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