Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Lovers and Friends

Fiction ~ novel
Published 1921
Approx. 84,000 words
Available online here

One wishes that Mr. E. F. Benson would devote less time to plot in his stories and more to the delineation of character, for in that line he has an able touch. His latest book Lovers and Friends [...] opens with an enchanting sketch of a well-born egoist who might have proved a dangerous rival of 'Queen Lucia' had he moved in the same circle with that delectable person. Philip Courthope is a man of good family who in early life had studied art in Paris. Altho[ugh] not especially gifted he had a distinct knack at catching a likeness that stood him in good stead, and it was while painting the portrait of a rich American woman some eight years his senior that he decided to make himself comfortable for the rest of his life by a rich marriage. The lady was the widow of a Prussian Junker, and in spite of a dreadful experience with one husband she was soon in love with the good-looking young artist whose portrait of her was so flatteringly like. They were married, but in two years her fire had quite burned out and she was ready to pay him two thousand pounds a year and give him the care of their infant daughter Celia on condition that he did not interfere with her in any way. The arrangement was made with equal satisfaction to both.
Courthope settled in the little watering place of Merriby where, at the opening of the story he is a person of importance in all social affairs. President of the County Club, Treasurer of the Golf Club, and Secretary of the Lawn Tennis Club, his position is sufficiently important to satisfy even his vanity, while his 'Soirées d'Ennui,' given every other week during the Merriby season, with music, dancing and supper so carefully thought out as to seem unpremeditated, are a great success. In the meantime Mrs. Courthope is enjoying herself tremendously in London where she is achieving the main object of her life, which is to know every one. Finally it dawns on her that her daughter is among the few desirable persons whose acquaintance she has not yet made, so she writes to Courthope and proposes to drop in on him shortly for dinner on her way to Exmouth, and see for herself what Celia is like. The inspection proves so satisfactory that she instantly suggests to her husband that Celia shall come to her for an indefinite stay, and offers to make it so well worth his while financially that he consents, tho[ugh] this part of the negotiation is not made public.
From this moment the interest in the book begins to wane. Philip, with his vanity, his egotism and his amusing affectations, gives place to Celia, a modern young woman; a tribe of rattle-pated friends, and her serious-minded lover, Lord Matcham. Like so many present-day heroines, Celia's idea is to take all she can get without much thought as to any return being made. Lord Matcham has a good deal to offer beside his love and devotion and Celia accepts all without caring much for the giver. The usual result follows. She finds her husband rather a bore and bestows her affections on a handsome young materialist who is frankly out for the best he can get in life. It would not be fair to the author to say how the book ends—as a matter of fact the closing scene leaves the reader a good deal of liberty to settle things for himself, but as a story it drags, one reason being that it is impossible to feel much enthusiasm for Celia in spite of her beauty and unhappiness. In fact, the modern heroine is getting to be something of a nuisance with her general crabbedness and discontent. Insisting upon having a child if she is single, refusing to bear one if married, never in love with her husband, no matter what his merits, and generally attaching herself to the most worthless man of her acquaintance, she is rapidly becoming a bore of the first water. Lord Matcham is faintly reminiscent of Lord Brayton in The Climber, tho[ugh] he is not such a prig; Mrs. Courthope is an inconsequent person, and her conversation recalls that of the gifted Dodo, only it is more foolish, less pretentious and consequently more amusing. In Philip Courthope Mr. Benson has given us another of those characters whom he sketches so well, and our chief regret is that there is not more of him in the book and less of the tumultuous Celia.
~The Literary Digest, 28/01/1922

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