Queen Lucia – E.F. Benson

There are some series you get recommended by several people and simply have to read and the ‘Mapp and Lucia’ series by E.F. Benson has been one that has been recommended to me from bloggers (Elaine at Random Jottings and Simon at Stuck-in-a-Book I am looking at you) through to some friends and also even a celebrity (Julian Clary, no really) as one that I would adore. No pressure then. Thanks to the lovely Novel Insights I received the whole set for my birthday, in the wonderful retro 1980’s editions, as you know I have to read things in order. So I started with ‘Queen Lucia’ which came with a wondeful quote from none other than Nancy Mitford…

As ‘Queen Lucia’ opens we meet the title character, real name Mrs Emmeline Lucas, as she rejects the fly that her husband Peppino has sent for her and send it home with just her luggage in it in order to cause some gossip and wonderment through the village of Riseholme something as self proclaimed ‘Queen’ of the area she feels it is only befitting to do. E. F. Benson instantly gets us acquainted with the type of woman we are dealing with just from this opener and as the book goes on we learn just how Lucia tries to say queen when others decide they might want to usurp her role.

Two such characters are the ‘globe like’ Daisy Quantock and Lucia’s very own right hand man Georgie Pillson who both have things Lucia wants and could use them in becoming the most popular people in town which would never do. Daisy Quantock has the mysterious Indian Guru staying with her which is the talk of the village (it reads as slightly un-pc by today’s standards but written in the 1920’s and set very much in that era, people did have such prejudices, mind you George Pillson toupee is just as much talk of the town) and Georgie also has the most desirable friendship of Olga Bracely much to Lucia’s vexation. We watch on as the whole town bids to outdo one another and raise supreme, to most comical turns, whilst still looking like butter wouldn’t melt in their mouths. It’s very, very funny stuff.

I imagine that Lucia herself being such a strong character could make a reader either love her or loathe her. She is a caricature of a certain type of society in her day but on occasion the sudden turn of speaking Italian to anyone and everyone, whether they understand or not, or babyish discussions with ‘Naughty’ Georgie could really grate I imagine as the first few times I read it I was rather unsure of it. However I was completely won over, in the main by the flamboyancy of the characters and just how funny E. F. Benson’s writing is and the situations he puts these people into. Despite the fact some of it is quite ludicrous you could imagine in those days people getting up to just such japes at the vexation of others. Some may also be tempted to call it twee but the dry humour throughout stops it from ever falling to far into that style.

“’Yesterday morning I was in Rush’s,’ said Georgie, ‘seeing about some crème de menthe, which ought to have been sent the day before – Rush is very negligent sometimes – and I was just saying a sharp word about it, when suddenly I saw that Rush was not attending at all, but was looking at something behind my back, and so I looked round. Guess!’
‘Don’t be tantalising, amico,’ said she. ‘How can I guess? A pink elephant with blue spots!’
‘No, guess again!’
‘A red Indian in full war paint?’
‘Certainly not! Guess again,’ said Georgie, with a little sigh of relief. (It would have been awful if she had guessed.) At this moment Peppino suddenly became aware that Lucia had guessed and was upto some game.”

I am really pleased I finally gave this series a whirl as I have a feeling that it, and of course its wonderful cast of characters, is just going to get better and better and possibly even barmier.  I look forward to seeing what lengths they all go to next and what E F. Benson throws at them. It’s actually a real shame that apart from the omnibus editions and the solo ‘Mapp and Lucia’ these books aren’t available individually in stores. But you can find them on certain websites for a bargain and I suggest you give them a try. 8.5/10

Savidge suggests some perfect prose partners;

Henrietta’s War – Joyce Dennys (I haven’t laughed so much at a book as I did this one, a wonderful depiction of wartime village life)
Peyton Place – Grace Metalious (if you like a book with a cast of characters and all that goes on behind their closed doors I don’t think you could do better) 

18 Comments

Filed under E. F. Benson, Review, Transworld Publishing

18 responses to “Queen Lucia – E.F. Benson

  1. Verity

    My Dad loves these, but Ihaven’t read them. I just read Mrs Ames and I have to say that though I could see why people like you and Elaine and the other Simon would enjoy it, it wasn’t for me.

    • I haven’t read Mrs Ames yet but have heard they are very different from those who have read the two. I will read it and report back in due course. I wouldnt write of an author for one dud though, but if this is a series that gets better and better rather than instantly maybe Benson’s just not for you. We all have those kinda authors dont we, people love them and we dont get them, is part of the reading fun.

      • Mrs Ames is simply wonderful. One of his more serious books. An Autumn Sowing is quite heartbreaking places, as is Michael. He is a very up and down writer. Have recently read a couple of his which were pretty poor but as he wrote over 100 I suppose we should make allowances!

  2. Deb

    I have to agree with Verity–I simply couldn’t get into these books when I tried to read them back in the early 1980s, after the BBC series “Mapp & Lucia” was shown on “Masterpiece Theater” in America. They had a very precious, arch, almost campy tone, similar in way to P.G. Wodehouse (another writer I have never been able to appreciate).

    • They are quite arch and there is a level of camp to them, I wouldnt say they were precious. I dont think they even fall into twee, maybe niche is a fair expression?

  3. I love these books Simon, and can promise that they do get better and better. The details change but I think what makes them so good is that at the bottom of it most social circles still operate in the same way. Perfect summer reading as well, in facy just thinking about them has made me want a pimm’s, a large hat, and a croquet mallet.

    • I agree just from the first one that you can bet your bottom dollar there are still people today who operate just like these characters. It is indeed a summery read, I hadn’t thought of that.

  4. Ellen

    Do try to see the BBC series which starred Geraldine MacEwan (spelling?) and Prunella Scales. Imagine how funnny!

    • If it has Prunella in it then I may have to. I might have to read all the books first as I want the characters I have in my head to keep moving forward if you know what I mean?

  5. I like to read these when I am feeling out of sorts. They are very comforting. And I have to echo Ellen. The BBC series was wonderful. I just watched the first three episodes again this past week. The late Nigel Hawthorne as the fey Georgie Pilsen is a marvel.

  6. I remember the marvellous 1984 tv series with Nigel Hawthorne, Geraldine McEwan and Prunella Scales – what perfect casting.

    What a gem that was. Alas I have never read the book – definitely something to be rectified.

  7. The series just gets better and better! I agree the baby talk grated, but apparently it was very popular. Once Miss Mapp is on the scene, I long for her to get the better of Lucia. It almost never happens, but when it does…

    I bought the DVD ages ago but have only seen the first one. Must find it and try again.

    • The baby talk made me want to give Lucia a little bit of a slap with a fan which I am sure another character would have been waving around somewhere. The italian too, but its less annoying and more characteristic as they all do it.

  8. To those of you who have doubts about Mapp and Lucia please do give them a try. Mrs Ames is a terrific book and totally different from the aforementioned two ladies. I can also recommend Michael which I though was a stunning book. He wrote so much his output is variable, could not fail to be otherwise with such an output, but at his best he is very good indeed.

    An Autumn Sowing is another that I recommend highly

    • I am very much looking forward to Mrs Ames when I get to it now that I have the new bloomsbury group books. I am also looking forward to Mrs ‘Arris too hee, hee!

  9. leo

    Another writer took the Lucia and Tilling characters and wrote “Lucia in Wartime”….amusing but not on par with Benson…….I love the BBC production….have seen all 10 episodes multiple times and still am amused…..I can see the book(s) adapted as a musical…..any takers.

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