Sunday, 28 June 1992

Lucia in London

Fiction ~ novel
Published 1927
85,300 words
(First read 28/06/1992)

The most important character in Mr. Benson's latest novel is Lucia Lucas, a social climber, a hypocrite of the first order, a poseuse of infinite variety—and a success in whatever she undertakes. Coming into the estate of an unwept-for aunt, Lucia and her husband (he lives in total eclipse) find themselves with a London house on their hands; Lucia sees her opportunity to rise above her rural triumphs in Riseholme and share space in the newspapers with Duchesses and (God being good) a Princess or two. Lucia plays London conquests against Riseholme victories; both places apprehensively watch her progress and suffer from her manipulations. She is a notable character as Mr. Benson draws her, for she possesses the blindness, the singleness of purpose, the unscrupulous egoism, and the force of the great mischief-makers. Given a place in a novel of unusual stature, she might well live as long as Pamela or Becky Sharp. Even in her present situation she is well worth knowing. We also meet Georgie Pillson; he is a handmaiden of Lucia's in Riseholme, an individual bom to say 'yes,' and altogether too much of a perfect lady for us to feel comfortable in his presence. Then there is Stephen Merriall, another perfect lady; this one writes, over the signature of Hermione, a sweet column of daily gossip about Mayfair. There are two choruses to this main trio: the first is made up of the rustics and semi-rustics of Riseholme, whose general methods and manners remind us of George A. Birmingham's amiable Irish rascals; the other is a slightly caricatured London high life. Both contain grotesques and drolls, and little of common humanity.
As a result of Mr. Benson's taste in character, the novel becomes partly satirical, partly farcical, and never wholly sure of itself or its progress towards a goal. We are unable to give Lucia in London high praise. The plot, largely episodic, lacks continuity and logical development; therefore the success of the novel depends entirely upon character and local color. Although it is only in the central character that we have real vitality, the strength in that place is sufficiently pronounced to be memorable. If only Lucia had been placed in a novel conceived and carried out in her own grand manner! Then we should have had something worth shouting about.
~Amy Loveman in The Saturday Review, 21/04/1928
[Lucia in London] in which one of E. F. Benson's most entertaining characters re-appears, is none the less a shrewd study of a woman because it happens to be sheer farce. Lucia—tyrant, poseuse, and social climber—is a gorgeous invention, and one shares the feeling of her country neighbors, who watch resentfully her dizzy successes in London, that Lucia may be insufferable but that she does make life exciting. Throughout this pleasant piece of foolery Mr. Benson never allows one to tire of the formula.
~Edith Walton in The Bookman, 05/1928

Most readers will find Mr E F Benson's Lucia in London […] as entertaining a book as his admirable Miss Mapp, with which it has a good many points in common. To begin with, we have Lucia as the dominating leader of the select, well-to-do society of a village, with the amusing comedy of its social jealousies and competitions. Then Lucia falls into a fortune and goes to London, where she becomes a social climber. The narrative of her whole-hearted efforts to climb into high society is pure comedy. There can never have been in real life such a climber as Lucia, and if Lucia in London is not so good a book as Miss Mapp, it is just because of this exaggeration. But it is quite amusing.
~The Courier and Advertiser [Dundee], 22/09/1927

Monday, 15 June 1992

The Return of Frank Hampden

Fiction ~ short story (spook)
First published as The Case of Frank Hampden in The Countess of Lowndes Square and Other stories, 1912.  Subsequently published under its new title in Pearson's magazine, December 1915
Approx. 6,500 words
(First read 15/06/1992)

Sunday, 14 June 1992


Fiction ~ short story
First published in The Storyteller, July 1917
Subsequently collected in The Countess of Lowndes Square and Other Stories, 1920  
(First read 14/06/1992)

As with various other 'paranormal phenomena', EFB could never quite make up his mind whether or not he believed in mediums, séances, the living contacting the dead, etc.  'Through' is a good example of this dithering in action.  The hero, Richard Waghorn¹, is a self-avowed mediumistic fraud: he and his sister use the full panoply of gadgetry and trickery to ply their trade.  And yet, there are moments when he seems genuinely able to see inside the heads of his sitters.  The story deals with one such occasion, when, in fact, he has his first genuine full-blown trance and his client's dead brother speaks 'through' him.  Not a bad story ~ the pace is good and it doesn't outstay it's welcome.  You can read it online here.

¹ Why EFB didn't go the whole hog and call him Richard Wagner is unclear.  And immaterial.

Wednesday, 10 June 1992

The China Bowl

Fiction ~ short story
Published December 1916
3,485 words
(First read 10/06/1992)

A spook story in which our intrepid heroes [EFB?] and Hugh Grainger solve the mystery of the revenant ghost infesting the spare bedroom of the former's new house in Barrett's Square, London.  To my mind a very routine and somewhat humdrum supernatural/crime yarn.  I marked this in it because it struck me as odd (the bolding is mine):
I was expecting the arrival of my friend Hugh Grainger the next week, to stay a night or two with me, and since the front spare room, which I proposed to give him, had not at present been slept in, I gave orders that a bed should be made up there the next night for me, so that I could test with my own vile body whether a guest would be comfortable there.
As it turns out, [EFB?] and pal Hughie end up sharing the room to do their ghost-hunting.  But why 'my own vile body'? ~ very curious.  The story is available online here.