“Oldies but Goodies”
When Downton Abbey’s final season was coming to a close, the editor of IgNation remarked to me: “What will we do after Downton is finished?”. I remember answering optimistically that something would turn up!
A little later I was reading a newspaper clipping about a favorite author, Alexander McCall Smith (The Globe and Mail, November 21, 2015). He commented that he found “writers who have learned a lot of Latin tend to know all about the construction of beautiful sentences.”
As an example of such authors he mentioned E.F. Benson: “I have always liked the Benson Mapp and Lucia books. I would have liked to have created Lucia – a wonderful, scheming woman, the grande dame of a village.”
This was high praise from a favorite author. So I immediately bought a Kindle collection of Benson’s works (for a most economical price of .99 cents.)
Edward Fredrick Benson (1867-1940), son of Archbishop of Canterbury, Edward White Benson, and older brother of Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson, began to write in the period, and continued into the Edwardian and Georgian that followed.
He was a novelist, biographer, short story writer, and archeologist. In 1893 having finished his studies at Cambridge he published his first novel, Dodo, a Victorian romance that evolved into a trilogy, followed in the next 47 years by some 60 novels. These offer a wealth of entertaining reading for years ahead.
It is the Mapp and Lucia (six novels), however, that I think offer some solace at the loss of the Downton characters. Lucia is truly “a wonderful, scheming woman” and Mapp a suitable rival and foil.
Over the six novels Lucia triumphs as a yoga and bridge mistress, water colour artist, stock speculator, London hostess, philanthropist and mayor, as well as interpreter at the keyboards (both piano and pipe organ – her friend Georgie provides the pedaling) of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata.
The characters that enable the Lucia-Mapp duels, are complementary in their eccentricities and adventures: neighbour Daisy Quantrock, Georgie maids Pilson, Foljambe and Withers, Lady Ambermere, opera singer Olga Bracely, Major Flint, Captain Puffin, the artistic Quaint Irene, confidante Diva Plaistow, the nearly royal Weisses, and the Vicar and his wife, Evie, just to name a few.
Extraordinary plots and events follow one another rapidly and swirl about Lucia and Mapp, full of their intrigue and counter-intrigue. Today, however, it is their wholehearted innocence that is attractive.
As in Downton Abbey, nostalgia for such apparently uncomplicated yet intriguing times confronts the absurd complexity of our own.
For example, Lucia’s total energy devoted to the hanging of her own portrait by Quaint Irene behind her mayoral chair contrasts sharply with contemporary politics, or Mapp’s insidious plot to steal her rival’s lobster a la Riseholme recipe, with contemporary crime dramas.
The BBC produced ten TV episodes based on the last three novels in 1985/6, but a more thorough and in depth video treatment of all six novels would be most entertaining.
But a read is much more satisfying. Other authors, have also carried on the storytelling. Using Benson’s characters Tom Holt has written three Lucia and Mapp novels, Guy Fraser-Tailor two, Ian Shepherd, l.c. powell, and Rob Shelsky, each one, and Geoff Martin, several short stories.
More adventures to look forward to!