Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Account Rendered

Fiction ~ novel
Published February 1911
Approx. 107,000 words
(First read 09/07/2014)

The first character we meet in Account Rendered is Mrs Winthrop, a middle-aged woman with a 'piercingly aromatic' temper and a face which "looked rather as if hens had trampled it, and it had subsequently been raked over" (a wonderfully witty description ... though I must admit I can't actually picture what that looks like!)  Mrs W is far and away the best thing in the whole book and ~ yes, you guessed it, she's just a minor character who pops in occasionally.
Ah well.
Our heroine Violet Allenby, on the other hand, is just your standard EFB Young Lady Type 1: so nauseatingly saintly that you feel like reaching into the book and twanging her bra strap (or worse).  The orphaned Violet is nanny to the Winthrops two little kiddies, aged about 8 and 9 and known to all as 'the imps'.  Mr & Mrs W also have a grown-up son ~ no, no-one ever explains why they chose to have two additional kids after a gap of 15 years or so ~ named Jack (Young Gent Type 1): army, curly hair,
Spot the budgie
broad shoulders, strong swimmer, the usual stuff.  In one another's presence he and Vi feel stirrings within their nethergarments but alas! she's too poor even to consider falling in love with.  So he trots off back to Egypt where, presumably, he's on guard duty at the Pyramids.

Enter Lady Tenby (dwgr) and her son Lord Ted¹.  The latter also feels unwonted emotional upheavals in his trizers when gazing upon Vi's gorgeous halo, puppies, and wings ~ well, when he's not too busy playing golf, that is.  But his mater, though well-disposed towards our latterday Teresa of Avila, also wouldn't countenance his marrying a pauper.
Then whammo! ~ Violet very conveniently, totally out of the blue, and for no good reason whatever, inherits a colossal fortune: I believe it was £1.5M, which in today's money would be around £90M!!!  This, obviously, is where the plot starts to ... I was going to say 'thicken' but 'form a thin surface film' would be more appropriate.  Overnight Vi becomes everyone's flavour of the month ~ I wonder why.
Anyway, to cut it short: Lady Tenby schemes to keep Vi and Jack apart and get her to marry Ted, which she does.  Jack comes back from Egypt and he and the Sainted One² realize they still love one another.  Lady T's true character and dastardly scheme are revealed to all parties involved and ... are you ready for this? ... Ted, realizing that his wife will never love him and he'll forever be de trop, decides to do the noble thing and throw himself off a cliff.  The End.
Account Rendered is extremely humdrum routine EFB turgid-romance fare.  It's far far far too long; the pace is absolutely elephantine; the four main characters are no more than types; and the ending is as preposterous as anything Marie Corelli (the butt of so many Benson jokes) ever wrote.
This is the part where I say "Having said all that, I quite enjoyed it", isn't it?  Having said all that, I quite enjoyed it.

Not to be confused with the short story To Account Rendered (1925).  The whole book is available online here.

¹ It's only just this second occurred to me what a daft name Ted Tenby is.
² Okay, I owe Violet a kind of apology: when she comes into her stupendous fortune it turns out she's no better than your average lottery winner, splashing out on fancy houses, flash cars, fur coats, jewels, etc.  Admittedly a fair bit of it is for her best mate Lady T ~ but not all of it.  And EFB seems completely unfazed by, seems not even to notice, her shocking vulgarity.

From Mr Bennet's brilliant and realistic fantasy [The Card], I turn to the work of a more popular, but certainly less important author. Mr E F Benson has written many excellent stories in his time, but unfortunately his time is not the present. His last few books have shown an almost progressive decline from the sparkle and brilliancy ~ even though it was a little nuretricious [sic! ~ presumably he meant meretricious] ~ that marked Dodo and the stories of five years or so since. For Mr Benson is becoming dull. He has become the preachers [sic] and now writes rather 'goody-goody' tales which only his long experience as a writer and his undoubted ability save from absolute tedium.

There is really only one character in Account Rendered and she is over-done while the grand finale is crude and unconvincing melodrama. Frank, the young soldier, and Lord Tenby who commits a kind of suicide which would be the last thing that stolid young nobleman would ever have thought of doing in real life, are mere puppets while the heroine, the governess who becomes a millionairess and a peeress, is little more life-like. There remains Lady Tenby who begins as just another voluble Lady Sunningdale, apparently a prolix good-hearted woman, and who ends as the villainess of the piece.


Mr Benson's mannerisms are growing upon him. In ordinary conversation ordinary people do not call each other 'dear' whenever they speak. We have 'dear Violet', 'dear Aunt Maggie', 'dear Mr Frank', with exasperating frequency. Mr Benson can do so very much better than this. Mrs Winthrop, who disappeared just as he [sic] was interesting me, is a proof of this as indeed are several of the early chapters before the play began to get out of the author's hands. Let Mr Benson put aside his pen for two years and take a long rest. Then he might give us something worthy of his early promise.
~'A. C. W. L.' in Sheffield Daily Telegraph, 23/02/1911

Archbishop Benson had three sons, all of them writers. Edward Frederick, the author of the present volume, has come to be known as the Dodo man. The number of books to his credit is large. In this volume Mr. Benson has told a very conventional love story. His real strength lies in his character sketches. The book opens with a really delightful description of an English family, some real children, an atmosphere of English country seashore life, a pretty governess, and a hint of a love story involving the eldest son of the family. When Violet inherits an American fortune from a childless uncle, the story loses its refreshing qualities and becomes strictly conventional. Lady Tenby, a neighbor and a matchmaking mother, comes onto the scenes, and with the aid of all kinds of deceit wins the affection of the girl for herself and her son 'Ted.' When the parted lovers meet again, the "murder is out," and the solution of the difficulties furnishes the dramatic element in the story. Poor Ted, with his loyal and immovable affection, deserved a better mother and a happier fate!
~The Literary Digest, 06/05/1911
 Mr. Benson is most successful in his masterly portrait.
~Truth, quoted in endpapers to Juggernaut
The story will be widely read, and deserves to be.
~The World, quoted in endpapers to Juggernaut
Account Rendered is a distinct success.
~Literary World, quoted in endpapers to Juggernaut 
It is written with his customary skill and artistic method. The novel should be read if only to make the acquaintance of the clever, astute Lady Tenby.
~The Globe, quoted in endpapers to Juggernaut
The characters are real enough: they are well-observed studies of ordinarily decent people seen through the enlarging spectacles of romance. There are some scenes which flash and remain in the memory, like that in which Violet comes unexpectedly into the box in the theatre just when Lady Tenby is volubly lying about her to Frank.
~The Daily News, quoted in endpapers to Juggernaut

E. F. Benson's literary career sped along in the pre-war years, earning him popularity, wealth, but very little critical respect. Within less than two years (1910-11) he produced Daisy's Aunt, The Osbornes, Account Rendered, and Juggernaut, of which only The Osbornes […] shows some maturity of characterisation.
~Brian Masters in The Life of E. F. Benson, 1991

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