Sunday, 13 November 2011

Meet the Bensons

I mentioned recently the work of Robert Hugh Benson. The Bensons were an extraordinarily gifted family. Of the four surviving members of the family of six the 3 boys were writers and the daughter Maggie an amateur Egyptologist of note. It was a complex family and I would say that if 7 shrinks with 7 couches worked for 15 years I do not think at the end of it they would get it all quite clear. The Dodgson/Carroll nod will be clear from the link below. Robert's brother Arthur writing in one of his essays of which there are 70 volumes has this to say about his family and particularly about his father the late Archbishop of Canterbury Edward White Benson:

Let me speak, then, plainly of what that life has been, and tell what my point of view is. I was brought up on ordinary English lines. My father, in a busy life, held a series of what may be called high official positions. He was an idealist, who owing to a vigorous power of practical organisation and a mastery of detail was essentially a man of affairs.

Read this
and you will be aware of the level of heroic denial the foregoing entailed.

As well as writing novels, ghost stories and essays Arthur prepared for publication the letters of Queen Victoria and 'arranged' the papers of his brother Robert ka Hugh, and his sister Maggie. The other brother Edward ka Fred was also a prolific writer of novels and ghost stories and a personal friend of Queen Victoria. I pass over with a sniff the opportunity for cheap ribaldry here. Actually this brother may have been the best writer of the three. His Mapp and Lucia novels are quite readable and amusing. I'm reading Queen Lucia (Gutenberg Project) which seems to be the start of the series. They were made into a miniseries by Channel 4 back in the 80's which I haven't seen. The eponymous Lucia is the apotheosis of 'twee'.

In the garden behind the house there was no attempt to construct a Shakespearean plot for as she so rightly observed Shakespeare who loved flowers so well would wish her to enjoy every conceivable horticultural treasure. But furniture played a prominent part in the place and there were statues and sundials and stone-seats scattered about with almost too profuse a hand. Mottoes were also in great evidence, and while a sundial reminded you that "Tempus Fugit" an enticing resting place somewhat bewilderingly bade you to "Bide a Wee". But then again the rustic seat in the pleached alley of laburnums had carved on the back, "Much have I travelled in the realms of gold" so that meditating on Keats you could bide a wee with an clear conscience.

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