Every year or two I sit down with my thumb-worn, coffee stained anthology of the Lucia stories by E. F. Benson – starting with Page 3 (Nancy Mitford’s preface is short, she knows she could never compete with Benson) and Queen Lucia, the first of the Mapp-Lucia novels and arriving several weeks and 1119 pages later at the last, Trouble for Lucia. Several of the books were made into a wonderful LWT series which was extremely popular on PBS back in the 1980-90s and I will admit that it was that series that introduced me to Benson. It was the wonderful performances of Geraldine McEwan, Prunella Scales and Nigel Hawthorne that encouraged me to explore Benson and his little world of Tilling with its enchanting assortment of eccentrics. In Tilling a simple walk across the garden room of Mallards can lead to a universe shattering event – well maybe not for the Universe but certainly for the world of Tilling – and really as Lucia would remind us that is the only place that really counts.
This year there will be a little twist as I am also reading several of Benson’s non-Lucia books – he wrote some 63 of them plus many short stories. He was also known as one of the premier ghost story writers of his period. Though it is difficult to get a hold of his “spook stories” I have been searching around for a complete anthology that was published back in 1992 and has since gone out of print.
Benson was known for a waspishness, certainly in his Lucia books, and often in a short paragraph he sums up his characters with a witty turn of a phrase. I always found this passage from Miss Mapp summed up Elizabeth Mapp to a T!
Miss Mapp went to the garden room and sat at her window….
It was a warm, bright day of February, and a butterfly was enjoying itself in the pale sunshine on the other window, and perhaps (so Miss Mapp sympathetically interpreted its feelings) was rather annoyed that it could not fly away through the pane. It was not a white butterfly, but a tortoiseshell, very pretty, and in order to let it enjoy itself more, she opened the window, and it fluttered out into the garden. Before it had flown many yards, a starling ate most of it up, so the starling enjoyed itself, too.
Miss Mapp fully shared in the pleasure first of the tortiseshell and then of the starling …Epilogue – Miss Mapp
E. F. Benson – 1922
I am so looking forward to my Bensonian Summer with some familiar friends and the possibility of making some new ones.
06 maggio – San Lucio di Cirene