Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Reviews of the Works of Edward Frederic Benson (1867-1940)


The purpose of this blog is to review, and to gather together other critics' opinions of, the entire works of E F Benson.  'Fred' is known today almost exclusively for his Mapp and Lucia novels and his ghost ('spook') stories, but in his day he was a popular and versatile author, whose career of almost 50 years saw him tackle a wide range of subjects in both fiction and non-fiction.

I've set myself the task of reading his entire literary output, though I'll probably have to draw the line at titles such as English Figure Skating and A Book of Golf, which would very likely kill me.

Though Benson is one of my favourite authors, I'm not an apologist ~ if a book's bad, it's bad ~ and he did, sadly, write rather a lot (mainly novels) that wasn't good.

Anyway, here goes ~ I hope you enjoy the blog and find it useful.

I realize there's no particular order to all this (other than The Order I Read Things In, which is no use to anyone, not even me), and as I can't get the 'Search this blog' function to work for the site, here's a handy alphabetical linked index instead.  The novels ~ all 63 of them ~ are in bold italic; everything else isn't:

N.B. Items marked NEW! ~ these are reproduced free of charge and in full for, as far as I'm aware, the first time ever to the WWW readership.
 
1886, aged 19
Account Rendered
Across the Stream 
Act in a Backwater, An
Adjustments
Adventure of Hegel Junior, The 
Aegosthena
Afrit of the Sea, An
Age of Walnut, The 
Alan
Alliance of Laughter, The
'And No Bird Sings ...'
'And the Dead Spake ...'
Angel of Pain, The
Ape, The
1889, aged 22
Archaeology in Literature
Arturo's Boat
Arundel 
Assunta's Sacrifice
As We Are 
As We Have Become
As We Were
At Abdul-Ali's Grave 
At King's Cross Station
Atmospherics
At the Farmhouse 
Aunt Jeannie [unpublished play]
Aunts and Pianos 
Autumn and Love
Autumn and the Spring, The
Autumn Sowing, An
Babe, B.A., The
Bagnell Terrace 
Baron, The
Bath-chair, The
Bed by the Window, The
Bensoniana
Between the Lights 
Birds NEW!
1893, aged 26
Blackmailer of Park Lane, The
Blotting-book, The
Blue Stripe
Book of Golf, A
Book of Months, The
Bootles 
Box at the Bank, The
Boxing Night
Bread of Deceit, The
Breath of Scandal, A 
Brick, The >>> Dodo and the Brick
Bridge Fiend, The
Bridgwater Club, The
Brontë
Brontës, The 
Buntingford Jugs
Bus-conductor, The
By the Sluice
By the Waters of Sparta 
Call, The
Capsina, The
Card of Casuistry, A
Carrington
Case of Bertram Porter, The 
Case of Frank Hampden, The >>> Return of Frank Hampden, The
1898, aged 31
Cat, The
Caterpillars
Challoners, The
Charlotte, Anne and Emily Brontë
Charlotte Brontë
Cherry Blossom
China Bowl, The
Chippendale Mirror, The
Christmas with the Old Masters
Christopher Comes Back
Clandon Crystal, The
Classical Education
Climber, The
Climbers and Godmothers
Clonmel Witch Burning, The >>> Recent 'Witch Burning' at Clonmel, The
Colin 
Colin II
Comedy of Styles, A
Complementary Souls
'Complete Rest' 
Confession of Charles Linkworth, The
Corner House, The
Corstophine 
Countess Hatso, The
Countess of Lowndes Square, The
Country House Parties
Courtship of Lord Arthur Armstrong, The
1904, aged 37
Creed of Manners, A
Crescent and Iron Cross
Cricket of Abel, Hirst and Shrewsbury, The
Crotalus, The 
Curious Coincidence, A >>> At Abdul-Ali's Grave
Daily Training
Daisy's Aunt
Dance, The
Dance on the Beefsteak, The 
Dark and Nameless
Daughters of Queen Victoria >>> Queen Victoria's Daughters
David Blaize
David Blaize and the Blue Door 
David Blaize of King's >>> David of King's
David of King's 
Day In, Day Out
Death Warrant, The
Defeat of Lady Grantham, The
Defeat of Lady Hartridge, The 
Demoniacal Possession
Desirable Residences
Deutschland über Allah >>> Crescent and Iron Cross
Dewan-i-Khas 
1909ish, aged 42ish
Dicky's Pain
Dinner for Eight 
Disappearance of Jacob Conifer, The
Diversions Day by Day
Dives and Lazarus 
Dodo [play]
Dodo: A Detail of the Day
Dodo and the Brick
Dodo's Daughter [i.e. Dodo the Second]
Dodo's Progress
Dodo the Second
Dodo Wonders
Doggies 
Dorothy Crystal Syndicate, The NEW!
Double Misfit, A
Drawing-room Bureau, The 
Dummy on a Dahabeah
Dust-cloud, The 
Early Brontë
Earthquakes at Atlanta 
Eavesdropper, The 
Economies of Mrs Hancock, The NEW!
Education of a King, The
English Figure Skating 
English Skating
1914ish, aged 47ish
Entire Mistake, An
Entomology 
Everlasting Silence, The
Expiation 
Exposure of Pamela, The
Face, The
Fallacy at the Heart of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, The
Fall of Augusta, The
False Step, The
Fascinating Mrs Halton, The >>> Daisy's Aunt
Femme Dispose
Ferdinand Magellan
Final Edition 
Fine Feathers
Five Foolish Virgins, The
Flint Knife, The
For His Friends
Freaks of Mayfair, The
Friend in the Garden, The 
Friend in the Garden, The [play]
Friendly Russia NEW!
Friend of the Rich
From Abraham to Christ 
Future of the Novel, The
Gardener, The
Garden Gate, The
Gare du Nord 
Gavon's Eve 
George Moore
George's Secret
Ghost in the Secret Garden, The 
1925ish?, aged 58ish?
Givers and Takers
Godmother, The 
Golden Temple of Amritsar, The 
Gospel of the Gourmet, The 
Governments Who Dig Their Own Graves NEW!
Guardian Angel, The
Guy's Candidate
Hanging of Alfred Wadham, The 
Hapless Bachelors, The
Harmonious Blacksmith, The
Heart of India, The
Henry James: Letters to A. C. Benson and Auguste Monod
Hidden Power, A 
Home, Sweet Home 
Horror-horn, The 
House of Defence, The
House of Help NEW!
House with the Brick-kiln, The
How Fear Departed from the Long Gallery
Image in the Sand, The
Imaginary Interviews 1: Chamberlain and Kruger
Imaginary Interviews 2: The Marquis of Salisbury and Lord Rosebery
Imaginary Interviews 3: The German Emperor and Dr Leyds  
Inheritor, The 
Inscrutable Decrees
In the Dark
In the Tube
Jack and Poll
Jamboree, The
James Lamp
James Sutherland, Ltd.
Janet
1927ish, aged 60ish
Jill's Cat 
Jill's Golf
Joy of the Chase, The
Judgment Books, The
Juggernaut
Julian's Cottage 
Kaiser and English Relations, The
King and His Reign, The (I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX, X, XI, XII)
King Edward VII
Lady Massington's Resurrection
Lambeth Palace
Liberty of Law NEW!
Life of Alcibiades, The
Light in the Garden, The
Like a Grammarian
Limitations
Limoges Manuscript, The
Little Headache, A
Lovers, The
Lovers and Friends
Love's Apostate 
Lucia in London
Lucia's Progress
Luck of the Vails, The
Luck of the Vails, The [play] 
Machaon
Mad Annual, The
Magic White and Black
1930ish, aged 63ish
Male Impersonator, The
Mammon & Co.
Man Who Went Too Far, The
Mapp and Lucia
Margery >>> Juggernaut
Max
May 29th, 1928
Mezzanine
Michael >>> Mike
Middleman, The
Mike
Miss Mapp
Miss Maria's Romance
M.O.M. 
Money Market, The
Monkeys
Mother
Mother of Men, A
Mr Carew's Game of Croquet 
Mrs Ames
Mrs Amworth
Mrs Andrews's Control
Mrs Lauderdale's Office
Mrs Naseby's Denial
Mrs Ross Puts Her Foot Down
Mr Teddy
Mr Tilly's Seance 
Murder of Alan Grebell, The
1935ish?, aged 68ish
Music
My Friend the Murderer
Mystery of Black Rock Creek, The
Naboth's Vineyard
National Service or National Disgrace? NEW!
Negotium Perambulans
Noblesse Oblige 
Notes on Excavations in Alexandrian Cemeteries
Number 12 
Oakleyites, The
'Oh, to be in England ...' 
Old Bligh, The
'O lyric love half-angel and half-bird'
Once
Once a Year
On the Decadence of Manners
On Undesirable Information
Oriolists, The 
Orozco at Dartmouth College
Osbornes, The
Other Bed, The
1938ish, aged 71ish
Our Family Affairs 1867-1896
Our Hard-working Royal Family NEW!
'Our Sister, the Death of the Body'
Outbreak of War 1914, The
Outcast, The
Outside the Door
The Passenger
Paul
Paying Guests
Peacock Enamels, The
The Peerage Cure 
Peter
Pharisees and Publicans
Philip's Safety Razor
Pirates
Poland and Mittel-Europa >>> White Eagle of Poland, The
Poor Miss Huntingford
Portrait of an English Nobleman
Princess Sophia, The
Professor Burnaby's Discovery 
Progress of Princess Waldeneck, The >>> Dodo's Progress 
Psychical Mallards, The 
Public Schools Alpine
Puce Silk, The
1939ish, aged 72ish
'Puss-cat'
Queen Lucia
Queen of the Spa, The
Queen Victoria
Queen Victoria's Daughters
Question of Taste, A
Ravens' Brood
Reading in Bed 
Reaping, A
Recent 'Witch Burning' at Clonmel, The
Reconciliation
Red House, The
Relentless City, The 
Renewal, The
Return of Dodo, The
Return of Frank Hampden, The
Rex
Robin Linnet
Roderick's Story
Room in the Tower, The
Rubicon, The
Sanctuary, The
Satyr's Sandals, The
Scarlet and Hyssop
1940ish, aged 72ish
Sea Mist
Secret Lives
Sheaves
Sheridan Le Fanu
Shootings at Achnaleish, The 
Shuttered Room, The
Simple Life, The
Sir Francis Drake
Sir Roger de Coverley 
Sketches from Marlborough
Smorfia
Snow Stone, The
Social Customs
Social Sickness
Social Value of Temperance, The
Sound of the Grinding, The
Souvenir of the Air Raids, A
Spinach
Step, The
Story of a Mazurka, The
Superannuation Department, AD 1945, The
Tale of an Empty House, The
Technique of the Ghost Story, The
Temple, The
Ten Days in the Peloponnese
Terror by Night, The
There Arose a King
Thersilion at Megalopolis, The
Thing in the Hall, The
Thorley Weir
Thoughts from E. F. Benson (1913)
Thoughts from E. F. Benson (1917)
Three Old Ladies, The
1940ish, aged 72ish
'Through'
Thursday Evenings
To Account Rendered
Top Landing, The
Tortoise, The >>> Mr Teddy
Tragedy of a Green Totem, The
Tragedy of Oliver Bowman, The
Travail of Gold
Trouble for Lucia
Two Days After
Unusual Autobiography, An
Unwanted, The 
Up and Down
Valkyries, The
Victorian Biography - and Afterwards
Vintage, The
Weaker Vessel, The
When Greek Meets Greek
White Eagle of Poland, The
Winter Morning, A
Winter Pastimes
Winter Sports in Switzerland
Wishing-Well, The 
Witch-ball, The 
Woman's Ambition, A
Worshipful Lucia, The >>> Lucia's Progress
Zoo, The 

SHORT STORY COLLECTIONS
Countess of Lowndes Square and Other Stories, The
Desirable Residences and Other Stories
Fine Feathers and Other Stories
Flint Knife, The
More Spook Stories 
Sea Mist
Six Common Things
Spook Stories
Visible and Invisible

Mapp and Lucia



Saturday, 23 January 2016

The Weaker Vessel

Fiction ~ novel
Published March 1913
Approx. 138,000 words 




















THE CRITICS

Mr Benson has written his latest novel in a serious mood. There is little of his usual froth and bubble, and no Lady Sunningdales enliven the pages. Nor does the story possess the vitality and delightful humanness of The Challoners and some of his fellows. Eleanor and Harry Whittaker are very interesting to read about, but the Eleanor of the first few chapters who peruses The Second Mrs Tanqueray in secret, and rebels against her duty loving stepmother is much nearer the reader's heart than the Eleanor who says “I forgive you, Harry dear,” at frequent intervals. Harry is often in need of forgiveness. When, as tutor in the house where Eleanor is governess, he wins her love, he possesses good looks, qualified by a weak mouth, and a gift for play writing. Unfortunately this gift requires to be stimulated to do its work well. Half a glass of whisky will enable it to achieve in a couple of hours, what a whole day's solid work has left undone. “From habit, just as people will take a little more bread at breakfast which they do not want, in order to put on it the butter on their plates, which they do no want either,” he gets into the way of finishing the glass. As a matter of course the habit grows. Eleanor discovers it some time after a successful play enabled Harry to marry her. Then the fight begins ~ Eleanor's love versus the drink which gives Harry such happy moods of inspiration. The battle is fierce, for a long time the enemy, reinforced by the actress Maria Anstruther, is victorious, and it is only a chance street accident that gives Eleanor the final victory. In The Weaker Vessel the author displays all his delightful insight into human nature and the little trivialities of life, and while this quality continues to pervade his books they will never contain an uninteresting page.
~The Manchester Courier, 07/03/1913

There are many people, we imagine, who will consider Mr E. F. Benson's latest story, The Weaker Vessel […], the best he has yet written, and certainly its character-studies very nearly approach the high-water mark in modern fiction. Eleanor Ramsden, daughter of a clergyman of peculiarly lovable character, leaves home owing to a disagreement with her stepmother, and accepts a position as governess in the family of an acquaintance. In this same family Harry Whittaker, son of Lord Prinstead, a drunken peer, is acting as tutor, and in and between his tutorial duties is engaged upon the writing of a play, the composition of which owes a good deal to Eleanor's criticism and suggestion. The play is produced, makes a sensation, and Whittaker and Eleanor are soon afterwards married. For a time they are blissfully happy, until at last the young wife discovers that the brilliant passages of her husband's plays ~ written always after she has retired for the night ~ are induced by alcoholic over-indulgence. She exerts herself to save him, and only partially succeeds. While under the spell of her wonderfully subtle influence Whittaker is enabled to ward off the demon but presently another equally potent and less beneficent influence enters his life in the person of the leading actress for whom his play has been written, but whose influence is eventually conquered by the splendid patience and tactful winsomeness of his wife. The character of Eleanor Ramsden is indeed a magnificent creation, and one upon which its creator may well be congratulated. The conception is striking and is the more convincing on account of its very unconventionality, and it is no small tribute to Mr Benson's literary skill that even the wayward Harry Whittaker, with all his faults and with all his failings, never for one moment exasperates or forfeits the sympathy of the reader. The book, indeed, is in every sense so far removed from the commonplace and so brilliantly written throughout that it must be reckoned certainly amongst the most important novels of the present publishing season, and is, moreover, probably one of the few novels of modern production for which the discriminate reader is likely to find a permanent place in his bookshelf.
~ The Liverpool Echo, 08/03/1913
Mr E. F. Benson has perhaps been more praised and more blamed than any other living novelist. He has, of course, the defects of his qualities, and it is impossible for any of us to be always on the heights. But despite occasional adverse criticism, each of Mr E. F. Benson's novels is eagerly welcomed, for in certain senses he gives us what no other writer can do. His latest book, The Weaker Vessel, is one of his longest novels, and he gives a powerful picture of the heights of heroism and unselfishness to which a woman can rise to shield and help her 'Weaker Vessel'. Harry, with his brilliant brain and wholly unbalanced temperament, would not retain the tolerance, far less the love, of any ordinary woman, but Mr Benson's unerring skill makes Eleanor's attitude and large-heartedness simply the outcome of a natural soul. No one can describe London life and society with a wittier and happier pen than Mr Benson, and the creation of Mrs Ramsden along would make the book a joy. Who does not recognise in her the patient, exasperating, unselfish, posing martyr who renders life intolerable to those round her. The Weaker Vessel is distinctly one of Mr E. F. Benson's typical and excellent novels.
~Aberdeen Daily Journal, 10/03/1913

Mr E. F. Benson has made wonderful strides as an author since he wrote the story of undergraduate life at Cambridge, Babe B.A. [sic]. That was bright enough in its way, but it scarcely foreshadowed the brilliant work which was to follow. To-day Mr Benson is unquestionably one of our most popular novelists, and a new work from his pen is eagerly welcomed. It is not difficult to discover the reason for this popularity. Mr Benson's novels depict life [as] it really is; his characters are so thoroughly human. His heroes and heroines are not those perfect beings whom one so frequently finds in the realms of fiction, but ordinary, everyday people, with faults and failings like the rest of mankind.
In The Weaker Vessel, his latest novel, Mr Benson is at his best. The character who furnishes the title is Harry Whittaker, an amiable but weak young man, who when we first make his acquaintance is acting as a private tutor, but soon afterwards blossoms forth into a successful playwright. There is, however, one great drawback. He finds he can only do good work under the stimulus of alcohol. “He had no craving for alcohol in itself, he merely employed it as a means towards an intellectual end, to give him the sparkle and freedom of brain that were necessary to the creation of incisive dramatic writing.” Time and again he resolves to do without it, and to use no spur except that of his own desire, but in the end it proves too strong for him.
Acting as governess in the same house as Whittaker is Eleanor Ramsden, a high-spirited girl, with whom he finds he has many traits and tastes in common. While his ambition is to write a play that shall be accepted by a great actor-manager, she is tremendously keen on becoming an actress, and has already given proof of her talent. Their marriage follows the production of Harry's first play, and for a time there seems nothing to mar their happiness, but it is when her husband is at work on his second play that Eleanor discovers his weakness. To his wife he explains the position:
There's nothing to be said of the habit I have got into. But the matter is that I can't write unless I've been drinking. Drink ~ I don't mean getting drunk ~ sets something loose in my brain, that which we used to call the elf or the Uncontrollable. And when it's loose ~ very often just one whisky and soda lets its loose ~ I get so keen about my work that I just must keep it loose. And that means drinking more. So it goes on, I drinking instinctively and working, utterly happy because I know I am doing good work, and that the best part of my brain is active. You remember my reading you The Dilemma in the schoolroom at the Wilkins? And how you put your finger on certain bits of slack stuff? All that, just that, and nothing else, was written without ~ without help. All that you thought was good was written with help. In consequence, I did no good work. Of course, it was a rotten plan to trifle with such methods at all, but it was so easy to persuade myself that I would just finish this act, or just finish this play, and that then I would give it up.”
This is what Harry is always saying: “I will give it up when I have done this,” but he has not the strength of will to leave it alone for long. Through it all, however, Eleanor is his good angel. He repeatedly falls away, but she never turns from him, even when faced with a worse trial in the form of a dangerous intimacy between her husband and a leading actress for whom he was been writing a play. She is ever striving to lift him up to higher things, and in the end she has her reward.
The Weaker Vessel, while quite unlike the customary stage novel, gives one an interesting glimpse of the work involved in the writing and production of a play, and reveals something of the terrible nervousness experienced both by dramatist and actor on a first night.
~The Cambridge Independent Press, 14/03/1913
There is a world of irony in the title Mr E. F. Benson has chosen for his latest novel. Eleanor [Ramsden] marries a man who has made a brilliant success of his first play, and is proud of her husband and his work. The awakening comes when she learns that the cannot write save under the stimulus supplied by intoxicants. He is, indeed, the weaker vessel, but her large-hearted love prevents the catastrophe that seems inevitable. Worse is to come, but still she sacrifices herself for the sake of the man she loves. Mr Benson has given us a masterly analysis of temperament and character. He probes the full depths and measures the heights of human nature, and in both he is equally successful.
~The Courier [Dundee], 20/03/1913
This is a contrast in its quietness to the liveliness of the book which first attracted attention to Mr. Benson as a novelist. Dodo had more sparkle, but The Weaker Vessel has far more fidelity to life. It is a serious and truthful study of social conditions and of individual temperament. Particularly exact in its realism is the character of the self-sufficient and narrow-minded rector's wife who makes miserable the life of her cheerful, ambitious, and gifted stepdaughter. Equally good in its depiction is the character of the man the girl marries—a genius as a writer of plays only when he is under the inspiration of alcohol, and therefore inevitably a weak though lovable character, whose life trends naturally downward. While his power weakens, his wife's strengthens; and she becomes a fine embodiment of honor and faithfulness.
~The Outlook (US), 05/04/1913

In Mr. Benson's new novel he draws five admirably contrasted principal characters. The father of Eleanor, the heroine, Mr. Ramsden, a wise and benevolent country clergyman, has that knowledge of the world which comes from the Church not having been his first profession. In striking contrast to him is his well-intentioned wife, who succeeds in being the most disagreeable person who has appeared in fiction for a long time past. The other three characters are the gentleman who enacts the name part of the piece (the novel is so concerned with theatrical matters that it is impossible to help slipping into theatrical language); Eleanor, his wife, who, besides being by far the better man of the two, is a heaven-born genius on the boards; and the Circe of the book, who leads Harry Whitaker astray. She, however, is a far more conventional figure. Harry himself is a striking study, and Mr. Benson almost persuades his readers that his hero was right in yielding to the temptation of giving way to drink when it enabled him to write such admirable dramas. Eleanor Whitaker is herself a well-drawn and credible figure, though the reader would like to hear the opinion of a professional actor-manager on the possibility of her taking the town by storm on the stage without ever having learned the rudiments of her art. The book cannot be called epoch-making, but it is pleasant reading, though the unfortunate Harry is obliged to be half-paralysed before his moral character can be rescued.
~The Spectator, 26/04/1913
In this novel there are two weaker vessels, namely, the father and the husband of the heroine; and for some time we were unable to make up our minds which weaker vessel was intended to give the title to the book. If this were a play, the leading female part would not be that or the heroine, but that of her step-mother—the very virtuous, correct, and managing clergyman's wife. A clever actress might make a great deal of the character. Whether the story would make a play we are not so sure. The vicar's wife gave much of her goods to feed the poor; and she once cheerfully gave her body—at least, her hands—to be burned, by putting out the flames in the clothes of a little boy, who had set himself on fire at a Christmas tree. "The child was not hurt at all, so prompt was her aid ; but he was hurt afterwards when Mrs. Ramsden repeated the occurrence to his mother, adding that she had repeatedly warned the children not to touch the candles. But in no reasonable mind could there be any doubt as to the overwhelming weight that duty occupied in the spiritual economy of Mrs. Ramsden. She put out the small male infant, with risk to herself, as cheerfully and as ungrudgingly as she repeated his misconduct afterwards to his mother." This is the key to her actions and sayings, whenever she comes on the stage; and they usually "bring down the house." As to the lengthy descriptions of the married hero's gradual falling in love with an objectionable actress, and his equally gradual taking to drinking, we found them dull, although cleverly described. By the way, the hero's wife was also an actress, and a very fine one. After seeing her perform, in her greatest character, Mrs. Ramsden said: "The audience were very much pleased, but to me she did not seem to be acting at all. She spoke and did things as she might have in the vicarage at home." And when told that this was the highest tribute she could give her, Mrs. Ramsden replied: "You mean that Harry wrote the part for her, so that there was no acting to be done. I am sure that was very clever of him." The woman is really splendid all through.
~The Tablet, 14/06/1913
E. F. Benson, who customarily avoids problems, presents in The Weaker Vessel an extraordinarily strong and searching study of the man who yields to the devil and the flesh. Whoever desires, without personal experiment, familiarity with the mechanism of surrendering to temptation, cannot do better than to consider the ways of the hero.
~The Atlantic Monthly [US], 11/1913

The Weaker Vessel (1913) contains two women characters who are essentially Bensonian: they may be copied from life, but they do not live. One is the daughter of a viscount and the wife of a country clergyman, and she has all the aggressive qualities that one expects of such women. She lives in an atmosphere of Sunday schools and choir practices, and she is convinced of her absolute righteousness. She exhibits a monumental lack of humour, and her bright, hard verbosity has a stunning effect both on the reader and on Eleanor, her step-daughter. Eleanor is the heroine who, rebelling against her narrow life in the parsonage, marries Harry Whittaker, an alcoholic playwright who has leapt to fame with his first play. Without any training or experience of life Eleanor becomes a famous actress, portraying subtle and varied parts with consummate triumph, taking London by storm. Also among the characters is Marian Anstruther, the stage siren, who wears rose-madder cloaks, and Louis Grey, a high-minded actor-manager who is in love with Eleanor, but at a respectful distance. Not only is Eleanor a great actress, she is wise, large-hearted and loving, and when she discovers her husband's shameful secret she sets out to save him; and she does not desert him even when the siren influences him to descend even further into the depths of degradation.
Harry injures his spine in a motor accident and will never be able to walk again, and Eleanor gives praise to God for delivering him into her hands ~ no more naughtiness for Harry, and no more rivals for her. Marian disappears into outer darkness, though not before Eleanor forgives her for being Harry's mistress. The book ends with a hint of spring in the air after a bitter winter. Harry is about to start another play and Eleanor to resume her acting.
~Geoffrey Palmer and Noel Lloyd in E. F. Benson As He Was, 1988

Typical of the notices [E. F. Benson was getting in the pre-war years] are those which greeted The Weaker Vessel (1913), whose characters include an alcoholic playwright, a temperamental actress, and the stock clergyman's wife stuffed with nauseating piety. The Gentlewoman wrote, “They are essentially Bensonian creations. They might quite possibly be copied from life, but they do not live.” The reviewer went on to lament Fred's 'surface polish, the Benson Brilliantine', because it obscured the talent beneath. New Age, having depicted Fred as 'a servile scribbler', wondered whether he was not, in fact, a satirist in disguise, which was true though not generally acknowledged. Similarly, the Western Gazette remarked that “Mr Benson attacks no problem, but merely paints portraits remorselessly; but the problem nevertheless peeps through between the lines.”
~Brian Masters in The Life of E. F. Benson, 1991