Published in The Storyteller, July 1932; collected in Desirable Residences and Other Stories (1991)
Approx. 4,600 words
(First read 04/05/1992)
Set in the Dorset village/town of Aldwyn, A Breath of Scandal's protagonist is a perfect E. F. Benson creation. The Revered Mrs Malden (or 'the Reverend Isabel', as one character calls her, though not to her face) is the archetypal busybody. Benson's summing-up of her is a comic masterpiece:
Though she made no direct claim that the world was her parish, her husband's parish was certainly her world. It was her spiritual garden far more than his, and in it she laboured unweariedly with comforts and consolations for those who ailed in body or soul, and, no less, with a copious supply of weed-killer, for the extirpation of evil was quite as important as the cultivation of virtue. [...] She strongly encourage ill-treated wives to be separated from their husbands, even when they would have much preferred to take the thick with the thin, and muddle along somehow; and she got them situations where they could earn their bread in tranquillity and self-respect. This was useful in times when domestic servants were so hard to obtain, and most of the houses round the Green had a parlour-maid or a house-maid or a cook whom Mrs Malden had torn from her home.So, the ideal set-up for a social comedy. Unfortunately that isn't what we get. What we get is a pretty much 'straight' tale about a malicious gossiping busybody and daft social prejudices. It's more Act in a Backwater than Mapp and Lucia.
A bit of an oddity. Not bad, just a bit of an oddity.
It's available in Desirable Residences and Other Stories (1991).