Tuesday, 1 January 1980

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

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