Wednesday, 31 December 2014

The Clandon Crystal

Fiction ~ short story
Published in The Onlooker, 23rd November 1901
(First read 31/12/2014)

Of all the short stories that might be lumped together in the category 'E. F. Benson at far from his best', in The Clandon Crystal he perhaps came closest to the neighbouring category of 'fu_king atrocious'.  Here's the plot in a rotten nutshell: A gent, wishing to be cured of alcoholism, places himself in the hands of a Harley Street 'doctor' renowned for curing folk by 'suggestion' alone; said quack 'takes over' the mind of our alcky pal, weans him off the sauce but at the same time, by making the cure dependent on his say-so, forces him into becoming engaged to his daughter (whose mind he also controls) in order to secure a juicy marriage settlement for her; once the pair are hitched the quack plans to turn the tap back on on our gent, and so kill him; gent's pal gets wind of this dastardly plot and, aided by his trusty butler, basically holds a gun at the quack's head, while keeping him prisoner, until he's reversed all his evil works.
If it sounds daft that's because it is daft.  Exceedingly daft.  Idiotic, in fact.
It was collected in Some Social Criminals (The E F Benson Society, 1995) and in Sea Mist (2005).

Thursday, 25 December 2014

Dives and Lazarus

Fiction ~ short story
First published in The New Statesman and Nation, 12th August 1939
Collected in Sea Mist and Other Stories (2005)
(First read 25/12/2014)

A straightforward tale of body-swap reincarnation.  'Dives' is a super-rich banker; 'Lazarus' is a Neapolitan beggar.  The two men die within 24 hours of one another; when asked, in the rather weird 'waiting-room' of the next world, what they would like to be reincarnated as, Dives chooses to be a Neapolitan beggar, Lazarus a super-rich banker.
That's it.
Yes, really.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

The King and His Reign IV: Women's Rights

Non-fiction ~ essay
Published in The Spectator, 15th March 1935
1,420 words
(First read 11/12/2014)

Mrs Pankhurst addresses a crowd
This one falls very much under the 'His Reign' category: as EFB makes barely any mention at all of George V, we can only assume he had nothing to do with women's rights¹.  What we get instead is a preamble in which we're reminded of Queen Victoria's opinions on uppity females (she was rabidly agin the idea), of Edward VII's opinions ditto (also agin, but less so), followed by a potted history of the pre-War emancipation movement, of the role women played during the War itself, and of their new-found freedom after it.
Benson was clearly no feminist; indeed he's often accused of outright misogyny ~ generally by people who've only read the Mapp and Lucia novels.  In fact his fictional women fall into two very pronounced types: (1) the cats, shrews, vixens, cows, harpies, bitches, witches (etc.) we all know and love from his satirical novels; and (2) the sweet, noble, impossibly virtuous, nauseating and frankly improbable saints so prominent in his (melo)dramas.  There was practically no middle ground. [Sorry ~ wandering off the point a bit.]  In this article he carefully aligns himself with those who claim post facto that their sole objection to the Suffragist movement was the activities of its more militant wing.  EFB might not ever have been violently anti-women's suffrage but, before the Great War, he rarely missed an opportunity to poke fun at it².

¹ I daresay he didn't approve, though.  Queen Mary wouldnt've let him.
² For his most sustained mock see the novel Mrs Ames (1912).  It has to be said that the eponymous heroine's feeble'n'futile pro-suffrage protest is the highlight of that book.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

The King and His Reign II: The Inheritance

Non-fiction ~ essay
Published in The Spectator, 1st March 1935
1,495 words
(First read 04/12/2014)

The young George V ... what a handsome chap he was
EFB continues the life story of George V he started in Prince George's Childhood by ... well, by saying virtually nothing about him.  This article sets the background for what he 'inherited' when he came to the throne, by telling us about his father Edward VII's efforts to maintain peace in Europe (kind of) by performing a round of visits to his fellow monarchs in the hope of charming them into uniting against his nephew the Kaiser ~ a 'policy' which failed dismally in the long run ~ and the short one too, come to that ~ because, as Benson himself says:
These Royal visits of King Edward, which up to the time of his death he had made a large part of the duties and services of a Sovereign to his country, have been roughly analysed in order to show how meaningless they had become. With the growth of democracy it seems strange, twenty-five years later, that they could ever then have been thought to be of value, for the age when personal friendships between Sovereigns could affect strong national movements was already long past.
Ah well.   While all that was going on, George himself
occupied his time for travelling to infinitely greater advantage by visiting India with the Queen in 1911 and magnificently demonstrating at the Durbar the power and friendliness of the Raj.
You can read the full article online here.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014


Fiction ~ novel
Published (July?) 1926
(First read 03/12/2014)

Mezzanine is yet another Benson novel in which very little happens at very great length.
At the end of Sheaves (1908), his other novel which deals with the problem of what happens when a woman marries a man much younger than herself (and which is only marginally more eventful than Mezzanine), EFB dropped this lukewarm potato by having the wife conveniently die of consumption at a swanky Swiss ski resort.  At the start of this one he picks it up and literally saunters with it for a few hundred pages before dropping it again because he's run out of space.  Our heroine in this case is Mrs Elizabeth Langdon; we meet her on her 47th birthday¹:
She was tall and solidly made, and like most big women carried herself well; she looked brisk and capable and serene, as if she had dealt very successfully with life hitherto, and was assured of efficiency in the future.
Alas, 'twas not to be.  Her husband Walter is ten years her junior; they've been married 10 or 12 years and have a 9-year old son, Tony.  Lizzie worries about getting old ... more specifically she worries that Walter, who's just been given a new lease on life after recovering from years of residual malaria, is, despite his unwavering devotion to her, starting to find her dull.
Enter Evie. [in progress]

¹ EFB also used this device in Mr Teddy (1917), which opens on that gentleman's 40th.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

The King and His Reign I: Prince George's Education

Non-fiction ~ essay
Published in The Spectator, 22nd February 1935
1,295 words
(First read 02/12/2014)

"What do you mean 'Four's too young for the Navy'?"
In this the first of twelve articles published to commemorate the silver jubilee of King George V (1865-1936), EFB contrasts the prince's rearing with that of his father Edward VII (1841-1910).  The latter had a miserable, lonely childhood thanks to his parents¹ and so, to ensure that his son didn't suffer the same fate, packed young George off to the Navy at the earliest possible opportunity, along with the ill-fated heir to the throne Prince Albert Victor (1864-92)².
That's pretty much it, actually.  It's available to read online here.

¹ See King Edward VII: An Appreciation (1933) and The Baron (1937), etc.
² I daresay Edward found kids a bit style-cramping as well.