Edward Frederic E.F. BENSON was an English novelist, biographer, memoirist, archaeologist and short story writer born on this date (d: 1940).
Benson’s first book published was Sketches from Marlborough. He started his novel-writing career with the (then) fashionably controversial Dodo (1893), which was an instant success, and followed it with a variety of satire and romantic and supernatural melodrama. He repeated the success of Dodo, which featured a scathing description of composer and militant suffragette Ethel Smyth (which she “gleefully acknowledged”, according to actress Prunella Scales), with the same cast of characters a generation later: Dodo the Second (1914), “a unique chronicle of the pre-1914 Bright Young Things” and Dodo Wonders (1921), “a first-hand social history of the Great War in Mayfair and the Shires”.
The Mapp and Lucia series, written relatively late in his career, consists of six novels and two short stories. The novels are: Queen Lucia, Miss Mapp, Lucia in London, Mapp and Lucia, Lucia’s Progress (published as The Worshipful Lucia in the United States) and Trouble for Lucia. The short stories are “The Male Impersonator” and “Desirable Residences”. Both appear in anthologies of Benson’s short stories, and the former is also often appended to the end of the novel Miss Mapp.
In February 1983 BBC Radio 4 broadcast Trouble for Lucia – a 12-part adaptation by Aubrey Woods of the first four novels. In April and May 2007 BBC Radio 4 broadcast Mapp and Lucia – a 10-part adaptation by Ned Sherrin. In 2008 BBC Radio 4 broadcast Lucia’s Progress – a five-part dramatisation by John Peacock of the fifth novel.
Benson is known for a series of biographies/autobiographies and memoirs, including one of Charlotte Brontë. His last book, delivered to his publisher 10 days before his death, was an autobiography titled Final Edition.
H.P. Lovecraft spoke well of Benson’s works in his essay “Supernatural Horror in Literature”, most notably of his story “The Man Who Went Too Far”. Further “Mapp and Lucia” books have been written by Tom Holt, Guy Fraser-Sampson, and Ian Shepherd.
Benson was homosexual, but was intensely discreet. At Cambridge, he fell in love with several fellow students, including Vincent Yorke (father of the novelist Henry Yorke), about whom he confided to his diary, “I feel perfectly mad about him just now… Ah, if only he knew, and yet I think he does.” In later life, Benson maintained friendships with a wide circle of gay men and shared a villa on the Italian island of Capri with John Ellingham Brooks; before the First World War, the island had been popular with wealthy homosexuals.
Homoeroticism and a general homosexual sensibility suffuses his literary works, such as David Blaize (1916), and his most popular works are famed for their wry and dry camp humour and social observations.