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)