THE LIFE OF E.F. BENSON by Brian Masters


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Edward Frederic Benson (1867-1940), clever, sociable, and film-star handsome, published 65 books--including novels, memoirs, histories, and texts on Ping-Pong and ice-skating--and innumerable ghost stories, essays, reviews, and plays, his effortless production attracting both enough admirers to form the E.F. Benson Society with its newsletter, Dodo, and such talented biographers as Masters--whose 17 books--including lives of Rabelais, Camus, Molière, and one mass murderer--help him understand this prolific writer. However affable and charming on the surface, Benson apparently was as secretive, compulsive, egocentric, and sexually dysfunctional as his siblings. They included a sister who killed herself in an insane rage; a Roman Catholic monsignor who fantasized being beaten by Italian police and feared being buried alive; and another brother who was besieged by demons of melancholia and guilt--all of them writing obsessively about themselves, repulsed by human touch, idealizing the kind of hypothetically chaste homosexual relationships their mother preferred after the death of their broodingly depressive father, the Archbishop of Canterbury. Intellectually a trivialist, Benson studied Greek archaeology, mastered figure-skating, visited Capri with various young men, and ended up as the mayor of Rye. His major inventions: David Blaise, a faintly disguised account of his own schoolboy romances; Dodo, whose ""artful prattle"" influenced the expression of youthful society in 1893; the silly and sentimental Lucia and the ""malevolently curious"" Miss Mapp, both the subjects of a series of novels; and an evocation of Edwardian society in As We Were. With respect and sympathy, Masters explores the mania behind Benson's prolific writing--the conflicting motives to express himself and to deflect attention from his own anguish; his drive to control ""the overloaded circuits of his brain,"" writing for therapy, for concealment, for compensation, and producing, ironically, a terrible sense of futility and of unfulfillment. Masters creates a haunting and poignant story of misconstrued literary success, his pace, light touch, and elegant style evocative of Benson himself.

Pub Date: March 15th, 1992
Page count: 324pp
Publisher: Chatto & Windus--dist. by Trafalgar