Tuesday, 19 May 1992


Fiction ~ short story
First published in The Windsor Magazine, December 1924
Collected in Desirable Residences and Other Stories (1991)
Approx. 3,100 words
(First read 19/05/1992) 

Music is, to use a favourite word of E. F. Benson characters, delicious: charming light satire from front to back and side to side.  Just listen to our introduction to this canny, cunning, ruthless social climber:
When Elizabeth Nutter¹ came to London with a view to perching herself on the very topmost bough of the pleasant tree of Society which grows by the Thames, she possessed the usual equipment of such amiable invaders.  She had an amusing face, gowns from Paris, pearls from the Orient, an iron, inflexible will, any amount of money, a variety of complexion to suit all lights, and no husband.
I'd love to quote the whole thing but this will have to do ... oh no, go on, Ewie, let's have a bit more.  Here's E.N. on the possibilities of picking up a new husband in London (she's already disposed of one such back in the 'Argentine Republic'):
[...] it would be well to make herself at home in London before she chose this permanent addition to her life's appurtenances, otherwise he might not suit her social colour scheme, which at present was undetermined, and it was well to see what sort of possible husbands were stocked just now in London before she selected one.
Anyway, she launches herself into the fray and is moderately successful, but soon realizes she's climbing horizontally rather than vertically: she wants to reach the pinnacle rather than content herself with collecting dull Cabinet politicians and uninspiring aristocrats ("For being a duchess," thought the astute Elizabeth, "doesn't prevent your being a dowdy.")  What she needs is a stunt.  It's a bit of a risk but, despite her innate dislike of music, she
The Divine Novello, without piano
decides to 'adopt' a young ~ and blond, and handsome ~ pianist who's a countryman of hers².  This chap, known professionally as Smirkowski³, has just one drawback: he can't play a note.  Still, thinks Our Liz, that won't matter, she can pass his style off as 'modern' and Society won't know any better.  And lo! ... well, you can probably guess the rest.

When, as here, Benson is at his very best, his comic stories are twenty times more amusing than his ghost stories are spooky or his dramas are dramatic.
Not one single word of Music goes to waste: it's perfect.

(Daft, obviously ... but perfectly daft.)

¹ A couple of hundred years ago I had a great-great-great-great-aunt who was née Elizabeth Nutter.  Not relevant ~ just thought I'd mention it.
² E.N. and her protégé are obviously ex-members of the English 'beef barony' of Argentina: there's nothing remotely Hispanic about them.
³ Stokowski was Big Stuff in 1924.


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