Sunday, 27 January 2013

The Luck of the Vails

Fiction ~ novel
Published 1901
Approx. 117,000 words
(First read 27/01/2013)

In his family memoir Mother (1925) Benson has this to say on the composition of The Luck of the Vails:
[...] I was deeply immersed in a sensational tale called The Luck of the Vails.  The germ of it was a story that [my brother] Arthur had told his boys at Eton: this he presented to me with the rhyming legend which ran round the rim of the jewelled cup which was the "Luck" and the clue of the tale:
  "When the Luck of the Vails is lost, / Fear not rain nor fire nor frost; / When the Luck is found again, / Fear both fire and frost and rain." 

That uncanny and suggestive rhyme fermented in my brain with yeasty bubblings, and I enjoyed for months the heavenly illusion which sometimes comes to scribblers that their puppets and the adventures of them have an existence more real than that of the folk among whom they live.  The great yew hedge in my tale became the real yew hedge, and the hedge at [my mother's house] Tremans from which I took it was but shadowy in comparison ... 


One might begin to read The Luck of the Vails lying back in a comfortable chair, and chuckling over the natural talk of Mr. Benson's pleasant people. But after an hour or so, assuming that it is a hot day, and that you turn the leaves without great energy, you find yourself sitting up and gripping the arms of the chair, and glancing uneasily over your shoulder at the sound of a step upon the gravel. For this is a really thrilling and exciting tale of crime and mystery that Mr. Benson has written. It is readable all through and full of entertainment.
~The Times, quoted in the endpapers of The Book of Months and Juggernaut
The book is very ingeniously constructed, and delightful reading, while the machinations of the septuagenarian villain, with his cheerful flute, his rosy cheeks, and his brisk enjoyment of life, are calculated to give a proper Christmas thrill on the hottest midsummer afternoon.
~The Spectator, quoted in endpapers to An Act in a Backwater and Sheaves
In his stories of English life Mr. Benson usually trusts more to manner than to plot for the amusement of his readers; but here he has got hold of a very pretty sensation, and treated it most effectively. It is something of a triumph to throw us off the scent so completely as he does with regard to Francis's character, which is treated throughout with a subtlety that is generally wanting in melodrama. For the most interesting portion of the book is melodrama. There is an ordinary pleasant love story, and there is some light, bantering dialogue, enough to give it the flavour of a society novel. But we pay little heed to these. The setting might just as well have been mediaeval, for it is the jewelled Luck, and the perils by fire and rain and frost of the young hero, and the creeping wiles of the crafty villain, and his dark exits and entrances by secret staircases, that hold us fast. But no doubt it gives a piquancy to hear the most up-to-date speech in the neighbourhood of jewelled Lucks and swinging panels and dogging murderers.
~The Bookman (US), 09/1901
Mr. Benson has given us an extremely interesting study of a criminal temperament, and has so arranged matters psychological as to prohibit us from fault-finding. The Luck of the Vails is melodrama on the higher plane, and we cordially congratulate Mr. Benson on having found and invented yet another genre for the exercise of his literary talent.
~The Daily Chronicle, quoted in endpapers to An Act in a Backwater
Mr. E. F. Benson has a nice sense of humour. The dialogue is all through witty. The story holds us from the rising of the curtain to the going down of the same.
~Vanity Fair, quoted in endpapers to An Act in a Backwater

Friday, 18 January 2013

The Psychical Mallards

Fiction ~ short story
Published 26th November 1921
5,545 words
(First read 18/01/2013)

Monday, 14 January 2013

Thursday Evenings

Fiction ~ short story
First published in Pears's Annual, 23rd November 1920
Collected in More Spook Stories, 1934
4,385 words
(First read 14/01/2013) 

Frith's Derby Day (1856-58), featured in this story
Mrs Wallace has been holding her artistic salons (her Thursday evenings) since the height of the Victorian era.  When she dies in her eighties in 1920, the last link between that world and the modern is broken.  Her flat, including the piano at which she used to sing her favourite song "in a faint far-away voice which sounded as if it came from the next house but one", is sold to a pair of consummately modern artists, Mr Humphrey Lodge (composer of symphonies featuring 'siren whistles, pieces of emery-paper rubbed together, watchman's rattles, and penny whistles') and his wife Julia (painter of Cubist portraits whose faces looked like 'a series of planes separated from each other by coloured lines').  It's only natural that the recently departed spirit of Mrs W should be disgusted with all this tomfoolery.
Thursday Evenings is a fun spook story: EFB derives as much pleasure from satirizing the two artistic sensibilities ~ the worst excesses of High Victorianism, in particular the song The Lost Chord, and the idiotic garbled pretentions of the modern ~ as he does from describing the antics of La Wallace's 'Poltergeist' ~ his word.  So, very definitely designed to amuse ~ which it does ~ rather than appal ~ which it doesn't. 
The story's available online here

Thursday, 10 January 2013

The Sanctuary

Fiction ~ short story
Published 1934
8,340 words
(First read 10/01/2013)