of these involves an amazing coincidence which links the young owner of a haunted mansion with prospective tenants whose forebears had figured in a sordid tragedy enacted within its walls. In another story, entitled The Face, a happy young wife is tortured by nightmare visions of an evil-looking man who threatens to compel her to come with him. In the end the hapless woman disappears, her footprints being traced to a graveyard in which a landslide has exposed the body of the man who had haunted her dreams. This finale is robbed of any tragic stress by the patent artificiality which makes known the final experience of the victim. The woman disappeared; how then could her last movements be detailed?
~The Courier and Advertiser [Dundee], 19/04/1928
Spook Stories (1928) is perhaps the least distinguished volume of Benson’s ghostly tales (which were typically first published individually in literary monthlies), but it is richest in the glamour and enchantments of an English country garden. Curiously, the novelist Joan Aiken's faintly aggravating Forward to the 1992 edition of Benson’s Collected Ghost Stories (which boasts that she was an affirmed fan of Benson by the age of six) immediately singles out Spook Stories for attention, slagging it off for being “tamer” than M. R. James' tales, before admitting that “there was something very likable about the collection,” namely its evocation of “a comfortable, definite, and instantly recognisable world.” Yet this model of England as a fund of holiday destinations may strike one as being highly idealised rather than “instantly recognisable.”
[…] but Spook Stories could almost make one lose their heart to England. […] There is little politics to this. Benson does not cling to the nation because it provides a spurious sense of certainty and belonging, but he is instead a connoisseur of the English character, its manners and traditions, and the towns and shires from which it emerged. His is an England so pure that anybody would find themselves exiled from it. […] Benson had keenly observed the England which he dreamed about: he had dined with the burghers of his home town of Rye, rifled its antique shops, and disappeared to the nearby coast to peep at the local birdlife through his binoculars.
The English countryside could not be realistically portrayed as idyllic when millions of modern workers had lately fled to the cities, but there are no happy peasants in Benson’s England, merely a distant, dusty world of tradesmen and servants. We are left to survey a genial suburban Camelot of knightly bachelors, the sort of men who would regard a lawyer or a doctor as a servant.
[…] Benson was happy to have his stories collected in volumes. The careful arrangement of Spook Stories particularly draws attention to the sameness of the contributions, and suggests that the sum may be more interesting than its parts. We are invited to observe the destiny of a social class rather than merely those of the indistinguishable, forgettable [Hugh] Gra(i)ngers who happen to belong to it. The sole exception is provided by the penultimate story Corstophine.
[…] The thematic unity of Spook Stories partly arises from its founding , whose name is evoked in both Bagnell Terrace and Naboth’s Vineyard.
[…] the bourgeois desire for pleasant houses [...] recurs throughout Spook Stories.
~James Mooney at “Tychy”, 25/07/2011. Abridged. For the full review see here, and the individual stories


Non-fiction ~ research article
Published in The Journal of Hellenic Studies, November 1895
Available to buy online here

Aegosthena, now more generally known as Porto Germano, lies on one of the easternmost bays of the Corinthian gulf, and on the northern frontier of the Megarid. Its remoteness from ordinary routes—for between it and Velia, itself an ultima Thule, rise 2,000 feet of pine-clad mountains—accounts for the fact that it is to this day practically unknown, and also perhaps for the very scanty mention of it in ancient literature. There was a shrine of Melampus there, the Spartans passed it in their retreat from Leuctra, and that is all. But the same remoteness has preserved for us a Greek fortified town in better condition and greater completeness than any other, not even excepting Messene.
The town was divided into two parts, the Acropolis defended on all sides by a line of walls and towers, and the lower town fortified on the north, from the Acropolis down to the sea, by a similar line, still remaining in good condition. We are, I think, both by the exigencies of its position and also by certain scanty remains bound to assume the existence of a corresponding south wall, of which mention will be made later. The style of building both in the Acropolis and the long wall is the same.

It sounds a hoot.

Josiah Ober, in Fortress Attica: Defense of the Athenian Land Frontier, 404-322 B.C. (1985) (which also sounds an absolute hoot), calls it 'still the basic work'.

Crescent and Iron Cross

Non-fiction ~ history/politics
Published 1918 (an expanded version of the earlier Deutschland über Allah)
Approx. 49,000 words

When the Young Turks came into power, they proclaimed that they were going to weld the Ottoman Empire into one homogeneous and harmonious whole. But by a piece of brilliant paradoxical reasoning, says Mr. Benson, Germany determined that it was she who was going to do it for them. He proceeds:
In flat contradiction of the spirit of their manifestoes, which proclaimed the Pan-Turkish ideal, she conceived and began to carry out, under their very noses, the great new chapter of the Pan-Germanic ideal. And the Young Turks did not know the difference! They mistook that lustyTeutonic changeling for their own new-born Turkish babe, and they nursed and nourished it. Amazingly it throve, and soon it cut its teeth, and one day, when they thought it was asleep, it arose from its cradle, baby no more, but a great Prussian guardsman who shouted, “Deutschland über Allah!
Mr. Benson concludes that in Turkey "there is no God but backshish and the Deutsche bank is his prophet." Turkish youths are now sent to Germany instead of France for education. Mr. Benson adds: "Certainly, Prussian Gott is nearer Turkish Allah." Aside from the book's chronicle of how Turkey has practically become a German colony, another feature distinguishes it—the author's position concerning Germany's part in the Armenian massacres. He asserts that Germany did not
want these massacres. "She wanted more agricultural labor, and I think that, if only for that reason, she deprecated them. But she allowed them to go on when it was in her power to stop them, and all the perfumes of Arabia cannot wash clean her hand from that stinking horror."
~The Outlook (US), 05/06/1918
Concerned with Eastern affairs, but rather with things political than with things military, is E. F. Benson's Crescent and Iron Cross [...]. Of Turkey the author maintains that the famous phrase of Nicholas I, "Turkey is a sick man," is no longer true. "Turkey is not a sick man," he says; "Turkey is a sickness." And he continues: "Turkey, the rodent cancer, has been infected by another with greater organization for devouring; the disease of Ottomanism is threatened by a more deadly hungerer, and Prussianism has inserted its coal-pincers into the cancer that came out of Asia." It is these phenomena, and their reaction upon the subject peoples of Armenia, Syria, and Palestine, that Mr. Benson here examines, with the result that he sees a brighter future for Turkey He feels that the Turkey of the future is to be for the Turks; not for the persecuted Armenians, nor for the Arabs, nor for the Greeks, and assuredly not for the Prussians.
~The Nation, 09/11/1918
Between America and Turkey there has been a severance of relations, but no war. Nevertheless,
when on January 8, 1918, President Wilson, in reply to the Russian challenge, set forth with detail and precision the fourteen conditions which are now ostensibly the basis of the peace to be made with the Central Powers, the liberation of the subject peoples of the Ottoman Empire was coupled with 'self-determination' for the Turks. That Turkey, in reply, did not immediately declare war was a
sign and a portent. For Turkish foreign policy was dictated from Berlin, and the future of Turkey had been determined in Berlin. A declaration of war on the part of Turkey would have added the United States in an 'internationally-legal' way to the powers sharing against Germany the potentiality of determining the fate of Turkey. And it was not to imperial Germany's interest that this should be so. Turkey was the base of the economic arch of Mittel-Europa, the keystone of the military arch of the contemplated hegemony of. Asia and Africa. The German over-lordship of Turkey had hence to be preserved by any and all means—by the massacre of the Armenians, by the
abortive assaults on the 'Arabs' and the Jews, by the economic penetration of the unhappy Ottoman Empire.
Mr. Benson does not say this. His work is largely a survey of the established dominion of the Germans in Turkey, particularly of those aspects of it which have developed during the war. It is well written, with a power of phrase unusual in works of this type, but also with a passion and a somewhat infantile irony that greatly detract from the force and persuasiveness of his narrative. The mere data of this are sufficient. To any one acquainted with the programme of Mittel-Europa they make clear immediately that the pan-Germans had been preparing in Turkey for after the war. They make clear immediately why this high sovereign power, the Ottoman Empire, failed to resent the 'deadly insult' levelled at it by the chief magistrate of a nation with which it was offcially at peace. They make clear immediately why the chief magistrate found it necessary to make this 'insult' one of his explicit conditions of a peace settlement.
The Young Turks, Mr. Benson points out, reversed the policy of the 'Old Turks.' Those had impressed the youth of their subject-populations into their armies, had Moslemized them and had then used them to misgovern the peoples of their own blood. The Young Turks, on the other hand,
used their armies to kill out these non-Turkish peoples. They did it with the connivance of the Germans. They did it to the Armenians, and they were prevented from accomplishing it upon the Jews and Arabs. They planned it, and carried it out as a part of the programme of Turkish nationalism; to establish the numerical supremacy of the Turks in the empire, the dominion of the Turkish language and Turkish culture. They were encouraged by the Germans because the Turks are the most inferior people in the empire; because German control might meet competition among Syrians and Armenians, but could meet none among Turks. To ensure control they had since the war
added to their already great concessions in railroads, harbors and irrigation, the control of most of the railroads in the empire, the control of the coal mines at Rodesto and of the copper mines at Arghana Maden. By treaty, January 11, 1917, they acquired control of the whole reorganization of the economic system of Turkey, and already in 1916 they had it arranged that German law might
replace the Shuriat. They had undertaken the Germanification of young Ottomans by means of the schools and of all industries by means of concessions. But their most astute operation was the bankruptcy of Turkey, which gave them, victorious or defeated, a stranglehold on the land. They did it by taking away all the Turkish bullion and replacing it by German paper notes to the amount of about seven hundred and fifty million dollars. This paper is to be redeemed in gold, at par, two years after the end of the war. To this paper they added more, in the shape of a loan, just after failure of the Gallipoli campaign, and then they added further loans. As it had been made a criminal offence to hoard gold, German paper had to circulate. Soon, however, it had to be used as a 'reserve' and fresh paper was issued with the old paper as its guaranty. The result is that all German paper has depreciated so that the Turkish gold pound, which is worth 100 piastres in silver, is worth more than 280 piastres in German paper. In all, Turkey has received from Germany in paper just about 142 million pounds. She is to repay this, at par, with interest of course, in gold. Turkey will never, as the German financiers and the astute Young Turk rulers of Turkey know, be able to do this. Germany will collect her claim by appropriating the natural resources of that rich land, kept a desert for a thousand years through misgovernment.
Prior to the war the most serious rival of Germany in the exploitation of Turkey was France. England had interests, since greatly expanded, but France was foremost. Mr. Benson suggests—and his suggestion smells of an official understanding, a secret treaty in fact, between the powers of the Entente—that the solution of the Turkish problem would be the formal establishment of a French
protectorate in Syria, the concentration of the Turks in Anatolia, and so on. The proposal is in complete harmony with the tradition of the old imperialism. It is entirely contrary to the President's. That demands clearly and explicitly freedom and security for all the peoples in the Turkish empire, the Turks included. Between the real Turks in Anatolia and the offspring of the Janizzaries in Constantinople there is no community, either of blood or of speech or of culture. Anatolians have been the victims of a tyrannical military autocracy only in less degree than the Armenians, Arabs and Jews. First the present Ottoman government must be destroyed. Then the Ottoman lands and people must, like the Ottoman debt, be assigned, as the Inter-Allied Labor and Socialist Conference
suggests, to international guardianship. No more spheres of influence, no more protectorates. As Mr. Wilson has insisted, and as he must now most vigorously demand, the interests of the peoples concerned come first. If these interests are to be safeguarded, there is necessary an international commission which will protect all of them from the exploitation which has been their lot in the past—the Turks of Anatolia no less than the Arabs of the Hedjaz; the Kurds, no less than the Armenians. Particularly must they be protected from the financial manipulation by which their present nefarious government has loaded them with an overwhelming burden of taxation. If ever there was a national debt meriting repudiation, the present debt of the Turks to the Germans merits it.
~H. M. K. in The New Republic, 18/01/1919

Day In, Day Out

Non-fiction ~ foreword
Published June 1928

EFB provided the foreword to this autobiography by Mrs Aubrey Le Blond (1860-1934).  Here's a quote from the review of said book:
The author's reminiscences are those of a woman of wide experience and varied interests who has taken part in many branches of human activity and can speak with intimate knowledge of many well-known men and women.  [...] It is a record of personal achievement and sincere enthusiasm for life, an enthusiasm which she undoubtedly communicates to the reader.  The foreword is written by Mr E. F. Benson [...]
Source: Notes on Books by 'Critic', in The Devon and Exeter Gazette, 26/06/1928.  Mrs Le Blond was a keen alpinist, which is undoubtedly how Fred knew her ... or at least of her.

Ten Days in the Peloponnese

Non-fiction ~ article
Published in Pall Mall magazine, February 1894 

In the 1890s EFB was busy organizing and/or giving aid to Greek refugees from the ... something-or-other ~ details to follow, if I ever get round to it.  I've no idea if this article is about that, about archaeological stuff, or just an account of one of his Greek jollies.

The Thersilion at Megalopolis

This is it, apparently
Non-fiction ~ scholarly article
Published in The Journal of Hellenic Studies, November 1893
Available to buy here, if you're desperate for something to read or your sleeping tablets aren't working any more

The Thersilion, or assembly hall, built in close connexion with the theatre at Megalopolis, has now been completely cleared. Several plans of the building, including a conjectural restoration, have already appeared in the special Supplement to the Journal of Hellenic Studies, published this year. The latter was based on the small tentative diggings already made. The plan (Pl. XXI.) in this number shows the whole area, and includes many additions and corrections from the earlier plan.
The chief point of interest has been the arrangement of the columns behind the centre. It was evident at once, as soon as the clearing began, that the plan did not in all respects bear out Mr. Schultz's conjectural restoration (Supplementary paper, J.H.S., p. 19). This was due partly to the fact that in the previous small diggings on the site two columns in the outer row next the south wall had been missed, partly because it was found on remeasurement that the centre was incorrectly marked.

The Angel of Pain

Fiction ~ novel
Published 1906
142,500 words

[Benson]'s reputation [in 1906] was such that his next book, The Angel of Pain, sold 8,000 copies on the day of publication.
~Brian Masters in The Life of E. F. Benson, 1991

THE CRITICS (I confess I am not looking forward to this one)
Mr. Benson can write a good story, and he does. The Angel of Pain is a good story, and it is something more.
~The Independent, quoted in the endpapers of US edition of The House of Defence
Mr. E. F. Benson's new novel is a singular mingling of the attractive and the disappointing. It is in its plot and situations distressing, but in its pictures of English society it is extremely interesting, and there are several characters worth knowing and rather carefully worked out. It is a pity, we think, that Mr. Benson persists in dealing in his fiction with symbolism and occultism. In this he follows the lead of Mr. Hichens, but with much less success. In the present story, for instance, the man who returns to nature, lives in the woods, discovers that he can by mental sympathy call the birds to his hand, and enters into inexplicable intimacy with the forest creatures, in the end becomes ridiculous rather than impressive. He believes in the joy of nature, but half fears and half hopes that at some time the whole of nature—sorrow as well as joy—will be revealed to him, and this he calls seeing Pan. There is an ancient pagan myth that whoever sees Pan will not survive the sight, and Mr. Benson intimates that his hero's sudden death is of this kind, but makes the whole thing ludicrous by leaving the reader in doubt as to whether the man is killed by being butted to death by a real goat or dies because he sees Pan in his mythical goat-like shape.
~The Outlook (US), 24/02/1906
There is a wide gulf between the clever frivolity of Dodo and the wise quietness of The Angel of Pain; the two novels might almost, indeed, have been written by two different men, so far has Mr. Benson travelled from the tone and manner of his sensational first book. He has drawn nearer to actual life here, and one cannot do that and still remain simply an airy and irresponsible humorist;with one exception the people of the story are normal and wonderfully lifelike men and women. The exception is Tom Merivale, who lives solitary in the New Forest and is known as 'the Hermit.' He talks a ripe philosophy, he says some good things, but he is not real, and the fashion of his death is fantastically unconvincing. The three chief characters, Philip Home, a shrewd and successful city financier, with a gentler, less practical side to him that is revealed only to his intimates; Madge Ellington; and the buoyant and engaging young artist, Evelyn Dundas, are detailed subtly and with insight. Madge was to have married Philip, though she has no love for him; but meeting with Dundas she loves and marries him, and for awhile Philip hovers on the verge of madness, and in these days, when he is hating the woman who has turned from him, indirectly acquiesces in certain financial operations that involve her husband in rule [sic]; then, when the influences of 'the Hermit' have healed his sick spirit, comes news that Dundas has been blinded by a shooting accident, and ennobled by the discipline of suffering he is stricken with sympathy and hastens to befriend him. The story is beautifully imagined, and is told with a fine artistic reticence and charm of style.
~The Bookman (UK), 05/1906

The mass of English religious novels, to be candid, owe their importance to the fact of their numbers rather than to the intrinsic value of any one story. But there is significance in the mere fact of Mr. Benson's wit and skill being submerged by a weak and painful mysticism, as in The Angel of Pain, and in The House of Defense by a pitifully flat and obvious sermon upon Christian Science.
~The Atlantic Monthly, 01/1907
We have learnt to expect from Mr. Benson an admirably constructed story, brilliant character sketches, flashes of good talk, light-hearted nonsense, and of late also a touch of weirdness, a study of things occult. In The Angel of Pain we find all these things … but the conception of the whole is finer and more human than that of any other work. Mr. Benson also shows a strong and intimate feeling for nature … a remarkably clever book.
~The Guardian, quoted in endpapers to Juggernaut

Mr. E. F. Benson shows steadily maturing power. His new novel … is on a higher plane of literary achievement than any work he has yet done … Mr. Benson has drawn his characters admirably, with infinite understanding and sympathy.
~Westminster Gazette, quoted in endpapers of Sheaves
A bright and clever book, showing us life very much as it is from the cheerful side.
~Daily Telegraph, quoted in endpapers of Sheaves
Beautifully written, and the characters … are drawn with the author's extraordinary insight and completeness in depiction.
~The Gentlewoman, quoted in endpapers of Sheaves


The Outbreak of War 1914

Non-fiction ~ current(ish) affairs
Published November(?) 1933

The Oakleyites

Fiction ~ novel
Published September 1915

Travail of Gold

What a WEIRD picture!
Fiction ~ novel
Published April(?) 1933

Mr Benson has again come to Mayfair for the scene of this novel. It is modern in atmosphere, sentiment, and action. The smiling social satirist who is Mr Benson has on this occasion more than shrewd fun and pleasant caricature for his object. It is a serious study of developing character. We meet Christopher Merivale, and, frankly, we do not like him. He has ideals, but is naturally cold and harsh, and first the withering influence of disappointment over his play, and then the even more fatal consequence of success plays havoc with his humanity. In contrast stands his lover, Nancy Cornish, as sweet and true a woman as has walked through the pages of fiction. The story works out to a foreseen end. Among the incidental personages must be mentioned Wee Violet, an absurd Bensonish character, quite in the the author's most inspired vein. It is a good and clever novel, well planned and neatly presented, and that excellent smooth English which distinguishes Mr Benson's writings has never been employed with greater effect.
 ~ Aberdeen Press and Journal, 19/04/1933
Quite early in Mr. Benson's pleasantly written story one realises that no setbacks and disappointments could possibly avail to retard the ultimate progress of anyone so delightfully malicious and uncompromisingly self-centred as Christopher Merivale. After his preliminary failures as a dramatic author, Christopher breaks away from the slightly cloying influence of Nancy Cornish's invincible idealism and ruthlessly lampoons his step-mother and such of his friends and acquaintances of either sex as have manifested any interest in his career, with the result that his subsequent plays achieve success and the old days of his poverty are done away with, if not entirely forgotten. The story ends with Christopher busy upon the revision of one of his earlier and idealistic pieces with a view to rehearsing the part of the heroine so that she would become Nancy Cornish to the life, 'satirically fashioned into food for laughter and mockery.' Apart from Christopher and the rather irritating Nancy, Mr. Benson's new gallery of portraits contains some striking evidences of his skill in character delineations ~ Christopher's step-mother, Margaret Merivale, her cousin and financial adviser, Robert Lucas, Sir Robert Graham and Rebecca Morris, and perhaps best of them all, the grotesque 'Wee Violet,' the interior of whose London House is so designed and constructed as to reproduce the atmosphere of a tropical jungle with none of its drawbacks and discomforts.
 ~The West Australian, 27/05/1933
This is the usual mixture given us by Mr Benson, with a significant difference. We have the chattering, malicious women of middle-age whose utterances are full of a certain kind of humour that we are asked to accept as unconscious. The new touch is in the slightly deeper plumbing of character so far as the two principals in the story are concerned. As in Sheaves ~ now so many rather shallow years ago ~ the author has not been quite content with a comedy (or rather farce) of manners, but has groped for the souls of his man and woman and succeeded in dragging some small portion of them to the surface.
There is a girl in this book so noble, so unselfish, so little prudish, so tactful, so almost inconceivably perfect, indeed, without even the priggishness that might have been an excuse for aversion, that the 'hero', consciously a good bit of a worm, cannot stand her for very long, and the reader, while loathing him, is almost forced to sympathise. We must feel a little superior at some point or other to a close companion or else resent him. The man so much resents his clever, tender understanding, and ~ in her own line ~ all too financially successful Nancy that we find him at the end actually preparing a cruel analysis of her in a play.
There is a great deal about plays in the novel, and none of it the usual fantastic stuff of the novelist. Mr Benson knows his theatre. The young in the story talk as the young of to-day are hardly apt to talk; but their actions are entirely up to date, especially where their sex-relations are concerned, and any climax of wedding bells is not so much avoided as forgotten.
~The Yorkshire Post, 07/06/1933
It is just forty years since the appearance of his brilliant Dodo turned the limelight upon the younger son of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Since then Mr. Benson has placed to his credit a list of titles of considerable variety,—it needs a whole page of the fly leaves of this book to record them—ranging from the delectable David Blaize series to caustic novels such as the present story. This is a study in cynical meanness; the full length picture of an intellectual, highly polished cad,—a devastating performance, carried through unsparingly. It leaves a bad taste in the mouth—as Mr. Benson means it to do.
Chris Merivale starts as a young man of promise, still in possession of ideals and aspirations as a dramatist. He is shown in contrast to the woman who loves him, Nancy, a struggling young actress,—who develops into an English Duse. While she succeeds, Chris fails and becomes embittered, jealous of her triumphs. Then he too succeeds, by abandoning his ideals and writing venomously clever satirical plays. The story then records his progressive degeneration until he becomes a monster of cynicism and selfishness. The book is highly effective; one will not forget the unspeakable Chris.
~The Saturday Review (US), 24/06/1933
Benson has charted for himself an erratic curve of sales. A fair enough guess would place this toward the upper curve of his fiction, as a readable tale, with more of meat than the average novel, which should be popular with the more intelligent of the circulating library market, and have a healthy over-the-counter sale. A modern story of the outer fringe of the intelligentsia in London, with the focus on the essentially modern problem of the effect of 'money of her own' -- in this instance fairly earned, on a girl who becomes overnight a favorite behind the footlights, and on her lover, whose aspirations toward dramatic success lag behind. She is an idealist, he, a materialist. When success finally comes to him, it is not through the work toward which he had been striving, but through bitter, satirical vein of comedy, in which he turns to his own ends the foibles and eccentricities of his friends and acquaintances, and even of his immediate family. And he falls victim to his passion for money, and sacrifices all his ideals with scarcely a qualm.
~Kirkus Reviews, 06/1933
What other author than Mr E. F. Benson could write with equal facility and conviction about the Victorians, the Edwardians, and the ultra-moderns?
Mr Benson is the novelist who never grows up. Each fresh phase of morals and manners finds him abreast with the new tendencies, interpreting, commenting, criticizing. It is remarkable that such a vivid picture of the social life of London to-day as is contained in Travail of Gold […] should have come from the same pen as As We Were.
Travail of Gold is an indictment, to a large extent yet Mr Benson escapes the charge of cynicism and pessimism by bringing his 'heroine' through the 'travail of gold' unspoilt, although his 'hero' loses his ideals and ruins his soul in his successful battle for wealth.
Plenteousness is a pleasant thing,” Mr Benson quotes as an introduction to the story, “but travail of gold maketh the heart to wither.” Nancy Cornish, a young acress of genius and high ideals, inspires Chris Merivale to great heights as a dramatist. They share much travail before they win gold, but Chris, far from showing gratitude for Nancy's help, [illegible: probably 'formally'] renounces her ideals and holds them up to mockery and ridicule. The glamorous atmosphere of the theatre, and the humours and extravagances of the London social round, are handled in a way which makes for excellent entertainment.
~The Western Morning News and Daily Gazette, 14/12/1933

Victorian Biography ~ and Afterwards

Non-fiction ~ essay/article
First published ?
Collected in Sea Mist (2005)

The Cricket of Abel, Hirst and Shrewsbury

Non-fiction ~ sports
Published 1903
EFB edited in collaboration with Eustace H. Miles

The Vintage

Fiction ~ novel
Published January 1898 (previously published in serial form in The Graphic, July-December 1897)
Approx. 151,000 words 

In itself one of the romances of history, the Greek war of Independence is admirably adapted to make good groundwork for a story, and in so using it Mr Benson has done well. He has taken for his period that which immediately preceded the revolution, and introduces us to some most picturesque characters engaged in plotting for their country's liberation. The hero of the story is one Mitsos, the son of a small vine-yard proprietor, of Nauplia. Full of fire and energy, and possessed of unusual physical strength and beauty, he is fired to enthusiasm by the tales of a man outlawed by the Turks, Nicholas Vidalis, who is one of the leaders of the revolutionary party. Mitsos is chosen to visit privately the revolutionaries throughout the country, and his adventures on this perilous mission, with a love-story between himself and a Greek girl rescued from a Turkish harem, are the main themes of the romance. It is in every way a book that can be recommended, full of life and colour, and sensational enough to fix the attention of the reader from start to finish.
~Lloyd's Weekly Newspaper, 27/02/1898

From the problem novel, the sex novel ~ in what category shall we include Dodo? ~ to the historical romance is a leap indeed; and Mr Benson has made it, to the surprise of all and the disappointment of many. One is stricken with a haunting fear lest he should have mistaken his vocation as one reads the subt-tile of The Vintage, 'a Romance of the Greek War of Independence'. This fear grows to conviction as one plods with the conscientious laboriousness of the modern reviewer through the first eighty pages or so. It is true that Mr Benson is at first bigotedly philhellenic enough to compensate the 'hundred members' who signed the sympathetic telegram for the deathly dulness of the opening chapters. But for the ordinary mortal there is no such alleviation. Almost the only relief is found in the account of Turkish atrocities, and we have become so accustomed to these in the daily press (which compels belief) that we are merely bored by them in fiction (which does not).
It is just as one begins to doubt despairingly if Mr Benson has any story to tell that he sets about telling it in earnest. Then, although the pauses are too frequent and the digressions too many (one dislikes telling any man that he pads), the interest becomes strong and captivating. We have scenes of notable power, and of stirring and dramatic interest; we have scenes of tender pathos, and scenes which are charmingly idyllic. The pages smell and reek of blood, it is true, and we should have been surfeited with far less carnage and massacre. But the work of description is excellently done, and the author brings his battle-scenes vividly to the mind's eye with the spirited and realistic vigour of a war-correspondent. Moreover ~ and this is far higher praise ~ he flings his prejudices aside, is just even to the unspeakable Turk, and admits and denounces the misdeeds and shortcomings of the insurgents.
With the fall of Tripoli the story ends, and although there has been even in the short period the story covers fighting enough to satisfy the bloodthirstiest of us all, the romance woven into the history gives welcome relief. The adventures of the handsome young hero, Mitsos, are followed with breathless excitement, and the story of the loves of him and Suleima is told with exquisite grace and finish; while the last scene of the book, in which after a long and weary separation he is restored to Suleima, is almost perfect in its concealed art. We note, however, with the regret that becomes the conspicuously virtuous, that the legitimacy of the child is a matter of no more moment to author or characters than it would be to a Cornish Nonconformist.
In The Vintage the true hero of the insurrection is Nicholas Vidalis, a noble, self-sacrificing patriot, tireless in preparation, prompt in execution, inspiring and resourceful as a leader should be, and he is sketched with a singular and convincing skill; but with his other characters (Mitsos and his fat-bodied and stout-hearted cousin, Yanni, excepted) Mr Benson is less successful.
On the whole, having ventured into a field of literature where there are many competitors, Mr Benson has done well, but elsewhere he has done better. The Vintage is, with the exception of the first few chapters, a thoroughly readable and entertaining book. But with all its faults and crudities we prefer Dodo.
~Pall Mall Gazette, 29/03/1898
The story of the freeing of the Peloponnesus, from Corinth to Maina, is here told in spirited and romantic style. So much historical study and so close an acquaintance with the Greek people and the face of their country have gone to the making of Mr. Benson's latest book that it must be a matter of regret to some that he has not chosen rather to write a straightforward history of the War of Independence. But then we should have lost Nicholas, and never known Mitsos and Suleima, heroic and charming figures. If the frivolous taint of Dodo still linger about Mr. Benson's name, surely The Vintage will cleanse him from it. It is a very serious and a very simple-minded book—conventional in tone, but obeying healthy and pleasing conventions. The peasant life of Greece is treated in idyllic fashion; the generous efforts to cast off the Turkish yoke are recorded with a warm enthusiasm which is attractive and contagious; while there are passages of adventure that are fresh and stirring as the heart of reader could desire. Mr. Benson has given us a little too much of everything; but it is ungrateful to complain of length in connection with this, his least sophisticated and his ablest novel.
~The Bookman (UK: 03/1898) and (US: 05/1898)


[…] above the common level [of novel].
~The Morning Post in 'Books of the Year', 29/12/1898
Shortly after [The Money Market Benson] tried his hand at two novels based on the Greek War of Independence, and using his recent experience with Greek refugees from the Turks. These were The Vintage and [The] Capsina, written in very unDodo style, obviously in an effort to find the depth and body his mother demanded. As historical novels they fall short of adequate, and The Vintage is downright soporific. “[The] Capsina has turned out as I hoped,” Fred wrote, “and is certainly a street or two higher than The Vintage.” Maybe so, but [his mother] was critical of it for quite other reasons, and she wrote him a schoolmistressy letter chiding him with what we should nowadays call obscenity. Fred had tried to describe lust, and he just wasn't up to it. Mother pointed to specific pages ~ 'the blood and flesh of her' on p.258, 'the fever of her love-sickness' on p.274, 'her love-fever' on p.275. “Things of this sort seem to me an unnecessary kind of sensationalism,” she told him, “they pull it down a moment and suggest images much lower than the great swing of the whole … quite another class of people, of rather nasty minds, will read into them things which you certainly don't mean.”
Oh, but he did mean them, only they were born of poor imagination rather than rich experience, which explains the risible artificiality of these images. [His mother] should have recalled her own advice to stick to observation and eschew theory.
~Brian Masters in The Life of E. F. Benson, 1991

Sketches from Marlborough

Published 1888
EFB's first book, published privately


Fiction ~ novel
Published October 1906

Winter Sports in Switzerland

Non-fiction ~ sports
Published 1913
Approx. 56,000 words

The book is available online here.

Winter Sports in Switzerland (1913) could be sub-titled: Everything you want to know about Skating, Curling, Tobogganing, Ice Hockey, Ski-ing and Winter Resorts. The first chapter is a paean of praise for Switzerland ~ its mountains, snows and pine woods, beginning with a description of the journey from London, and ending with the almost mystical experience of ski-ing on a winter evening at sunset down the mountain in an ecstasy of silence [sic]. Then after the lyrical comes the severely practical; detailed instructions on how to be adept at all winter sports, what equipment to use, what clothes to wear, and what to do in the evenings. The comprehensive text is enhanced by forty-seven striking photographs by Mrs Aubrey Le Mond and twelve full page illustrations in colour by C. Fleming Williams. A coffee table book of its period, it is handsomely produced and stylishly written in Fred's most urbane style.
~Geoffrey Palmer and Noel Lloyd in E. F. Benson As He Was, 1988