Mrs Ames by E.F. Benson

Mrs Ames by E.F. Benson was first published in 1912. I love his Mapp and Lucia series and I think this one was a sort of dry run for those ones, he hadn’t quite honed his talent for replicating the atmosphere of a small town and it’s supposed foremost inhabitants. So it’s not as blatantly hilarious and sarcastic, but it’s still well worth reading.

The town is called Riseborough and it’s the sort of place where the retired and comfortably off men go to their club straight after breakfast, while their wives go to the shops do the shopping and hear any local gossip.

Mrs Ames is the queen bee, and her social gatherings lead the way for all the others, she likes to try different things and set new fashions. ” In appearance she was like a small, good-looking toad in half-mourning; or to state the comparison with greater precision, she was small for a woman, but good-looking for a toad.” She’s over 55 and at least ten years older than her husband.  Mrs Ames only makes social calls to Dr Evans and his family because Mrs Evans is a sort of cousin to the local aristocrat, who is also loosely related to Mrs Ames.

Mrs Evans is in her late 30s but looks ten years younger and has both Mr Ames and Henry the son hankering after her.  Worse than that it looks like she intends to knock Mrs Ames off her social throne.  But the older woman is more than a match for her young relative.

This was a good read, amusing and sometimes sad, a true reflection of the Edwardian lifestyle that E.F. Benson was witnessing at the time,  in the town of Rye in Sussex where he lived for many years.

Recent book purchases

For some reason the usual Christain Aid book sale at St Andrew’s and St George’s didn’t go ahead this year, but the three day Holy Corner, Morningside book sale did go ahead, and despite it all being within one small church hall I did manage to find some books that I wanted to buy.

Books May 24

New York 1930 by Robert A.M Stern, Gregory Gilmartin, Thomas Mellins

Saint Petersburg and its environs

Mrs Ames by E.F. Benson

O Caledonia by Elspeth Barker

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving illustrated by Arthur Rackham

The New York book is a massive tome with loads of photos and information on Art Deco architecture and design.

The Saint Petersburg book is a good reminder of our visit to the city some years ago.

I’m a big fan of E.F. Benson’s Mapp and Lucia books (and the original TV series)  so I had to buy Mrs Ames.

I have a lot of books which have been illustrated by Arthur Rackham, so I couldn’t pass up on The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.

It is of course just more books added to the TBR piles, but I couldn’t NOT buy them, and it was for a good cause.

Jack also bought books, but only two. The Changeling by Robin Jenkins and Highland Pack by Neil Gunn.


The Blotting Book by E.F. Benson

The Blotting Book by E.F. Benson was first published in 1908 but I read a reprint by Vintage Books which was published in 2013. I don’t think I had even realised that Benson had written crime fiction although when we visited Lamb House in Rye, where he used to live, I noticed that there was a bookcase jam-packed with books that he had written, and he had written a lot more than the Mapp and Lucia series, which I loved.

Mrs Assheton is a wealthy widow who dotes on her only child Morris. He’s just turned 22 and his father’s will stipulated that his lawyers would have control of Morris’s money until he was 24 – or until he got married, when he would need access to his money to set up his own home. As it happens Morris is in love with Madge who lives nearby. She’s rather well-heeled herself and Morris is nervous about ‘popping the question’.

So when Morris discovers that one of the partners of the law firm has been dropping poisonous lies into the ears of Madge’s father about him he’s naturally furious. It looks like his dreams of marrying Madge are in tatters.

This is a quick read at just 149 pages and it seems slow to begin with but the tension builds up bit by bit and I ended up liking it a lot more than I thought I would, so I’ll definitely read more of Benson’s crime fiction in the future.

A few years ago we visited Rye, where E.F. Benson lived and was the setting for the Mapp and Lucia books, we liked it so much we’re going back again. You might be interested in the blogposts I wrote about our visit. Henry James and Rumer Godden also lived in Lamb House over the years. You can see some photos of the town here and here.

Bookshelf Travelling in Insane Times – 26th, September

Here we go again, how quickly the time comes around, it’s Bookshelf Travelling in Insane Times, and this week it’s another guest bedroom bookshelf. This meme was of course started by Judith, Reader in the Wilderness, but I’m gathering the posts at the moment.

Jane Austen and E F BensonBooks

I had to photograph this shelf in two separate photos as the bed got in the way! The shelf contains a hardback set of Jane Austen books, they’re not the best quality and haven’t worn well over the years as the paper has yellowed, but they’re better than reading the paperbacks. The Folio books are lovely, it’s the Mapp and Lucia series by E.F. Benson which I find really entertaining.

Barbara Pym and Anthony Trollope Books

The Barbara Pym books are the second incarnation as in a house move I decided to get rid of my originals – and then of course regretted doing it. This shelf is home to books that I will happily re-read, and that’s not something that I do a lot of. In fact they’re mainly the kind of books that are ideal for dipping into at random if you can’t get to sleep. I really like Anthony Trollope’s books, but of the ones that I’ve read they’ve mostly been on my Kindle, free from Project Gutenberg. There are a few actual Trollopes on this shelf though, but they don’t come under the category of great bedtime reading although I definitely have done so in the past.

Other Bookshelf Travellers this week are:

A Son of the Rock

Bitter Tea and Mystery

Staircase Wit

Lamb House in Rye, East Sussex, England

Lamb House, Rye, East Sussex

Since I realised that the Mapp and Lucia books by E.F. Benson were set in Rye in East Sussex I’ve wanted to visit the place, especially as Rye was the location for the TV dramatisations. I certainly wasn’t disappointed as it’s a lovely place albeit one that has more than its fair share of tourists but that’s to be expected I suppose although I was surprised that there were so many German visitors around, I wonder why, is it the Mapp and Lucia aspect? Or maybe it’s Henry James. Both authors lived in Lamb House which used to be the home of the mayor of the town many years ago. It’s difficult to get a good photo of some of the buildings as the streets are so narrow.

The staircase in Lamb House is nice but nothing out of the ordinary really.
Staircase, Lamb House, Rye,

The study below is on the right hand side as you enter the front door. The cabinets are full of Henry James and E.F. Benson books, I had no idea that Benson had written so many.

Lamb House, Rye

Lamb House, Rye

The drawing room below is on the left hand side as you go through the front door and is bigger. There’s a drawing by Beatrix Potter on the wall.

Lamb House, Beatrix Potter

There’s also a framed L.P. of Land of Hope and Glory whose words were written by Arthur Benson, E.F.’s brother.

Lamb House, Rye

Henry James had always admired the house but never thought it would come on the market so when it did he snapped it up and lived there happily for decades. When Henry James died his family agreed to lease the house to E.F. Benson so between the two the house has hosted lots of visits from other writers over the years, but now it belongs to the National Trust and is a popular tourist destination.

The dining room is at the back of the house with doors which lead out to the garden.

Lamb House, dining room, Rye

A lot of entertaining must have gone on in these rooms over the years.
Rye, Lamb House, Henry James,

Only one bedroom is open to the public and it’s quite sparse, but I do love the corner fireplaces in Lamb House.

Lamb House, Rye,

It isn’t a particularly large house and not all of the rooms are open to the public, but I can see why those men both wanted to live in it as it would be a comfortable home and the garden is beautiful, but I’ll leave those photos for another day.

Of course E.F. Benson did end up being Mayor of Rye, for three terms I believe so he must really have thrown himself into the whole community. I don’t think he will ever have had to look far for his characters!

Recent trip – Gladstone’s Library and Rye

Over the last week or so I’ve been gallivanting around parts of the UK, specifically spending three nights at Gladstone’s Library at Hawarden in north Wales. Then on to the south of England – Rye in East Sussex for a couple of nights before going on to Ashby de la Zouch in Staffordshire which is around about the English midlands. Lastly one night in Gateshead in the north of England to visit friends. I enjoyed being away and having a change of scene but it’s lovely to be back home again. Of course, books were bought, but I’ll tell you about those later.

I must admit that I had never even heard of Gladstone’s Library when I was given the mini break as a 60th birthday treat, but since then it seems to be popping up everywhere, even being on TV’s Flog It apparently. Our bedroom decor leaned towards the spartan and the rooms don’t have a TV but they do have a radio if you can’t stand not knowing what’s going on in the news. However as a resident you do get access to the books in the library. I was disappointed when I realised that about 80% of the books are on theology – not a favourite subject for me. However as it turned out there were a few books about the sedition trials of 1794 so I was able to do some interesting research on William Skirving, that distant ancestor of mine who was transported to Australia. As a bookworm it was quite a thrill to be given my own key to the library which is locked at 5 o’clock and when I was in there after hours I was the only one there! Most of the other guests were acquainted with each other and seem to have been church groups or choirs. In the blurb on the place it says that clergymen get a discount. I wonder how much as it’s quite a lot more expensive than places of a similar standard accommodation wise.

I’ve wanted to go to Rye for years as I love E.F. Benson’s Mapp and Lucia books and Rye is the setting although in the books it’s called Tilling, named after the River Tillingham which flows through Rye. The town is as quaint as you could wish and it’s easy to imagine the place being awash with smugglers as it was in times past. The American writer Henry James loved the town and eventually managed to buy Lamb House which had been the home of the mayors up until he bought it. He lived there for 25 years and when he died E.F. Benson leased the house from the James family until his death. So the house has been frequented by hordes of writers over the years as they each had friends who also wrote. Lamb House now belongs to the National Trust and the house and garden are definitely worth a visit.

Photos of Gladstone’s Library and Rye will be forthcoming – when I get organised.

Lucia in Wartime by Tom Holt

Lucia in Wartime cover

Lucia in Wartime by Tom Holt is an enjoyable read, especially for those of us who just love to be in the company of Tilling’s foremost inhabitants, but unsurprisingly the author doesn’t quite come up to E.F. Benson standards. There are of course plenty of spats between Mapp and Lucia. In Benson’s books these are snobby and catty but in this book they descend into nastiness that feels like it has all been taken just a wee bit too far.

Also I think the author could have been doing with re-reading the originals a bit more closely as he gets quite a few details wrong about them. For instance Major Flint’s habitual yell of quai-hai has become qui-hi.

Diva is even busier than usual with her dressmaking projects, she has of course always had a ‘make-do and mend’ mentality and rationing has just encouraged her to get her scissors out and add chintz roses to her clothing.

Most of the servants have left and gone to make munitions, Lucia and Georgie are appalled at the thought of having to cook for themselves, but Georgie rises to the challenge and discovers a talent for making meals out of practically nothing, and Major Benjy is in charge of the Home Guard. Mapp gets into a terrible fankle due to her usual duplicity, and Lucia is as always on guard whenever Olga Bracely’s name is mentioned.

The wartime setting works really well, with Lucia and Georgie having to ditch their cod Italian as it’s unpatriotic and a bit dangerous to be thought of as pro-Italian. A Polish phrase book is purchased!

Reading this one made me want to re-read the originals – again. I might make do with watching the DVDs though, the original series with Prunella Scales as Mapp and Geraldine McEwan as Lucia of course.

Au Reservoir by Guy Fraser-Sampson

 Au Reservoir cover

Au Reservoir by Guy Fraser Sampson is a continuation of E.F. Benson’s hugely enjoyable Mapp and Lucia series. I’m not usually at all keen on such things but for those of us who love to be in the company of Lucia and Mapp and all the other inhabitants of Tilling (Rye) in East Sussex, Au Reservoir is faithful to Benson’s characters and the situations they usually got themselves into so that’s a big plus.

Mind you Benson’s characters were so well drawn with so many eccentricities that I think it would probably be a fairly easy job for anyone with a gift for writing to cobble together a book written in his style, like a sort of join the dots exercise.

This book is slightly updated for modern readers with Major Benjy being a bit more risque than he could get away with before and a few incongruous words were used by Lucia who would never have referred to her living-room, it was always her drawing-room and she wouldn’t have used the word specialty, she would have said speciality – as I would too!

The Labour government and high taxation is mentioned a lot, which put me in mind of Angela Thirkell’s post war books. As I recall it was usually just the local rates that got Benson’s Tillingites aerated.

As you would expect from the title this is the last of these books and I found the ending quite sad. No more Moonlight Sonatas for Lucia and Georgie. What am I saying? What a relief for the Tillingites!

An Autumn Sowing by E.F. Benson

An Autumn Sowing cover

An Autumn Sowing by E.F. Benson was first published in 1917, so three years before his first Lucia book but there are quite a lot of the same elements in An Autumn Sowing. Snobbery and class consciousness figure prominently of course, it’s a good read although if you expect a Lucia type book then you might be disappointed.

Thomas Keeling is very wealthy, he lives in a spacious house in the town of Bracebridge and he is going to be the mayor in the following year. He has made his money through owning a large department store and having a very astute sense of business, but of course it is ‘trade’ so he’s never going to be able to be a member of the County Club where the local aristocrats are, despite being penniless. Mr Keeling is only ever going to be allowed to join the Town Club, fit for people like himself who started out owning just a fish shop.

Thomas Keeling has been disappointed with his marriage and his children, and the one bright spot in his life is his love of books and the fact that he can well afford to have a library of his own, where he indulges in his love of beautiful volumes. Nobody else is allowed into his library, apart from the young man who runs the book department in Keeling’s store. Charles is the closest thing that Thomas has to a friend, not that Thomas would unbend enough to actually have a friend, he’s very much the boss.

When Charles’s sister Norah needs a job she becomes Thomas’s secretary and after a shaky start when she describes Mr Keeling as being a cad a relationship builds up between them through their mutual love of books. Thomas can’t help comparing Norah with his wife and the wife doesn’t come out of it well. He thought that he was marrying above his station when he married the daughter of a P&O captain but in truth she’s a rather vulgar woman in a noveau riche kind of way, filling her home with ghastly folderols, such as a stuffed crocodile which stands on its back legs holding a brass tray – for visiting cards.

This book was never going to have a happy ending but it is really quite funny in that sharp-tongued Benson way and it’s interesting to see so many similarities with the Mapp and Lucia books. There are characters who speak ‘baby talk’, a figurative secret garden, a mayor, royal honours and an extension for the local hospital.

I found it interesting that the secretary was called a typewriter not a typist or secretary and she was expected to bring her own typing machine with her instead of being provided with one. I wonder when they started to be called a typist?

My copy of this book is a 1987 reprint and it’s a shame that it isn’t available on Project Gutenberg as I’m sure that a lot of people would enjoy reading it.

I haven’t read any of Benson’s Dodo books, have you? Would you recommend them?

Edinburgh Botanics and books

On Thursday we had a family dinner date in Edinburgh so as it was a lovely bright day we decided to go early and have a walk through the Botanic Gardens. As you can see the crocuses were enjoying the sun.


Then it was on to the Stockbridge area of Edinburgh. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while you’ll realise that Stockbridge is usually a dangerous destination for me, due to the secondhand bookshops in the vicinity. Mind you it was only about three weeks since we had been there so I did think (half hope) it might be a case of slim pickings book wise, but I was wrong!

Books Again

China Court by Rumer Godden
The Princess Sophia by E.F. Benson
The Three Hostages by John Buchan
The Hand of Ethelberta by Thomas Hardy
Harding’s Luck by E. Nesbit
The Herb of Grace by Elizabeth Goudge

I know I read China Court way back in the 1970s but I’ll read it again and I seem to be collecting the Goddens that I read when I was a teenager but then I borrowed them from the library.

I have a horrible feeling that I gave my Nesbit books away before we moved house, when I was trying to de-clutter. But they might still be in a box in the garage, I live in hope, I definitely haven’t read Harding’s Luck anyway. The House of Arden comes before it so I think I’ll have to read that one first, I might just put that one on my Kindle.

I don’t think I’ve read anything by Goudge before but I know she is well loved by some people.

The Princess Sophia was written in 1900, long before Benson wrote his Mapp and Lucia books that I love.

I seem to be collecting John Buchan books although it’s a good long time since I actually read any.

I read a lot of Thomas Hardy books as a teenager and I loved them although they are often quite grim, especially the endings. The Hand of Ethelberta is apparently a comedy in chapters – could be interesting, but then again, might not be. Anyway it’s one of those wee books with thin paper and gold topped pages, like most of my other Hardy books, so it’ll fit in well – after I’ve had a bit of a shuffle around of that bookcase!

Have you read any of these books?