Sunday, 26 July 1992

Trouble for Lucia

Fiction ~ novel
Published 1939
82,300 words
(First read 26/07/1992) 

Saturday, 18 July 1992

Mapp and Lucia

Fiction ~ novel
Published September 1931
105,100 words
(First read 18/07/1992) 

Mapp and Lucia is the fourth in the Mapp and Lucia sequence of novels and (obviously) the first one in which our eponymous 'heroines' get together and lock horns.

In Mapp and Lucia, Mr E. F. Benson is in his gayest and most irresponsible mood. He has no story to tell, but his description of the deadly and long-drawn-out duel between Miss Mapp and Mrs Lucas for the social leadership of the pleasant but scandal-loving town of Tilling is replete with rich humour. Nobody with a sense of the ludicrous can fail to find excellent entertainment in a volume in which Mr Benson is at his best.
~The Western Morning News and Mercury, 14/09/1931
E. F. Benson, author of Miss Mapp and Queen Lucia, has achieved a great success by bringing these two entertaining characters together in his latest novel, Mapp and Lucia […]. With charming insincerity they almost fall on each other's necks, and in an equally charming manner they manoeuvre and skirmish in a 'war to the death' for struggle for leadership of a quiet old village.
~The Daily Mail [Hull], 26/09/1931
After [the effort of producing Ferdinand Magellan, The Inheritor and As We Were (1929-30)], Benson was able to relax with another frivolous adventure, bringing together his two outrageous heroines [in] Mapp and Lucia. [With this novel the two characters] reached the apogee of their absurdity [and] Benson, too, reached the summit of his powers. […] It was a bold stroke to risk the clash of Titans in Mapp and Lucia, effected in the simplest manner by having Mrs Lucas rent Miss Mapp's house in Tilling for a period of two months. No sooner is the redoubtable lady ensconced than, by 'showy little dinners and odious flatteries', she manages to supplant Mapp's position in the town, as a result of which the two women are locked in combat. Quaint Irene, with her 'dismal directness', observes the fun and remains the only character not to take these people seriously. It is much to Benson's credit that he contrives a preposterous climax without losing the reader's sympathy: a sudden flood sweeps Mapp and Lucia away on an upturned kitchen table! Fred read the scene aloud to [his friend] Steven Runciman on the evening of the day he wrote it, to test reaction. He was encouraged.
~Brian Masters in The Life of E. F. Benson, 1991

Thursday, 16 July 1992

Miss Mapp

Fiction ~ novel
Published October 1922
78,400 words
(First read 16/07/1992) 

Miss Mapp is the second in the Mapp and Lucia series of novels and short stories, and is (fairly obviously) the first to feature Miss Elizabeth Mapp (later Mrs Elizabeth Mapp-Flint), and the first to be set in EFB's fictional version of Rye, i.e. Tilling.
I've read all these umpteen times and have long been a confirmed 'Mappite' rather than 'Luciaphile'.

Clever, amusing, E. F. Benson's new novel, Miss Mapp, is a chronicle of the doings of a group of women and men in a seaside township. Of this group, Miss Mapp is the dominating personality. Not too passe, she has set her mind on one day marrying one Major Flint, retired. The book is a great example of the versatility which enables the author to create new characters in new settings, all types of diverse human nature, and each in their own way delightful. The characterisation and dialogue are of Mr Benson's usual high order. The reader is carried along easily; it all makes entertaining reading, true to life as lived by the comfortably placed human beings in an English township.
~Western Daily Press, 14/10/1922

In her delineation of small-town life in Cranford Mrs Gaskell kept her eyes mainly on the sunny, lovable side of human character. Mr Benson does precisely the reverse. In this story of leisure, comfortably-placed elderly people in a little English seaside town he can see only the meanness and pettiness and scandal-loving natures of people in whose hands too much leisure is a curse. His central figure is Miss Mapp, a middle-aged spinster of independent means who lives in perpetual smiling warfare with her female neighbours. All of them are cats, but none of them have the claws so well sharpened or the Cheshire grin so prominent as she has. There is an unceasing interchange of feline amenities over rival tea-tables, dress designs and the like, particularly between Miss Mapp and her deadly rival, Mrs Plaistow, whom she addressed with acrimonious fondness as 'dear' or 'darling Diva'. Her cattish inclinations towards her own sex are aggravated by the proclivity Miss Mapp has for a member of the sterner sex, the old bachelor Major Flint. Not too passé, she has set her mind on marrying the retired Major, and how the latter ultimately falls a victim to her blandishments is matter for the purest comedy.
Mr Benson's study is clever, amusing, almost amazingly shrewd in its observation of human nature. But at times throughout the book one is inclined to wish that he would concern himself just a little less with the meanness and vanity of petty human beings. There is not one of the characters in this study who is not as vulgar and stupid, as jealous and curious as Miss Mapp herself. The tabbies are of both sexes, and the vicar at least among the men seems to favour the feminine side. Clever and amusing as Miss Mapp is, it palls at times in its exasperating emphasis on all that is most mean, stupid, and petty in middle-aged character.
~Aberdeen Journal, 16/10/1922
In Miss Mapp by E. F. Benson, we have a cleverly written account of life in a seaside township.
Miss Mapp is the dominating figure. The reader will find much enjoyment in following her little adventures in small town society.
A real true to life story with real human beings with all their little foibles and failings.
~The Courier [Dundee], 09/11/1922
Gentle social comedy such as English villages exist to provide.
~The Bookman's Guide to Fiction, 03/1923
[…] I picked up Queen Lucia, by E. F. Benson. I really liked David Blaize, and the Mapp and Lucia books are supposed to be Benson’s best work, but I have a hard time seeing why one would enjoy these books, unless one likes really hateful characters.
That said, I’m still reading them. I’m halfway through Miss Mapp, which is book two, and apparently Mapp and Lucia don’t meet up until book four. I’m not sure I’ll last that long. It’s not much fun to spend time with  characters who hate each other, and Miss Mapp is an even worse offender on that front than Queen Lucia is.
~'Melody' at Redeeming Qualities, 04/10/2010

The Male Impersonator

Fiction ~ short story
Published 1929
5,575 words
(First read 16/07/1992)