Wednesday, 31 December 2014

The Clandon Crystal

Fiction ~ short story
Published in The Onlooker, 23rd November 1901
(First read 31/12/2014)

Of all the short stories that might be lumped together in the category 'E. F. Benson at far from his best', in The Clandon Crystal he perhaps came closest to the neighbouring category of 'fu_king atrocious'.  Here's the plot in a rotten nutshell: A gent, wishing to be cured of alcoholism, places himself in the hands of a Harley Street 'doctor' renowned for curing folk by 'suggestion' alone; said quack 'takes over' the mind of our alcky pal, weans him off the sauce but at the same time, by making the cure dependent on his say-so, forces him into becoming engaged to his daughter (whose mind he also controls) in order to secure a juicy marriage settlement for her; once the pair are hitched the quack plans to turn the tap back on on our gent, and so kill him; gent's pal gets wind of this dastardly plot and, aided by his trusty butler, basically holds a gun at the quack's head, while keeping him prisoner, until he's reversed all his evil works.
If it sounds daft that's because it is daft.  Exceedingly daft.  Idiotic, in fact.
It was collected in Some Social Criminals (The E F Benson Society, 1995) and in Sea Mist (2005).

Thursday, 25 December 2014

Dives and Lazarus

Fiction ~ short story
First published in The New Statesman and Nation, 12th August 1939
Collected in Sea Mist and Other Stories (2005)
(First read 25/12/2014)

A straightforward tale of body-swap reincarnation.  'Dives' is a super-rich banker; 'Lazarus' is a Neapolitan beggar.  The two men die within 24 hours of one another; when asked, in the rather weird 'waiting-room' of the next world, what they would like to be reincarnated as, Dives chooses to be a Neapolitan beggar, Lazarus a super-rich banker.
That's it.
Yes, really.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

The King and His Reign IV: Women's Rights

Non-fiction ~ essay
Published in The Spectator, 15th March 1935
1,420 words
(First read 11/12/2014)

Mrs Pankhurst addresses a crowd
This one falls very much under the 'His Reign' category: as EFB makes barely any mention at all of George V, we can only assume he had nothing to do with women's rights¹.  What we get instead is a preamble in which we're reminded of Queen Victoria's opinions on uppity females (she was rabidly agin the idea), of Edward VII's opinions ditto (also agin, but less so), followed by a potted history of the pre-War emancipation movement, of the role women played during the War itself, and of their new-found freedom after it.
Benson was clearly no feminist; indeed he's often accused of outright misogyny ~ generally by people who've only read the Mapp and Lucia novels.  In fact his fictional women fall into two very pronounced types: (1) the cats, shrews, vixens, cows, harpies, bitches, witches (etc.) we all know and love from his satirical novels; and (2) the sweet, noble, impossibly virtuous, nauseating and frankly improbable saints so prominent in his (melo)dramas.  There was practically no middle ground. [Sorry ~ wandering off the point a bit.]  In this article he carefully aligns himself with those who claim post facto that their sole objection to the Suffragist movement was the activities of its more militant wing.  EFB might not ever have been violently anti-women's suffrage but, before the Great War, he rarely missed an opportunity to poke fun at it².

¹ I daresay he didn't approve, though.  Queen Mary wouldnt've let him.
² For his most sustained mock see the novel Mrs Ames (1912).  It has to be said that the eponymous heroine's feeble'n'futile pro-suffrage protest is the highlight of that book.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

The King and His Reign II: The Inheritance

Non-fiction ~ essay
Published in The Spectator, 1st March 1935
1,495 words
(First read 04/12/2014)

The young George V ... what a handsome chap he was
EFB continues the life story of George V he started in Prince George's Childhood by ... well, by saying virtually nothing about him.  This article sets the background for what he 'inherited' when he came to the throne, by telling us about his father Edward VII's efforts to maintain peace in Europe (kind of) by performing a round of visits to his fellow monarchs in the hope of charming them into uniting against his nephew the Kaiser ~ a 'policy' which failed dismally in the long run ~ and the short one too, come to that ~ because, as Benson himself says:
These Royal visits of King Edward, which up to the time of his death he had made a large part of the duties and services of a Sovereign to his country, have been roughly analysed in order to show how meaningless they had become. With the growth of democracy it seems strange, twenty-five years later, that they could ever then have been thought to be of value, for the age when personal friendships between Sovereigns could affect strong national movements was already long past.
Ah well.   While all that was going on, George himself
occupied his time for travelling to infinitely greater advantage by visiting India with the Queen in 1911 and magnificently demonstrating at the Durbar the power and friendliness of the Raj.
You can read the full article online here.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014


Fiction ~ novel
Published (July?) 1926
(First read 03/12/2014)

Mezzanine is yet another Benson novel in which very little happens at very great length.
At the end of Sheaves (1908), his other novel which deals with the problem of what happens when a woman marries a man much younger than herself (and which is only marginally more eventful than Mezzanine), EFB dropped this lukewarm potato by having the wife conveniently die of consumption at a swanky Swiss ski resort.  At the start of this one he picks it up and literally saunters with it for a few hundred pages before dropping it again because he's run out of space.  Our heroine in this case is Mrs Elizabeth Langdon; we meet her on her 47th birthday¹:
She was tall and solidly made, and like most big women carried herself well; she looked brisk and capable and serene, as if she had dealt very successfully with life hitherto, and was assured of efficiency in the future.
Alas, 'twas not to be.  Her husband Walter is ten years her junior; they've been married 10 or 12 years and have a 9-year old son, Tony.  Lizzie worries about getting old ... more specifically she worries that Walter, who's just been given a new lease on life after recovering from years of residual malaria, is, despite his unwavering devotion to her, starting to find her dull.
Enter Evie. [in progress]

¹ EFB also used this device in Mr Teddy (1917), which opens on that gentleman's 40th.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

The King and His Reign I: Prince George's Education

Non-fiction ~ essay
Published in The Spectator, 22nd February 1935
1,295 words
(First read 02/12/2014)

"What do you mean 'Four's too young for the Navy'?"
In this the first of twelve articles published to commemorate the silver jubilee of King George V (1865-1936), EFB contrasts the prince's rearing with that of his father Edward VII (1841-1910).  The latter had a miserable, lonely childhood thanks to his parents¹ and so, to ensure that his son didn't suffer the same fate, packed young George off to the Navy at the earliest possible opportunity, along with the ill-fated heir to the throne Prince Albert Victor (1864-92)².
That's pretty much it, actually.  It's available to read online here.

¹ See King Edward VII: An Appreciation (1933) and The Baron (1937), etc.
² I daresay Edward found kids a bit style-cramping as well.

Sunday, 30 November 2014

The Golden Temple of Amritsar

Non-fiction ~ essay/article
Published in The Century Magazine (US), March 1914
1,810 words
(First read 30/11/2014)

In the second of (probably) three articles* about India that Benson (probably) wrote for The Century Magazine, he talks about the holiest shrine of the Sikh religion.  It's as finely written as the others, though the descriptive prose comes rather dangerously close to purpleness on the odd occasion.  And EFB once again shows himself a fairly keen 'passive adherent' of the local faith.
It can be read online here.

*For the other two see The Heart of India and Dewan-i-Khas.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

The Heart of India

Non-fiction ~ article/essay
Published in The Century Magazine, February 1914
Collected in pamphlet The Heart of India (Hermitage Books, 1994)
4,060 words
(First read 26/11/2014)

E. F. Benson visited India in 1912¹ and stayed for several months.  In The Heart of India he talks about life on the River Ganges in the city of Benares², the home of Hinduism.
He begins by describing ~ somewhat imperiously ~ the stereotypical reactions of the average Western tourist to all that he sees.  Then goes on at some (but not excessive) length to describe the hordes of faithful doing their ablutions, making offerings, and cremating their dead, about the waters of the river itself, about fakirs, beggars, brahmans, chelas, and ... well, as much 'local colour' as you can fit in to 4,000 words.
Despite having never been noticeably interested in India, Eastern religions, etc., I found the article remarkably absorbing: it's beautifully written, with Benson's characteristic blend of detailed, almost sensuous description and (erm ...) emotional restraint.
And it's available
online here.

¹ It might be more accurate to say that he visited his old-young chum Francis Yeats-Brown who was living in India at the time.  But I won't.
While there he fell ill, and pains of increasing severity caused him to return home.  He was found to have a tumour on a kidney which was so far advanced that an operation for the removal of the kidney was inevitable.  This took place in May 1913.
~E. F. Benson As He Was by Geoffrey Palmer and Noel Lloyd.  For more of EFB's Indian 'colour' see the opening section of Arundel.
² Which we now have to refer to as Varanasi.

Monday, 17 November 2014

The Dorothy Crystal Syndicate

Fiction ~ short story
First(?) published 4th December 1935*
5,125 words
(First read 17/11/2014)

Siblings Dick and Violet Cundall live in grinding poverty in London, with only one piano and one servant between them.  Dick is a clerk (or something else) in the City; Violet devotes herself to looking after her brother.  One day Dick has the idea to write a parody of the kind of 'literature' Violet loves: poor orphan girl turns out to be daughter of earl ~ that kind of thing.  He reads her said story and she ~ who appears not to know what 'parody' means ~ thinks it's marvellous.  He sends it off to a magazine.  It's a hit.  They set themselves up as producers of stories of this kind: Violet originates the plots, Dick does the actual work; their pseudonym is 'Dorothy Crystal'.  Vi falls in love with her publisher, and vice versa, and all ends rosily.
To call this story 'slight' would be a serious understatement: if you breathe on it too heavily while reading, it all but vanishes.

* I found this story in the 04/12/1935 edition of The Courier, a newspaper published in Taunton (Somerset, UK), where it was described as 'published by special arrangement', which I'm assuming means this was its first outing.  It later appeared in the 08/07/1936 edition of The Teesdale Mercury, so it's possible it had been 'doing the rounds' of provincial British papers before appearing in the aforementioned Courier.
Anyway, below is the story reproduced in full ~ to the best of my knowledge ~ for the first time in 79 years, free gratis and for all the world to see and be very very mildly amused by.  (You can see the first page of the Mercury version here.)

It was a fine moment when the Editor of that very largely-circulated magazine, Cosy Corner, not only accepted the short story which Dick Cundall had sent him (with a stamped and directed envelope inside) but intimated that he would be glad to see any further work. This particular story was of the most degraded description and concerned a sweet young girl who lived with an aged and doddering father, and was like a sunbeam about their two squalid rooms. They were incredibly poor, but the sweet young girl's optimistic view of life and her touching belief in the beneficence of Providence, made them both as happy as the day was long. She sold flowers in Piccadilly Circus, and had a refined nature. Eventually her grandfather turned out to be an Earl, which showed how right Hermione was in pinning her faith to the beneficence of Providence.
The origin of this loathsome tale, thought trivial in itself, was proved to be of momentous significance and strangely affected the lives of three people. Dick had been annoyed with his sister one evening because instead of playing draughts with him as usual after dinner, she had sat mopping her eyes over The Old Curiosity Shop. When she had gone damp and red-eyed to bed, he had taken up the book, with rising nausea, read a chapter or two concerning Little Nell and her grandfather, and had sat up half the night in writing a similar assault on the emotions. The second half containing the glad tidings that her father was an Earl was added on the principle that though some readers like Violet herself loved to wallow naked and unashamed in sheer sentimentality, others adored the aristocracy. To such insignificant beginnings, steeped in the spirit of mockery, the Dorothy Crystal Syndicate owed its origin.
Dick had always wanted to be an author, but a rebellious parent had put him at the age of eighteen into an office in the City, where now, seven years later, he earned his living. His father had died soon after his entry there, and the money which he had left to be divided equally between his two children enabled them jointly with the addition of Dick's salary to live comfortably enough in a small flat off the Brompton Road. Violet at this time was a very pretty girl of twenty, devoted to her brother but with no use for any other member of his sex; and her sentimentality, which was of the deepest dye, she indulged solely over cinemas, theatres, and books. She did not in the least desire that life should be like that, it was merely that she loved these emotions as exhibited in art, and when she came out of the picture-palace or shut her book, she was a young lady of an extraordinarily practical turn of mind. She ran the flat with the greatest ability, providing extreme comfort with notable economy, doing her marketing herself, and finding an exquisite pleasure in keeping down the house-books while still preserving the high standard of excellent meals and perennial hot water.
A wet Sunday enabled Dick to finish this awful little tale, and in the afternoon he read it to Violet.
It's a parody, of course,” he said, “but it's really not much more ridiculous than the stories you are so fond of. It's called Lady Hermione: there's richness for you.”
“That's a splendid name,” said Violet enthusiastically. “Wait a minute till I put the kettle on the boil. Then I can enjoy it thoroughly.”
Dick was soon deep in his reading and giggling at the more atrocious passages, when he heard a stifled sob from his sister.
“Dick, darling, don't laugh,” she said huskily. “It's too lovely! It isn't a parody at all. But if Hermione's going die, I don't think I shall be able to bear it.”
Dick stared at her.
“You're perfectly incredible,” he said. “It was meant to be funny, and there you are snivelling.”
“Never mind me,” said Violet. “Just go on, and please don't laugh any more.”
The story was not a long one, and presently he came to its happy conclusion. Violet dried her eyes.
Perfect!” she said. “And an Earl. That is nice. Of course, it would have been lovely if she had died; I should have cried all evening. But it's much better as it is.”
A hissing noise interrupted her, and she flew to the fireplace.
“And the water's been boiling over,” she cried with a stern relapse into practical affairs. “How careless of me.”
The practical side of Violet's nature continued in the ascendant over their tea. Though the 'Lady Hermione' had roused all her deepest sentimentality, there was another side to that lady.
Of course you must have it published, Dick,” she said. “Any editor of a popular magazine would jump at it. It's exactly what the ordinary reader wants nowadays, something to make him utterly miserable first, and then quite comfortable afterwards. People are getting tired of dreary analytical accounts of what typists think about when they're going home on the top of an omnibus. They want things to happen: great romantic things. Of course there's no love interest in Lady Hermione at present—“
“That's all there's ever going to be of her,” said Dick. “Why I only wrote it to show you the kind of slosh you like.”
You've shown me a great deal more then by accident,” said she. “You've shown me you have got the trick—of course I'm talking now from the commercial point of view—you've got the trick of writing what the average reader (that's me) adores. You must instantly send it to some popular magazine; Cosy Corner would be as good as any.”
“I wouldn't let that rubbish appear under my name for a hundred pounds,” said Dick. “Supposing somebody in the office came across it?”
“Oh, they won't give you a hundred pounds,” said Violet. “More likely two guineas. And you needn't send your name at all. Dick Cundall isn't a good name for that sort of author. Just sign it D.C. with this address. As for pay, just take whatever they offer you. It's the appearance of the story that I want.”
Violet was perfectly right about its acceptation by the Editor of Cosy Corner, and she laughed with pleasure at the request that he should be permitted to see more of D.C.'s work. She had been equally correct in her estimate of what the Editor proposed to pay for it.
“We won't let him on another time with that starvation wage,” she said. “But never mind the money; that's a mere detail at present. Write to him and say you accept it, but that you only sell him first serial rights, and that the story remains your property. Or you'd better let me do that for you: I'm much more business-like.”
“Rather, as long as you give me the two guineas,” said Dick. “Now let's play draughts.”
Violet saw that he was looking about for a cigarette, and flew to put the box by his elbow. That sort of attention, she had observed, always paid.
“There you are,” she said. “Now, Dick, do be kind, and let me talk to you for ten minutes. I'm bursting with ideas; you've no notion of how I've been thinking.
“This story will appear, and I bet you a box of cigarettes that within a fortnight, Mr John Dacres will write to D.C. repeating his request to see more of his work, and if possible more about Lady Hermione. Now let's be business-like. Do you take that bet?”
“Yes,” said Dick yawning.
“Well then, I want you to let me reply to that saying that you have written another story about Hermione, but that you are afraid—that is, D.C. is afraid—that a reward of two guineas is not a great temptation to you.”
“I thought you said money was only a detail,” said Dick.
“Yes, but details have to be attended to,” said she.
“Then another detail is that I haven't written a further story about Hermione,” said he.
“Oh, but Dick, you will have by the time I tell him so,” said Violet. “You must! I promise you that you won't get less than ten pounds for it. It won't take you long; you wrote the other in a few hours. And ten pounds is ten pounds.”
“But supposing it isn't?” asked Dick. “I mean supposing Mr. Dacres doesn't give me ten pounds for it?”
Violet did not hesitate.
“Then I will,” she said. “I shan't have to, because he will. And you won't have to invent a story; I've got it all ready for you. All you'll have to is to tell it in just the superb way you told the first one.”
Dick threw away the end of his cigarette.
“What are you up to, Vi?” he asked.
“I can't tell you all that I'm up to,” she said, “because in the first place you would laugh at me, and call me mad; and in the second, I never make cut-and-dried plans for long ahead. I see the next step quite clearly, and that is that when Mr. Dacres asks you, as he will, for another Hermione story, and when you tell him that you won't take less than ten pounds for it, you must have one read to send him.”
“And what's the story?” asked Dick. “You said you had it ready.”
Violet's eyes grew sentimental for a moment.
“Oh, it's lovely!” she said. “Lady Hermione's father has become an earl—the Earl of Tintagel, I think—and they now live in Park Lane. She goes to a ball, or perhaps she gives one, and meets a very interesting-looking young man with coal-black hair, who is lame—“
Dick shouted with laughter.
“Not the strong, silent Englishman again?” he asked.
“You may call him so if you like. He is strong and silent, and Hermione feels there is something very wonderful about him. As he goes away he holds both her hands for a moment, and gazes into her eyes and says 'Pshaw!' to himself. What a suspense.”
“It seems to me that you're embarking on a serial,” said Dick.
“I don't say that I'm not,” she said. “But that depends on all sorts of other things. All I want you to do at present is to write the second story on the lines I've given you. And whatever happens, you'll get ten pounds. It may be more—but it will certainly be that. And that's only the beginning, Dick.”
Dick had the firmest belief in his sister's practical ability, and he had never seen her more in earnest.
“Go on,” he said. “Tell me some more of your plans.”
“My dear, I can't tell you much,” she said. “But one thing I have quite made up my mind abut. You only signed yourself D.C., didn't you?”
“That's all.”
“Well, D.C. mustn't be Dick Cundall. That would never do as the name of the author of Lady Hermione. I've been pondering very carefully, for the answer to 'What's in a name?' is 'A very great deal.' And I don't think—of course, I should be delighted to consider any suggestions—I don't think you could better 'Dorothy Crystal.' In fact, when I write to Mr. Dacres telling him that there is another Hermione story I shall sign it Dorothy Crystal.”
“Lor! What a name!” said Dick.
“I'm glad you like it. She's just right for the author of Lady Hermione.”
Violet's forecast was fulfilled with an accuracy that would have done credit to a major prophet. Within a week after the appearance of Dick's first story, Mr. Dacres wrote again to ask if D.C. could not send him, on the same terms, another little tale about Lady Hermione. Violet thereupon replied with a most able letter, stating frankly that Dorothy Crystal (for so she signed herself) had another story just completed but that she was probably sending it elsewhere, as two guineas was scarcely a price that she cared to accept. Mr. Dacres instantly wrote asking whether he might see the story, and having read it, decide whether he wished to purchase it at a higher rate than was at all usual. Would Miss Crystal ring him up before 11 a.m. next morning and give her reply.
Violet, as she read this, became aware that she had come to cross-roads, and instead of ringing him up as requested, or going out to her marketing, perused his letter again, trying to conjecture exactly how he had felt when he wrote it. If Dorothy Crystal declined to send the sumptuous typewritten manuscript (sumptuous it was: Dick had produced a marvellous, strong, silent Englishman) it was possible that Mr. Dacres might meanly acquiesce in her decision and ring off. In that case she would have to pay Dick ten pounds and what was more excruciating, the columns of Cosy Corner, easily the best for the purpose, would be closed against him. On the other hand her acute sense detected a certain anxiety in Mr. Dacre's note; he clearly wanted to see the story, and she was most desirous of knowing how great his interest in it was, for it would be a splendid endorsement to her own estimate of the very marketable quality of Dick's work, if so practical a judge as the Editor of Cosy Corner bought it at the price she proposed to ask without seeing it. That would add immensely to her confidence for the future.
Violet spread all these problems before her mind and regarded them like a panorama. She glanced also at the clock which was verging on 11 a.m.
“I'll chance it,” she said to herself. “And I won't even ring him up. I believe he'll ring me up. That would be much better.”
It was almost with a sob of relief that she heard the telephone bell tinkle, and a crisp voice asked if Miss Crystal was in. Violet controlled her trembling lips and said she was Miss Crystal and who ws it please … And it was he.
Mr. Dacres was a little abrupt at first. He had expected to be rung up by Miss Crystal. To which Miss Crystal without a tremor said how stupid it was of her, but she had quite forgotten. And that was a lie, because she had been thinking of nothing whatever else.
“About that story,” said Mr. Dacres.
Violet gulped and then spoke.
“Yes, so kind of you, Mr. Dacres, to take an interest in it,” she said. “But I don't think I'll send it to you on approval. In fact I've almost—oh, well never mind that.”
Mr. Dacre's voice became a little anxious and very cordial.
“I should very much like to see it,” said he. “It is, I believe, about your charming heroine, Lady Hermione.”
“Oh, how nice of you,” said Violet. “Yes, it's about Hermione.”
“And what are you asking for it?” said Mr. Dacres.
“Ten guineas,” said Violet. Guineas sounded more professional than pounds.
“I'll take it,” said Mr. Dacres. “Will you kindly send it round?”
“Certainly,” said Violet. “And would you kindly confirm your purchase by letter, at ten guineas for magazine appearance in Cosy Corner.”
Violet instantly sent it off, with a small piece of pretty riband holding the sheets together.
The development of Dorothy Crystal grew swiftly. Mr. Dacres (by telephone) was charmed with Lady Hermione's Ball, but, with all deference, was not the gap between the first chapter and that rather large? Her readers, he felt sure, would want to know what happened between the elevation of her father to the peerage and her full-blown appearance in Park Lane. There might be much interesting—indeed, absorbing romance in the début of Hermione into London society. (Mr. Dacres hinted at highly-coloured episodes which made Violet's mouth water.) Could not Miss Crystal interpolate some such chapter, since two chapters of the material to be dealt with could not be worthily treated in one, between the first chapter already published, and that of the delightful, the inimitable ball? And then, again, readers would be wild to know the unfolding of the love-interest so thrillingly adumbrated at the close of the chapter about the ball. In fact, Mr. Dacres had a proposition to make to Miss Crystal, which he hoped would meet with her approval, and would, he felt sure, be advantageous to them both. The matter could be discussed more easily in an interview than over the telephone-wire and if she would be so good as to appoint him a time, he would be most pleased to wait upon her. Violet did not hesitate for a moment. She instantly said that she would expect Mr. Dacres in half-an-hour's time, rang off, and sat down to consider what she had done, and what she intended to do.
What she had done was definitely to assume the personality of Dorothy Crystal and the authorship of Dick's stories. What she intended to do was to consent to provide not only these three chapters, but any amount more. She felt certain that Mr. Dacres wanted her (Dick) to write a complete serial story, and, now assured of his anxiety to obtain that, she meant to screw him up to the highest possible figure, and undertake to supply it. If she consulted Dick about it first he would almost certainly say that he couldn't and wouldn't do anything of the kind, and though she might ultimately persuade him, it would require a great deal of time and energy. It was far better then to confront him with the fait accompli of a contract in which large prospective sums of money would speak for themselves. As for the identification of herself with Dorothy Crystal, she had no qualms about the wisdom of that, for she rightly felt that it was a great asset to the scheme that a young and very pretty girl (it would have been rank injustice to herself not to acknowledge that) should be the author of the romantic history of Hermione rather than a stockbroker's clerk. Mr. Dacres might easily propose giving an interview in Cosy Corner with the gifted young authoress, illustrated by a photograph of herself, and a corner of the study where she worked. It would all be wonderful advertisement. Besides, Dick had said that not for a hundred pounds would he let it be known that he was the author.
Violet dismissed all qualms, and started into a whirlwind of activity. She told her servant that a visitor would presently arrive and ask for Miss Crystal, and was to be shown in. She put on an extremely becoming blouse, and prettily disordered her hair. She pictured to herself the character and tastes she was to assume, and in accordance with these put a copy of 'The Rosary' on the music-rest of the piano, hid the cigarettes, took the daffodils out of the vase where she had just placed them, in order that she might be discovered arranging them, and laid a copy of Shakespeare open by them.
Mr. Dacres took away with him, an hour later, a whirl of charming impressions, a signed contract, a sheaf of short-hand notes, and a photograph. Of them all the charming impression, or perhaps the photograph which he several times furtively regarded under the lid of his despatch-case, affected him personally the most, and being an enthusiastic and impressionable young gentleman, he longed to be at work on his shorthand notes, in order to do homage and justice to the delicious subject of them. From a popular point of view the topic teemed with romance; never had he heard such a telling tale as that which Dorothy Crystal had so ingenuously unfolded to him. What a name, too! How expressive of her sweet, almost old-fashioned simplicity! Her orphaned childhood, living with the dear, old aunt in the country, amid wallflowers and beehives and cowslip-wine, her early love of scribbling, which dated from the time when Aunt Dorcas used to read The Wide Wide World to her, sitting in her armchair of winter evenings by the open hearth, her determination to be one day a writer of pure and elevating books, which should show her readers the loveliness of life and the heights to which human nature could rise, all these, while making Mr. Dacres feel rather sick, were clearly of the highest value for the article which he was planning, and which should arouse the most widespread interest in Dorothy Crystal. Then how deeply touching was the death of Aunt Dorcas, the sale of the beehives and wallflowers, and her move to London with that dearly-loved brother, and their poverty until he got a situation in the city. The brother was evidently a good fellow, fond of her, but not in the least understanding her, or her marvellous gift; he had laughed (how sweetly she said it) at the story of Hermione's early struggles, before wealth and title came, and pooh-poohed the idea that any editor would consider it for the humblest of his columns … And what a delicious picture she had made arranging daffodils with her Shakespeare open on the table, and that mellifluous song 'The Rosary' on the piano. His practised fountain-pen itched to be at work on so promising a subject.
Besides the softer emotions which were stimulated by Dorothy Crystal's charms, Mr. Dacre's business instincts were well satisfied with the contract he had made. From an artistic point of view he had nothing but the supremest contempt for the instalments he had seen of Lady Hermione; to put it tersely, it was the most appalling drivel he had ever read, but his professional eyes saw a fortune in it. He had therefore bought the serial rights of Dorothy Crystal's novel The Lady Hermione, which was to appear weekly in the Cosy Corner, and, what pleased him more, he had acquired the book-rights of the same, which was to be published on the conclusion of its serial appearance. It was true that only two chapters of the work were yet in existence, but he was perfectly satisfied that the girl who had written the account of Lady Hermione's ball, and her first meeting with Roger Falconhurst (such was the encouraging name of the strong, silent one) would produce a story which would at once soar pre-eminent among 'best sellers'. He had an extraordinary flair in gauging the public taste, and he was convinced that in Dorothy Crystal (properly advertised) he had discovered a coming popular idol. He had just started a small publishing house of his own and his autumn list would be headed by Lady Hermione, already known to many readers through Cosy Corner. From a business point of view he felt he had never done a better morning's work.
His immediate business now was to rouse popular interest in Dorothy Crystal by means of the interview and photograph she had given him. That was a labour if not at present of love, of a very ardent admiration. Not only was she a very pretty girl (the photograph did her justice) with a most attractive story, but had a very shrewd brain behind those child-like blue eyes, and unbobbed wealth of golden hair. She was the most interesting type of the modern girl who, with all her adorable femininity was well able to take care of herself. He took another long look at her photograph, and began his panegyric.
Dick was informed, on his return that evening to the flat, of the soaring flights he had been pledged to in his absence. Violet gave him the most delicious dinner, intending to spring these disclosures on him when he was thoroughly well-fed. But roast partridge following white-bait aroused his suspicions.
“Why this opulence?” he said. “Why this luxury? I believe you've got something to tell me which I shan't like.”
“We are opulent, Dick,” she said. “At least we shall be if you are sensible.”
“Something about Hermione,” said the astute Dick.
“My dear, how clever you are!” said Violet. “Well, this morning Mr. Dacres came to see me—“
Dick behaved very well. Naturally he was furious at first. Naturally he said he would not write a single line, and that since Violet had become Dorothy Crystal she might take on the engagement she had made for him. But anger gave place to amazement as the narrative proceeded and Violet acquainted him with the financial aspects of the case.
“And I'll make up all her story,” she said. “You'll only have to write it down. Shall I begin? Then you can get in two hours' work before you go to bed.”
The appearance of The Lady Hermione in the autumn amply fulfilled her publisher's expectations, and Dorothy Crystal leaped to her throne. Edition after edition was called for and absorbed, and Violet spent half the day in signing autograph albums and answering appreciative letters, and writing criticisms on the innumerable manuscripts which young and aspiring authoresses sent her. But pleasant as all this was, the entire falsity of her position made her shiver like an east wind that chilled the flattering sunshine. It was true that Dick was perfectly content with the situation; she had already contracted for him, with his eager approval, to write a successor to The Lady Hermione, for which he would receive a very notable sum in advance on account of royalties, and those fruits of popularity were, he assured her, quite sufficient for him. And after all, the boom, so he pointed out, was largely due to Violet, it was she who had supplied him with all the events of Lady Hermione's career, with episode of the abandoned marquis who passed himself off as a bachelor and tried to marry her, with the misunderstanding between her and Roger, and his total disappearance from the scene for a year and a half, with his return lamer and stronger and more silent than ever, with his gaining of the V.C. in the war, and his arrival, wounded, at a base hospital in France, where, of course, Hermione was a nurse, and finally with their marriage at St. Peter's, Eaton-square, and the birth of her baby. Dick would never have invented these occurrences if left to himself; he had only clothed them in the robes of narrative when they were forcibly thrust into his hands by Violet.
Violet's east wind was far more biting than that. She and John Dacres had fallen in love with each other, and the bitter gale that howled round her was the fact that either she must refuse him, or she must tell him that from their first interview when she had invented Aunt Dorcas and the beehives down to the present moment, all that he had built on his knowledge of her was reared on a foundation of solid lies.
She was alone this morning in their flat. Dick, who had retired from office work in the city, was out getting tickets for their journey to the Italian Lakes, where the scene of the next novel was to be largely laid, and she was beginning the draughting of the first chapters. But his nightmare of a situation came between her and her work; she could not concentrate on the villainous count, nor feel her customary ecstasy at the picturing of his young ward who made sunshine in such incredible quantities for all who came within [the] rays of her beams. And they were to start to-morrow without even telling John that they were going. Life really was becoming powerfully like the sort of existence which it was so pleasant to read about. But then any proper author could be trusted to invent a blissful solution to these heart-rending perplexities, and rack her brains as she would, she could not think of one. Celibacy, or exposure (and, if exposure, possibly both) inexorably faced her.
So deep she was in depressed meditation that she did not hear the door-bell ring, and John Dacres was announced. He appeared to be in excellent spirits, which was unkind of him.
“I just brought some letters for you that came to the office,” he said. “More adoring epistles, I suppose. And what rot gets into the papers! I saw a paragraph this morning that you were going to the Italian Lakes.”
With a pang of annoyance Violet remembered that she had given this information to an interviewer yesterday. But she was so accustomed now to false positions that she answered without a qualm:
“How utterly ridiculous!” she said.
Something in her voice made him look fixedly at her. It rang (Hermione would have said) false.
“It isn't true, then?” he asked.
Violet opened her mouth and then shut it again like a duck emitting a noiseless quack. Then she opened it once more.
“Yes, it is true,” she said. “Dick and I are going to-morrow.”
He turned his back on her and spoke.
“Dorothy, will you marry me?” he said.
Violet did not pause to think what Hermione would have done. But then Hermione was a very different sort of girl. She was sweet and good and true and noble, instead of being such an awful liar. She gave a gasp.
“I will if you want to after what I am going to tell you,” she said.
“How perfectly ripping!” said John. “Drive ahead!”
Violet tried to say “It will hurt you,” but though it would have looked all right in a book, she thought it wouldn't sound right.
“I'm not Dorothy,” she said, “or Crystal. It's a nom-de-plume. It's not even my nom-de-plume. It's Dick's. He wrote Lady Hermione.”
“Oh, lor!”
John looked at her in amazement and then broke out into a loud laugh.
“I can't tell you what a relief that is,” he said. “It was the only thing I had against you that you wrote such awful twaddle! Oh, it pays; I know that, so do you. And so Dick did it all! Well, I never!”
“Not quite all,” said she. “I made up the events.”
“Oh they're nothing. Anyone could do that. It's the way of telling it. What is your name then?”
“Violet Cundall!” said she. “And I never had an Aunt Dorcas or anything of that sort.”
“Better and better. Now you've told me … Violet, you darling!”
After an interlude Violet's practical nature asserted itself.
“And what's to be done about Dorothy Crystal?” she asked.
“Keep her up, of course,” he said. “She's a gold-mine to Dick and me. We shall be a sort of syndicate—The Dorothy Crystal Syndicate.”
Which still tropically flourishes.

Reproduced from The Courier [Taunton], 04/12/1935

Friday, 14 November 2014

A Creed of Manners

Fiction ~ short story
First published December 1894¹
Reprinted in Bensoniana No. 2 (Hermitage Books, 1993)
(First read 14/11/2014)

Oh dear ... oh deary dear ... oh very very dear indeed ~ A Creed of Manners is an unbelievably stupid story, the 27-year old E. F. Benson at his worst².
It consists largely of a fatuous, epigram-sodden³ dialogue between two male friends, Claude Ackersley and his stooge Jack Anstruther.  Claude is an early example of ... well, this:
[...] rich, good-looking, well-born, perfectly healthy, entirely unambitious, and twenty-five years old.
He also has 'an insatiable appetite for loafing' ~ nice.  As you'd expect from this type of Bensonian person⁴, he describes himself as a 'harmless, unnecessary young man' ~ too right; and his 'creed' is this:
My hope and aim are that under every circumstance, however trying, I may behave like a gentleman.  My fear is that circumstances may be too strong, and that I shall fail, and behave like a coward or a cad.
Luckily the Mad Axe-Murderer EFB is on hand to put him to the test: Claude swallows a piece of glass from a broken soda siphon ['Death by Whisky and Soda'] ... and, despite being in agonizing pain, dies the most excruciatingly gentlemanly and noble kind of death the 19th century had to offer.
As I said, a stupid stupid story ~ by 21st-century standards, obviously ... though I'm willing to bet it caused a certain amount of tittering even in 1894.  Anyway, it's available online here.  

¹ Not sure where this first saw the light of day, either in Phil May's Winter Annual (UK) or in Lippincott's Monthly Magazine (US).  Of course it's conceivable that it was published in both places simultaneously.
² Well, at his worst after Dodo, that is.
³ At one point, in reply to a particularly inane epigram, Jack actually says, "How very Oscaresque!"  A mere two months after this story was published, Wilde was engulfed in the scandal that ended his career.  EFB, who knew him personally if not especially well, continued with the epigrammatic style for the next 40 years, long after the rest of the world had pretty much abandoned it, and, to a degree (see As We Were), remained faithful to the memory of the Great Irish Windbag's supposed genius.
⁴ I admit this wasn't my first choice of word here.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

The Valkyries

Subtitled A Romance
Fiction ~ novel
Published July 1903
Approx. 36,000 words 

The Valkyries: A Romance is Benson's rendering into prose of Richard Wagner's opera Die Walküre (1870), the second instalment in his famous Ring cycle.

And that's the only kind thing I can say about it, I'm afraid.

Unspeakable tosh and twaddle, strictly for fans of Wagner's original or of other preposterous shite in this vein.  It's available online here.  Wear a gasmask. 


[…] Mr Benson has tried “to render as closely as possible into English narrative prose the libretto of Wagner's 'Valkyries',” and, in its new dress, it makes an effective story, which has been admirably illustrated by T [illegible] Lewis. Readers cannot but sympathise with the sorrows of Brunnhilde, and they will eagerly await the sequel which shall tell of the coming of the hero who awakens her.
~The Sheffield Daily Telegraph, 01/07/1903
To those who are familiar with the writings of the author of Dodo, this latest romance of Mr E. F. Benson will, in some ways, come as a surprise. [...] here we discover another side of him. This romance, The Valkyries, is founded on Wagner's opera of that name, and Mr Benson has followed the libretto fairly closely. Although the story is little known to English readers, it would be impossible to give even a bare outline of it without doing Mr Benson a great injustice. For he has woven the gigantic story into a beautiful romance in prose, and an attempt to sift romance of this kind would probably lead to a violation of the artistic sense, and even to unmitigated failure. The scale of the original is huge, and the force of it overwhelming. The whole scheme is so magnificent that only music is able to interpret it. And that it is exactly the point Mr Benson has aimed at. All through the story can be heard the thrilling, sonorous music: from the opening of the drama to its end. The lurid, crashing storm, and all the range of passion and death and the dark stir of forces beneath the earth, mingle in one huge wave of music that sweeps away the puny sons of men and leaves the gods triumphant. So Mr Benson shows with a deep reverence the greatness of the master mind of Wagner. As an illustration of the music prose of Mr Benson, the following extract from the chapter of the loves of Siegmund and Sieglinde will serve:~ [there follows an inordinately long quote, beginning “Even as they stood thus” and ending with “and spring is here.”] The treatment that the story receives from Mr Benson is artistic and adequate, and, above all, most sympathetic. The publishers (Messrs Dean and Sons, Ltd) announce that this volume is the first of a series of romances founded on the themes of the grand operas which they have in preparation. It is sincerely to be hoped that Mr Benson may be entrusted with at least one other.
~The Western Daily Press, 20/07/1903
The attempt is justified by the result. So well, indeed, has Mr Benson done his work that even to those unacquainted with this episode in the story of the Nieblungen Ring the book makes fascinating reading. In style it could hardly be bettered, and in places it is written with thrilling dramatic force. It is a book that all admirers of Wagner should read. As a fair sample of Mr Benson's diction the following description of the Valkyries themselves may be taken [there follows a prodigiously long quote, at least several hundred words, which I can't be arsed to reproduce].
~The Cheltenham Looker-On, 25/07/1903
This attempt to turn into English prose the subject of Wagner's opera The Valkyries is decidedly well done. The story loses somewhat in the translation, but it is written in quaint, attractive style, and the many admirers of Wagner will agree that the task is a difficult one. The strange love of Sieglinde and Siegmund, with its consequences, is well set forth, as is also the picture of Brunnhilde, the Valkyrie maden, who defended the two against her father, the god Wotan.
~The Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser, 31/07/1903
An attempt has been made to render as closely as possible into English narrative prose the libretto of Wagner's Valkyries.
~The Grantham Journal, 05/09/1903
Mr. Benson calls his text 'halting' and 'homely.' It does not deserve these adjectives. Sonorous and powerful with passion, it breathes only the spirit of genuine and spontaneous poetry. Even Wagner's monumental text hardly describes better those
elemental forces which underlay the love of Siegmund and Sieglinde.
~The Outlook (US), 23/09/1905

Friday, 7 November 2014

The Money Market

Fiction ~ novel
Published (November?) 1898
(First read 07/11/2014)

I make no bones about it, gentle reader, The Money Market is pretty poor.  It's not tearing-your-hair-out dreadful like Dodo, nor is it wanting-to-tear-their-eyes-out atrocious like Scarlet and Hyssop ~ it's just routine low-key poor.  The good news is that it's virtually forgotten these days ... and deservedly so.
Our hero Percy Gerard has it all: he's 24; he's the acme of masculine beauty [yawn]; he's intelligent; he's a multi-millionaire¹; he's beloved by society and everyone-else-who-knows-him; and he's engaged to the loveliest young gel who ever graced late Victorian London [yawn].
The only snag is that said gel, Sybil Otterbourne, is a soulless husk of a thing, only interested in money, who thinks less of him than she does her lady's-maid².  Even as early as 1898, this was well-trodden material for Fred Benson ~ see below for his own opinion of the book.
On his 25th birthday, for reasons EFB can't be bothered to explain, Percy is given a letter from his long-dead grandfather (his own father being also deceased) in which the said gent explains what this colossal fortune is founded on.  And lo! shocker of the century, it turns out that Gerard grand-père was a moneylender, and the business of the firm ~ which Percy himself never even bothered to enquire about for 25 years ~ is still moneylending.  Preposterous plot, moi?  Well, anyway, Perce does the noble Bensonian thing and disposes of his moneylending businesses and the bulk of his fortune ... leaving him with a mere £70,000³ to shift on.  That's not enough for Sybil, so she dumps him and marries an American millionaire named Carnegie⁴ instead.  And after a brief bout of depression, from which he's rescued by Art, Percy marries his childhood pal who's been waiting in the wings all this time.
To describe the plot as cretinous would be an insult to cretinism.  The whole sorry mess is available online here.  I wouldn't bother, though.

¹ In today's money he can't be far off the billionaire bracket.
² At least her lady's-maid does her hair for her.
³ I forget the exact figure but it's something like this.  It was enough to keep about 2,500 proles in food and lodgings for several decades, anyway.
⁴ I can't begin to imagine where EFB got the inspiration for this name.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Six Common Things

Fiction / Non-fiction collection
Published November 1893
(First reading complete 26/10/2014)

Six Common Things was E F Benson's first* collection of ... well, stuff.  Some of the sixteen pieces are straight fiction, others straight non-fiction, others sort of unidentifiable as one or the other.  (For more of this irritating habit of EFB's see The Book of Months and A Reaping inter alia.)

The pieces are as follows ~ they're best read in order as things sometimes follow on from one another:

Autumn and Love
Two Days After
Jack and Poll
At King's Cross Station
The Sound of the Grinding
Blue Stripe
A Winter Morning
The Zoo
The Three Old Ladies
Like a Grammarian
Poor Miss Huntingford
The Defeat of Lady Grantham
The Tragedy of a Green Totem
The Death Warrant

The book itself is available online here. 

It's no wonder the critics and the public were baffled by Six Common Things and steered well clear of it: it's a mess. 

*Or second if you include the earlier Sketches from Marlborough (1888) which was published privately.

The Death Warrant

Fiction ~ short story/thing
Published in Six Common Things, November 1893
Approx. 1,300 words
(First read 26/10/2014)

In the final doodah of Six Common Things our Unnamed Narrator tells us he's been diagnosed with cancer and has six months to live.  He addresses the reader directly:
May I treat you all quite intimately?  May I say things to you that I would say only to those that I trusted and loved?
"Yeah, why not, whatever, knock yourself out," was my reply; "you don't mind if I carry on worming the cat while you're doing it, do you?"  Luckily the up-and-coming 26-year old wunderkind E. F. Benson is on hand to drive away any clouds of gloom that might consider showing themselves to attend on our moribund middle-aged friend:
[...] I do not fear, but I look forward to this change that will soon happen to me, with the intensest longing and wonder.  What will it be?  I wish I could come back and tell you.  [...] it is worth while, I think, to be brave.
Appalling.  For my final verdict on this irritating little book, go to Six Common Things.
It's available online here

The final story [of Six Common Things], The Death Warrant, is an extraordinary little account of how the narrator, discovering that he is going to die of cancer, faces death and the thought of what might come after, with resignation and courage. It might have been written by a very old man [rather than] a young one on the threshold of life.
~Geoffrey Palmer and Noel Lloyd in E. F. Benson As He Was, 1988

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Thorley Weir

Fiction ~ novel
Published September 1913 (previously published in serial form in Cornhill magazine)
Approx. 84,000 words
(First read 25/10/2014)

Thorley Weir is the story of an art patron's 'adoption' of two young geniuses, one a painter, the other a playwright, and of his attempts to win the hand in marriage of a young lady.  And, or maybe or, it's the story of a young painter's adoption by an art patron, and of his love for a young lady.  Then again it's the story of a young playwright's adoption by an art patron, and of his subsequent disillusionment.  At the same time it's the story of a hypochondriac, his elderly nymphomaniac mother, and his virginal young daughter.  Have I mentioned the pinkish donkey? ~ it's also the story of a pinkish donkey.  What I'm trying to convey is that, like several other E F Benson novels, the thing lacks focus.
The art patron (Arthur Craddock) is an interesting character, as well as being not at all EFB's type ~ we're constantly reminded that he's fat, fifty-ish, very pale, with soft hands and black hair worn in a comb-over, etc.  A professional art critic of long-standing, discovering untapped genius is his favourite sideline after fleecing Americans out of their bucks for British art.  He's so inured to devious business-dealing that the habit has spilt over into his private life.  Despite all this, he is at heart a good egg, and certainly a shrewd, generous, and enthusiastic promoter of young talent.
Not that kind of painter, dummy
The painter (Charles Lathom) is merely Benson Male Type A, the devastatingly handsome and youthful genius, so it's only natural that EFB should be most drawn to him.  Unfortunately, as we all know, Benson Male Type A is only matched in dullness by Benson Female Type A: the impossibly sweet and virginal young gel.
The love interest (Joyce Wroughton) is Benson Female Type A.
Joyce's dad (Philip W) is the perfect Bensonian hypochondriac: petty, mean-spirited, niggardly, self-obsessed, querulous, etc.  He's also very funny.
Philip's mum (for some reason called Lady Crowborough) is another in EFB's long line of 'spunky' old dames, don't ya know, much given to talking in what passed for slang in the 1860s, and to flirting with chaps a quarter her age.  She isn't very funny.
The pinkish donkey [see below under Quotables] is part of the hired help when Arthur, Philip, Joyce and Lady C are having a totally unnecessary holiday in Egypt about halfway through the proceedings.
"That's not really 'ugly', is it, Ewie?"
Who does that leave?  Ah yes! ~ the most interesting character in the book.  Frank Armstrong, the playwright, is so rara an avis in the works of E F Benson that he doesn't even have a Type.  That other struggling young dramatist Rex Whatsisname (of Rex fame) is a mere shadow next to Frank, a petulant-brattish scribbler.  Frank is ~ believe it or not ~ an Angry Young Man, forty years before his time.  Not only is he ugly on the outside¹, he's a seething mass of violent mood swings, careering through life with a massive chip on each shoulder, believing that the world owes him a living, that his patron, despite launching his career very nicely indeed thankyou, is the embodiment of evil, etc.  Ah if only Benson had written Frank rather than the dreary Rex!
The plot goes like this: Arthur realizes he's getting on and lonely so falls in love with Joyce; at the same time she falls in love with Charles, Arthur's new protégé, and he with her; Arthur tries to put her off him but fails; Charles and Frank become good pals, then discover the 'truth' about Arthur, that he's attempted to blacken Charles' name so as to win Joyce's hand, and that he's been exploiting them ~ a bit; Charles forgives him; Frank doesn't; The Happy End.
If you're planning on reading Thorley Weir², prepare yourself for a long leisurely read in which virtually nothing happens and what does happen is blown out of all proportion.
Needless to say, I quite enjoyed it! ~ I've made it sound a lot worse than it is.
It's available online here.

¹ His ugliness, as Fred never tires of telling us, seems largely to consist of his having a big black beard.
² I should probably add that the actual weir in the novel might as well not be there: it doesn't drown or even almost drown anyone.

EFB goes into homoerotic overdrive describing Charles' portrait of his brother Reggie diving into the river:
 […] his face and the side of his body seen almost in profile were brilliantly illuminated by the glint from the shining pool below him. But underneath these surface lights there had to be indicated the building and interlacement of the firm muscles and supple sinews of his body.
 Arthur Craddock commits the sin of Not Being Young:
It was not until he had walked as far as Hyde Park Corner that he knew he was waging a war instead of merely conducting a child's education. He was at war, he with his obese person and half-century of years, with the generation that had sprung up after him, and was now realising the zenith of its youthful vigour. Already it trod on his heels, already he seemed to hear in his ears its intolerable laughter at his portly progress, and his first acute attack of middle-age stabbed him like the lumbago from which he occasionally suffered.
A telling image of Charles:
To-day he had no touch of [guilt or anxiety]: he felt entirely untrammelled: his soul stood nude and unimpeded, like some beautiful runner or wrestler. There was nothing to hinder its leap and swiftness.

On holiday in Egypt the rather prissy Craddock and the rather prissy Philip are selecting their donkeys for a trip into the desert ~ this is the comic highlight of the book:
[Craddock] highly approved Philip's penchant for the pinkish donkey, and selected for himself a small one that resembled in some essential manner a depressed and disappointed widow. His large legs almost touched the ground on either side of it, he could almost have progressed in the manner of the ancient velocipede.
Craddock on Philip Wroughton [same scene as previous quote]:
Till he heard this rapid staccato speech, Craddock felt he had never really known what egotism meant. Here it was in excelsis: almost grand and awe-compelling in this gigantic and inspired exhibition of it … crowning it “Do not leave my donkey, Mohammed.”
Charles and Joyce wax 'philosophical':
She was silent a moment.
In a way an injury done to oneself is easier to forgive than an injury done to somebody else.”
Charles rudely interrupted.
Painfully noble sentiment?” he enquired.
Yes; perhaps it was. Let us be careful: we might die in the night if we became more edifying.”

Mr Benson at his cheeriest. An excellent novel.

~The Times, quoted in a newspaper ad of 19/09/1913.  (I suspect this reviewer hadn't read the whole novel: it's certainly not my idea of 'cheery'.)
This is very good. Written in a light and cheerful vein, in a spirit of delightful comedy.
~Daily Chronicle, quoted in a newspaper ad of 19/09/1913.  (Ditto)
The best book he has published for years.
 ~Daily News, quoted in a newspaper ad of 19/09/1913
Those who want the safely pleasant should put down Mr E. F. Benson's new novel, Thorley Weir. It is very like the other Benson books, but quite without the uncomfortable attempts to deal with big problems that has spoiled the later ones. The heroine is a dear, and there is an even dearer old lady, nominally eighty, but essentially about eighteen ~ a Mrs Wroughton.
 ~Derby Daily Telegraph, 20/09/1913
Mr E. F. Benson in Thorley Weir has added another success to his list of fine novels. No one else gives us quite the same sort or the same quality of books. They abound with gaiety, and they are full of delightful people. There is always a fascinating romance, and as a rule charming dissertations on music and painting. His subjects vary much, and he never can be charged with monotony, yet his novels are all of the Society type, and his characters always include one delightful, inconsequential old lady, who is thoroughly welcome once again in Thorley Weir. As a writer, too, Mr Benson is by no means always equal. Indeed, he can at time be very thin, but Thorley Weir belongs to the best of his works.
'Thorley Weir' is the name of the house in which the heroine, Joyce Wroughton, and her father live, and into the district there come on holiday Charles Lathom and his brother, Reggie. The former is a painter of very considerable promise. While visiting the Wroughtons, the villain of the book, Mr Craddock, a connoisseur in art and the drama, sees Charles's work, and, acting as a 'middleman', purchases his pictures, and makes a business agreement with him, very much to his own advantage. The same thing happens to Frank Armstrong, an unknown but talented dramatist. Charles Lathom and Craddock are both in love with Joyce, but Craddock does not scruple about disparaging his rival to Mr Wroughton, so that the door of Thorley Weir may be closed to him. Here, however, comes in Mrs Wroughton, Mr Benson's favourite type of elderly lady referred to. She helps to disentangle the situation, and the end is interesting. The book is fresh and bright, and written with all the peculiar charm which the author can infuse into his novels.
~The Aberdeen Daily Journal, 22/09/1913
Now that Mr. A. C. Benson has found his power as a novelist, it is open to Mr. E. F. Benson to step into his place, and betake himself to a gentle philosophy. It might be a good experiment. Mr. Benson has changed much as a writer of late years: his novels are no longer of the school of Dodo. We are far less concerned with what Mr. Benson's puppets do, or even with what they think; we look rather for his view of this world of ours, for his opinion of men and women, for his knowledge of art and music and the drama—in short, for his gentle philosophy of life. Thorley Weir is good; it shows no sign of that exhaustion and exaggeration which are the danger of the prolific novelist; it has a good central plot woven round the super-dealer in the arts, the trafficker in men's brains, who meets his final defeat at the hands of the young dramatist and the young artist; it has a pleasant, out-of-door, early-morning setting of the river and loose-strife and kingfishers; it has some charming pieces of writing, and it has several of Mr. Benson's early friends, and ours, thinly disguised under new names. Here is Lady Sunningdale as Mrs. Wroughton, and Hugh Grainger has given up his music and taken to art; here is Bensonian dialogue and freshness and freedom. The book has its faults, of course. Mr. Benson must beware of exaggeration in his drawing of character, for Philip Wroughton's neurotic tempers are on the edge of farce, and the atmosphere of farce is by far too coarse and heavy for Mr. Benson's spirit of pure comedy; we wonder why such a word as "eyne" should find a place in his vocabulary; and we grow almost a little weary over the repeated transports of the young artist. But, when all is said, it is Mr. Benson, and Mr. Benson at his best, which is good enough for the most blasé reader of novels.
~The Spectator, 04/10/1913
A novel kind of a villain is the 'middleman' in this story. He is a connoisseur in art and also knows a lot about the stage. So when he finds a struggling young artist or play-writer of genius, he pets him, buys his first work, and then exacts an option-contract by which he gets future good work at a trifling price. He buys masterpieces, too, from friends after he has bargained to resell them to rich collectors at an enormous profit. All 'within the law,' but mean and tricky. The novel has a delightful old lady and a pretty love story. It is not Mr. Benson's best book, but it reads easily and is amusing.
~The Outlook (US), 01/11/1913
With pleased marvel at the freshness of a pen which has to its credit twenty-eight successful novels, I have been reading Thorley Weir, Mr Benson's latest. In his father's house were many Bensons, four being regular and prolific contributors to the literature of the day. The author of Thorley Weir is E. F. Benson, who, some years ago, captured the attention of the town by the publication of Dodo, a novel which the lady whom the public insisted had served as lay-figure for the heroine* once told me she had never read. The scene of his new story shifting to Egypt, the glow and colour of which flood his pages, Mr Benson writes how the lover of the charming Joyce told her of Sen-mut, the architect of Deir-al-Bahari, to whom the queen showed all her heart, and entrusted with the secrets of her will, and how Thothmes, on his mother's death, erased from the inscriptions all mention of the low-born fellow. [the writer then wanders off onto a different subject and never comes back to this one]
~'Our correspondent' in the 'London Letter' column of Gloucester Journal, 28/02/1914 [from BNA]. * i.e. Margot Asquith, née Tennant (1864-1945).
The title of Mr. Benson's new book is not descriptive, for, as usual, he is concerned with the development of one character, the presentation of a certain type of man who, this time, is embodied in a middle-aged, stout, and not overattractive Arthur Craddock. Craddock possesses discriminating taste and judgment, seeming to know by instinct the best in literature, music, and art, and particularly what would be commercially available. He utilizes this power to bind to himself the
young artist who has not yet 'arrived,' and so makes for himself a fortune and reputation. When he decides to win Joyce Wroughton, however, his methods become involved and his means questionable. Two of Craddock's victims hasten the catastrophe that finally reveals his underhand methods and duplicity. He overreaches himself, and Joyce, in spite of Craddock and his contracts, is allowed to be happy with the young artist Charles.The strength of the story lies in its clear and subtle analysis of the different characters, whose development presents to us many interesting and exciting episodes.
~The Literary Digest, 21/03/1914
Thorley Weir (1913) is a simple romance and nothing more. No titled ladies, no society chatter, no supernatural goings-on: it is the story of an artist who finds fame, and of the girl he loves, restored to him after a series of understandings.
~Geoffrey Palmer and Noel Lloyd in E. F. Benson As He Was, 1988