Sunday, September 15, 2013

Mapp and Lucia, by E. F. Benson

Staff Review by Chris Saliba

When society queens Emmeline “Lucia” Lucas and Elizabeth Mapp contest their supremacy over the town of Tilling, the sparks fly. But will Mapp be successful in securing the magic key to social dominance: Lucia’s recipe for Lobster a la Riseholme?

The novels of E.F. Benson are a bit of a guilty pleasure. It’s difficult to figure out whether they are indeed frivolous romps or shrewd social anatomies. Benson seems to take far too much relish when describing the military-like campaigns of his clashing society queens. Whenever I’m reading Benson  it’s always philosopher Thorstein Veblen’s The Theory of the Leisure Class that comes to mind.

Benson’s characters eschew any type of useful or practical activity. They are all fully employed in one thing only: the pursuit of social status. For this reason it can perhaps be argued that his novels comprise a shrewd dissection of the vanities of comfortable upper middle-class English life. The only difference is Veblen takes a supercilious attitude, whereas Benson is determined to have fun with his subject.

The plot of Mapp and Lucia centres around a social contest, with the great prize being a recipe for Lobster a la Riseholme. When Emmeline Lucas (Lucia to her friends) takes up a temporary residence in Tilling, the reigning society queen Elizabeth Mapp finds her position under threat. What results is a virtual war as the women use every tactic and strategy to bring each other down, all the while maintaining the gracious poise and manners of well-bred socialites.

As always, E. F. Benson’s precise, lapidary prose and superb comedy timing are a joy to read. When I got to the last page I was ready to read the next Lucia book. Thankfully there are six in the series.

Mapp and Lucia, by E.F. Benson. Published by Vintage Classics. ISBN: 9780099528425  RRP: $12.95

Other E.F. Benson novels reviewed at North Melbourne Books

Queen Lucia

Mrs Ames