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

Thursday, 23 October 2014

The Tragedy of a Green Totem

Fiction ~ short story
Published in Six Common Things, November 1893
Approx. 2,200 words
(First read 23/10/2014)

The totem of the title is a figure from the toy Noah's Ark set belonging to our Unnamed Narrator's son.  The story recounts this battered and unprepossessing figurine's 'adventures' at the hands of the little boy and his daddy ~ a certain perhaps-unhealthy amount of interior design is involved in their games but we won't go into that.  It's a charming and amusing wee tale, told in EFB's best "This story is for clever and good children and adults" style.
The only thing we're left wondering is: Are the narrator and child ('Jack') of this story the same as the narrator and deceased child ('Jack') of A Winter Morning in this same collection?  If so, why can't the author, or at least the narrator, tell us this?  If not, was Benson really so careless as not to notice the sameness of the names?  The only clue we have that these characters might be the same people is this mind-blowingly cryptic final sentence/paragraph [the place = 'the place where we built a house for the totem']:
I often pass the place, seldom without thinking of Totem, and other things.
I've read this sentence 23 times and have no idea what it means ~ does it even make grammatical sense?
Anyway, it's available online here.

The Defeat of Lady Grantham

Fiction ~ short story
Published in Six Common Things, November 1893
Approx. 1,800 words
(First read 23/10/2014)

After doing a teeny bit of sterling work on behalf of the humble downtrodden governess in the previous story Poor Miss Huntingford, EFB and his faceless narrator return to undo it all here.  It's a year later and Miss H has now married the eldest son of her former employer Mrs Naseby, making her a very wealthy woman, society queen, etc.  The story tells of the first encounter between this new Mrs Naseby and arch-snob Lady Grantham, while Miss Grantham (from Poor Miss Huntingford), here thoroughly de-clawed and
outclassed by her mother*, merely looks on.  How will the humble ex-Miss Huntingford deal with this harpie?  Well, the fact is that she's gone totally native:
She lounged up to the cedar where we were sitting, bowed to me as if she ought to remember me but just did not, with that sublime self-possession which I had always imagined a thing which some were born with, but to be as unattainable as the line of aristocratic ancestors with which it is usually coupled.
The long and the short is that the new Mrs Naseby has become as odious as everyone else in Society, and so is able to give as good as she gets in her no-holds-barred claws-unsheathed catfight with Lady G.
I do, however, think that the story is mistitled: the result is a draw.  You can judge for yourself: the story's available online here.

*Benson has seen fit to make Lady Grantham Spanish for no reason other than that jibes can be made about her not being English.
P.S. Almost forgot to mention that Dodo's dadastardly second husband (Prince Waldenech) makes a brief cameo appearance in the conversation here.

Monday, 6 October 2014

Poor Miss Huntingford

Fiction (probably) ~ short story (kind of)
Published in Six Common Things, November 1893
(First read 06/10/2014)

In this little sketchy-storyish thing EFB makes one of his exceedingly rare forays into that Other World of servants.  Still, he doesn't go too far beyond the green baize door ~ the eponymous 'heroine' is a governess ~ and he certainly doesn't commit the folly of trying to inhabit her head.  Instead he paints his portrait through the eyes of a young(?) gent staying at the house where Miss H has just started work.  And, if truth be told, his tale is as much about his and another guest's treatment of her than about the governess herself.  When Miss Huntingford accidentally breaks a wine glass at lunch, our Unnamed Narrator gallantly takes the flak for her by saying that he did it.  This is spotted by his vis-à-vis who just happens to be Society Cat No. 1¹, a certain Miss Grantham²:
She had a morbid craving for small scenes, which made other people rather uncomfortable.  [... She spoke] with an infernal sweetness of manner, unable to deny herself the pleasure of making a scene even at the expense of a governess.
So this proto-hag, whose type we'll meet countless more times in the Benson œuvre over the next four and a half decades, gets her petty, pointless rapier thrusts in at both Miss H and our gent, mainly the latter.  But have no fear, Unnamed Narrator gets his revenge ~ and the beauty of it is that he ~ literally ~ doesn't lift a finger to do so.
A tiny gem in the rough.  It's available online here.   

For the return of Miss Grantham (now de-clawed) go to The Defeat of Lady Grantham.

¹ I mean 'Society Cat No. 1 after Dodo'.  
² No relation, one hopes.

Friday, 3 October 2014

The Babe, B.A.

Subtitled: Being the Uneventful History of a Young Gentleman at Cambridge University
Fiction ~ novel (kind of)
Published in the UK 15th January 1897¹
Approx. 53,000 words
(First read 03/10/2014)

Having read a good few reviews of this 'novel', I have to admit I approached it with a fair amount of dread.  And after the first few pages I did think to myself, "Well, I'm just going to have to read the rest through gritted teeth."  But then a curious thing happened: the further I got into it, the more I began to enjoy it.  That's not to say I loved it; rather, I somehow managed to get into it ~ to inhabit that bizarre long-long-long-dead world of Cambridge in the 1880s/90s.
I use the term 'novel' rather than novel because there's virtually no plot to it ~ it's very largely dialogue with a few bits of narrative stuff thrown in here and there; also oddly, given that I'm generally rather particular about 'structure'², after a while I ceased to care about this.  'The Babe' (real name Arbuthnot: he doesn't appear to have a first name) is, in a very weird way, quite delightful: he's good-but-not-brilliant at
his Greek and Latin stuff, and he's good-but-not-brilliant at sports; his chief talent is talking the kind of inconsequential babble that Dodo specialized in, the all-important difference being that she was a rancid heartless hag while the Babe is a complete and utter innocent.
In fact it's the innocence of the whole thing that got to me, that drew me in.  The most awful thing that happens in it is a chap cheating at cards³, and that's all sorted in the most amicable and gentlemanly fashion.  All these young chaps do is play football (by which they mean rugby), croquet and cricket, eat muffins, jabber, put on amateur productions of Greek tragedies, eat muffins, punt, and sing in chapel.
Kings College Chapel, with punter
Okay I could've well lived without the blow-by-blow descriptions of the sports fixtures ~ especially the cricket, which was like reading something in Chinese ~ and I did occasionally find myself wondering if there were going to be any shower scenes⁴.  But on balance the whole was so fresh, so youthful, so innocent that I thoroughly enjoyed it⁵.
Well anyway, you can judge for yourself: it's available online here.

¹ It appears to have been published in the United States in the Autumn [Fall] of 1896.
² ... and having loathed EFB's The Book of Months (1903) and A Reaping (1909), which had much the same format.
³ See Mammon & Co. (1899).  The game in question is one called 'marmara', which EFB either invented exclusively for The Babe or ... has never been heard of since The Babe.  It's insane.
⁴ I can't help it: I'm a product of my age, despite everything you read here.
⁵ I certainly enjoyed it more than David of King's (1924) in which Benson, approaching pretty much exactly the same subject nearly 30 years later, had to try that much harder to recreate that world ~ and ended up overdoing it somewhat.

It would be interesting to know when as well as why Mr. 'Dodo' Benson (as he is called to distinguish him from his poet brother, Mr. A. C. Benson) wrote the book that has just appeared. It seems hardly possible that, after having demonstrated through Dodo and The Rubicon that he could do extraordinary things, even though he might not be able to make literature, he should give himself to anything so utterly aimless, so meaningless, so indescribably dull as this. There is, indeed, a certain amateurish air about the work, an actually infantile manner, that would seem to make its writing antedate anything else from the author. And yet, on the other hand, there runs between the lines a decadent suggestiveness — making its foolish feebleness evil—that seems eminently up to date. On one page we have this kind of inanity:
The Babe was continuing to eat strawberries with a pensive air; and having finished the dish, he looked round pensively, and Reggie caught his eye. 'You mustn't eat any more, Babe,'he said; 'it's after twelve, and we're going out at eight to-morrow, and we have to get back to Prince's Gate.' The Babe sighed. 'Mr. Sylies will be waiting up for us,' he said; 'I suppose we ought to go. He will lose his beauty sleep.'
On another page we have another kind less innocent, and not more interesting:
'It is quite true,' said the Babe in a hollow voice. 'I have tried to go to the devil, and I can't. It is the most tedious process. Virtue and simplicity are stamped on my face and my nature. I am like Queen Elizabeth. I was really cut out to be a milkmaid. I don't want to get drunk, nor to cultivate the lower female. The more wine I drink, the sleepier I get; I have to pinch myself to keep awake, and I should be sleeping like a dead pig long before I got the least intoxicated. . . . We are going to call on obscure dons every afternoon and speak to them of the loveliness of life, for the majority of them have no conception of it. Their lives are bounded by narrow horizons, and the only glimpse they catch of the great world is their bed-maker as she carries out their slop-pail from their bedroom.'
But faugh! why quote more of the revolting twaddle? It is not likely to do any harm. Its very dulness will be a protection from its depravity.
~The Bookman (US), 09/1896
If the Babe had written his own undergraduate memoirs, he would have done them just in Mr Benson's spirit and style. “Remarkable and stirring events,” Mr Benson observes, “do not befall the undergraduate.” They do not. Some are 'bloods', some are 'smugs', some, if they happen to be at Oxford, are 'toshers'; some are Union orators. But for picturesque purposes, as for most others, these are of no account. We prefer the more characteristic “futility of mind,” as Mr Benson puts it, “girt about with that flippant atmosphere, in which the truly heroic chokes and stifles.” Of such was the Babe, who lived in a land wherein it seemed always afternoon, largely no doubt because of the good wholesome hour at which he rose. There is no story in Mr Benson's little volume; he just slings together “a cricket-ball, a canoe, a football, a tripos, a don, a croquet-mallet, a few undergraduates, a Greek play, some work, and so forth.” The result is a pleasingly futile string of sketches, whose local colour and faith unfaithful to the happy-go-lucky inconsequence of one in statu pupillari will please any one who is now or ever has been there. Only, for general working purposes, here, as in Dodo, Mr Benson is too smart to last. By which we mean not merely that the book tails off towards the finish, as it most certainly does, but that Mr Benson's high pressure cannot be lived up to throughout his 310 pages, short as they are. Butterflies and champagne and fireworks are delightful in their way; but Mr Benson gives you so much of them that it is well to take him in short stretches and with considerable intervals. He is too conscientiously funny, in short.
[...] Excellent fooling, but, as has been said, you must take your Babe in homœpathic doses. Mr Benson's cap and bells are too persistently noisy. As a minor point, is it humorous to mix up the index of your illustrations in no sort of order, and always to write “could n't” and “would n't” in two words and “onto” in one?
~Pall Mall Gazette, 25/01/1897
Mr E. F. Benson has a manner and a vast but not unpleasant audacity of his own. He is, moreover, firmly persuaded that the world at large takes an unfailing interest in Cambridge Undergraduates. But, if this vanity is amusing, so are the books that result from it, especially his latest one, The Babe, B.A., which professes to be 'The uneventful history of a young gentleman at Cambridge University' […]. For, though a fair half of it may be skipped by older folk, the other half contains some excellent comedy ~ only once, in a scene which would have been much better omitted, degenerating into farce ~ good humour, excellent criticism, occasional wit, and a few grains of common-sense. Cambridge is described with unflinching accuracy, names are thinly disguised, or not disguised at all, and we are, besides, treated to all manner of surprisingly frank remarks and observations.
[...] the book is redeemed by the hero, an irresponsible masculine Dodo, whom everybody likes and humours. When it is added that he is well-placed, well off, healthy, and no fool, in spite of some appearances, it is not surprising that he finds life an excellent amusement, especially, it should be added, as he has a faultless temper, takes all things leisurely, and none very seriously ~ in which apparently he resembles Mr Benson.
[...] We follow this promising youth through the various excitements that usually beset the way to the Tripos with a good deal of interest and some liking. Taking the book as a whole, there is one scene ~ that of the Babe's interview with Feltham, after the cheating at cards ~ that is almost masterly; and most of it will, no doubt, be interesting to Cambridge Undergraduates, especially to King's men; even those to whom the University is now a very old story may like it a good deal; the rest of the world will skip some scnes, and be amused at others. The Babe will not enhance Mr Benson's reputation as a novelist, but, in spite of its carelessness, it confirms the impressions he had already given his readers. Some day he will grow serious, which will be a pity; but we shall not be surprised if he then writes a brilliant book, which, after all, will be some compensation.
~The Standard [London], 15/02/1897, abridged
The Babe, B.A. […] is the development of a view already sketched by its author, Mr Edward F Benson, in his Limitations, namely, that the exciting, romantic, or sensational features of university life found in fiction are to be found in fiction alone. He tells, in the dedication to his present 'Uneventful History of a Young Gentleman at Cambridge University', how he and a friend with some solemnity ~
procured a large sheet of foolscap paper and a blue pencil, and then and there
set ourselves to put down all the remarkable and stirring events which
happened to us in those four years we spent together at Cambridge.
How they “drew blank” in respect of their acquaintances as well of themselves, until ~
The uncomfortable conviction dawned on us … that in the majority of cases
remarkable and stirring events do not befall the undergraduate, and that if
the book was to be made at all it must be made of homely, and I hope whole-
some, ingredients, a cricket ball, a canoe, a football, a tripos, a don, a
croquet mallet, a few undergraduates, a Greek play, some work, and so forth.
The ingredients certainly fulfil the promise of wholesomeness, and are not ill-mixed. But the salad lacks flavour. The truth is that Mr Benson has too conscientiously set himself to show that university life lacks interest for outsiders, and refrained from supplying what is essentially wanting. That some dons are commonplace [ganders] and some undergraduates are commonplace goslings needs no more proof than that a university is more than superficially unlike the rest of the world. Perhaps Mr Stewart, the don who spoke of the German Emperor as “the nicest Emperor he had ever known,” is scarcely to be regarded as typical; for the rest, Mr Benson keeps uncompromisingly to mild types which readily lend themselves to mild satire. Most Cambridge men will find his volume amusing for its subject's sake, especially if they be of a recent generation.
~The Graphic [London], 10/04/1897
Mr Benson's delightful book is rife with clever definitions as well as graphic character sketches.
~The Daily Telegraph, quoted in newspaper ad of 26/01/1897
A bright and humorous picture of University life.
~The Scotsman, quoted in newspaper ad of 26/01/1897
Mr Benson's wit and easy delineation of character fully atone for lack of plot. The lightsome chronicle goes gaily one, sufficiently rich in incident unfailingly rich in bright ideas, and in happy turns of expression, which provoke the reader to smiles.
~The Daily Mail, quoted in newspaper ad of 26/01/1897
Mr Benson's novel is a photograph of everyday life at Cambridge. His undergraduates play football and cricket, act in the Greek play, converse on intimate terms with dons, and occasionally manage to get through a little reading.
~The Daily News, quoted in newspaper ad of 26/01/1897
The book is indeed by 'Verdant Green' out of Alice in Wonderland; and it is as delightful as a book so bred could not fail to be.
~Vanity Fair, quoted in newspaper ad of 26/01/1897

Several attempts have already been made to write what Mr Benson's sub-title calls the 'History of a Young Gentleman at Cambridge University', but none of them all has succeeded in approaching the merits of the very amusing adventures of Mr Verdant Green at Oxford. There was an air of farcical unreality, however, about the work of 'Cuthbert Bede', for which even the inimitable portrait of Mr Bouncer could not wholly atone. Mr Benson has succeeded, where so many have failed, in painting with much happiness the lighter side of Cambridge life. His 'Babe' occasionally speaks with the voice of Dodo, but on the whole he is a very agreeable and amusing new acquaintance. He was not really a babe, of course; his real name was Artbuthnot, and he was “a cynical old gentleman of twenty years of age, who played the banjo charmingly. In his less genial moments he spoke querulously of the monotony of the services of the Church of England, and of the hopeless respectability of M. Zola. His particular forte was dinner parties for six, skirt-dancing and acting, and the performances of the duties of half-back at Rugby football.” Mr Benson's humour will not appeal to everybody, but those who can taste it will think it delicious. The long vacation croquet-match is specially realistic and funny. An added charm is given to the book by the delightful pictures of Cambridge scenes (apparently from photographs) which adorn its pages. One hopes it is only the printer who chooses to speak of Butler' Analogies, but Mr Benson should have known better than to suggest that Ranjitsinhji earned his fame whilst 'Stoddard' was still playing football.
~The Glasgow Herald, 01/02/1897
The Babe, B.A. […] is also set in Cambridge against a background of flippant undergraduate repartee. It is full of froth signifying nothing, bright inconsequential chatter at the Pitt Club wrapped in compulsive cheerfulness. There is a nice buoyancy about the book, but not the smallest attempt to delve into character. Fred admitted it had been written piece-meal, and it shows, each chapter independent of its predecessor and the whole devoid of plot. […] the book looks as if it was written over a glass of whisky in the early evening, and within a couple of weeks.
~Brian Masters in The Life of E. F. Benson, 1991