Day 5: Mapp and Lucia by E. F. Benson:
I think it took me about a decade to really become acculturated in the UK, or at least as much as I wanted to be. The moment I knew I had become so was when I ‘got’ all the Mapp and Lucia books, laughed out loud at the word play, the social mores, had no trouble imagining tone of voice from what was visible in print; saw the humour in Mrs. Mapp’s resentment of Lucia’s social wars, Giorgino mio’s collecting, the queerness of ‘Quaint’ Irene, the fraught social situations where the invisible could be a call to battle etc . There were a series of other writers that helped nudge me along: some of Evelyn Waugh (I like the pre-war work best), the glamorous comic masterpieces by Nancy Mitford (Love in a Cold Climate, The Pursuit of Love), Barbara Pym’s excellent women — doing all the vicars’ work and quietly cycling along in spite of being side-lined and overlooked — in the lovely, sparse, pointillist novels: some of my very favourites. I’ve often re-read Mitford, and probably have read everything on her and her notorious family but E.F. Benson’s world is the cozy, lovely, humorous one I find most comforting. As my friend Helen Vincent says, ‘The thing that differentiates Benson from Waugh and Mitford and quite a few others who share his love of the deliciously bitchy is that he, like Olga and Georgie and a lot of his other characters, is fundamentally kind and generous-hearted towards the social climbers and spinsters and retired colonels in all their petty scheming ways, and that is why I love him so much more than them.’ That goes for me too.