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.