Mrs Ames: not Lucia

E F Benson was stretching his talons in this novel. You’d think, from first glance, that this was a tryout for Mapp and Lucia. Although it’s from 1912, there are dinner party wars, stunts to bring the other middle-class and servanted neighbours on side, and hurried impromptu fancy-dress ball preparations. But Mrs Ames is not Lucia, and Mrs Altham is the merest outline of the monster that would become Miss Mapp. Yet there are daring plot developments for this period of the British novel; attempted adultery, Suffragette agitation, entertaining tradesmen and their wives to tea in the drawing-room, and a detailed study of the boredom of suburbia. Benson goes on a bit, one admits, but he is still very funny in mustering social catastrophes, and a master observer of aggressive breakfast table etiquette. A very readable novel indeed, but don’t expect his full flowered genius, not yet.

E F Benson, Mrs Ames (1912) currently in print with Bloomsbury.

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