Books by E.F. Benson

QUEEN LUCIA by E.F. Benson
Released: July 1, 1998

There is some irony in the fact that Benson, the creator of everything from plays to sober biographies, is best remembered for his series of "Lucia" novels, delicious satires of the pretensions and foibles of provincial middle-class life in Britain in the 1920s and '40s. Still, given Benson's droll send-ups of the bitter battles waged by matrons desperate to live out their fantastical versions of upper-class elegance and wit, and his shrewd readings of the ways in which our longings can make us both bizarre and sometimes appealing, it's very likely an irony he would have savored. His six novels chronicling the rise and fall and rise ad infinitum of Mrs. Emmeline Lucas of Riseholm are now being reissued as trade paperbacks. Queen Lucia, the first in the series, follows Mrs. Lucas (—Lucia— to her most intimate friends) through a lengthy and often hilarious campaign to derail the career of a would-be rival to the throne of cultural arbiter. The plot, however, is less important than the pratfalls. The six Lucia novels form a kind of epic portrait of striving gone mod, and it's good to have them appearing once again. Read full book review >
Released: April 1, 1994

A companion volume to Desirable Residences (1991): 31 more stories, all but two previously uncollected, by Benson (1867-1940), the British social satirist and chronicler of Lucia and Miss Mapp. Adrian's divisions of Benson's work into sections is rather misleading, for virtually all of Benson's stories are at once ``Society Stories,'' ``Sardonic Stories,'' and ``Crank Stories'' retailing the adventures of an indistinguishable set of social climbers obsessed with getting and keeping laughably inconsequential advantages over their equally venal competitors—cadging the choicest invitations, throwing the parties everyone will be talking about, insinuating themselves into the bosoms of this season's fashionable playwrights. Shorter, slighter anecdotes like ``Noblesse Oblige,'' ``An Entire Mistake,'' and ``The Fall of Augusta'' deal with guileful mistakes and deceptions (Is Mr. Carew buttering up the duchess or merely her secretary? Just who is Lady Teal, the new neighbor to whom Miss Mapp has so precipitately sent her card?). But Benson really shines when rendering power struggles between warriors who see through each other's tactics all too clearly—the American socialite who vanquishes her snobbish British counterpart, the ardent suitor who uses his collection of antique tableware to win the hand of his reluctant lady—and when exposing the comic pathologies of the truly, madly, deeply obsessed—the young miser who craftily hoodwinks himself out of every pleasure in his cushy life, the industrious author who sells shares of himself as a public corporation. One particular set of Benson's stories does stand out: Though the heroes of his ``Crook Stories'' are spiritual twins of his socialites, these ghost stories- -especially the fine concluding tale, ``Boxing Night''—show a compassion rare in his other work. A perfect bedside book—guaranteed to send you off to sleep with a malicious smile on your lips. Read full book review >
Released: Sept. 1, 1991

Twenty-eight stories and sketches (1896-1935) by the acid-tongued author of the peerless Lucia novels. Adrian aptly notes that Benson's ``sharpest stings were dabbed into the fabric of a story rather than sprung all at once at the end,'' and the best of these pieces—chronicles of society hostess Amy Bondham and her rivals and kindred spirits (including the title story, an exploit of Lucia's archrival Miss Elizabeth Mapp) duelling for the most deliciously trivial social advantages—display a continuous stream of waspish invention. The genuine malice underlying these battles comes out more directly in four ``Crank Stories'' and four ``Cruel Stories'' that destroy their subjects with pitiless humor. Benson's early tales about the social and marital triumphs of Dodo, along with three fantasies collected as ``Odd Stories,'' are less successful, presumably because his whimsical imagination required the more severe discipline of his later social comedies—or of his ghost stories, especially ``Sea Mist,'' the concluding story here, and one whose power, like that of the Lucia stories, depends less on surprise than on seeing one's nastiest wishes so elegantly fulfilled. An uneven collection, then—but the half-dozen best of these will delight Lucia-lovers and other Tillingites. Read full book review >