Edward Frederic Benson
Edward Frederic Benson (July 24, 1867 – February 29, 1940) was an English novelist, biographer, memoirist and short story writer, known professionally as E.F. Benson. His friends called him Fred.
E.F. Benson was born at Wellington College in Berkshire, the fifth child of the headmaster, Edward White Benson (later Bishop of Lincoln and Truro and Archbishop of Canterbury), and Mary Sidgwick Benson ("Minnie"), who was described by Gladstone as the 'cleverest woman in Europe' and after her husband's death set up a lesbian household with Lucy Tait, daughter of the previous Archbishop of Canterbury.
Benson was the younger brother of Arthur Christopher Benson, who wrote the words to Land of Hope and Glory, Robert Hugh Benson, author of several novels and Catholic apologetic works, and Margaret Benson (Maggie) an amateur Egyptologist. Two other siblings died young. Three of the brothers, including E. F. Benson, were fairly certainly homosexual, and none of them married.
E. F. Benson was an excellent athlete, and represented England at figure skating. He was a prolific and precocious writer; he was still a student at Cambridge when he published his first book Sketches from Marlborough. Despite starting his novel writing career with the (then) fashionably controversial Dodo (1893), and following it with a variety of satire and romantic melodrama, Benson is nowadays principally known for his Mapp and Lucia series, consisting of six novels and three short stories about Emmeline "Lucia" Lucas and Elizabeth Mapp. The novels are: Queen Lucia, Lucia in London, Miss Mapp (including the short story The Male Impersonator), Mapp and Lucia, Lucia's Progress (published as The Worshipful Lucia in the U.S.) and Trouble for Lucia.
The principal setting of four of the books is a town called Tilling, which is recognizably based on Rye, East Sussex, where Benson lived for many years and served as Mayor from 1934 (he moved there in 1918). Benson's home, Lamb House, served as the model for Mallards, Lucia's home in some of the Tilling series. Lamb House was earlier the home of Henry James, and later of Rumer Godden.
In London, Benson also lived at 395 Oxford Street, W1 (now the branch of Russell & Bromley just west of Bond Street Underground Station), 102 Oakley Street, SW3, and 25 Brompton Square, SW3, where much of the action of Lucia in London takes place and where English Heritage placed a Blue Plaque in 1994.
The last three books were serialized by London Weekend Television for the fledgling Channel 4 in 1985–6 under the series title Mapp and Lucia and starring Prunella Scales, Geraldine McEwan and Nigel Hawthorne; the first three have been adapted for BBC Radio 4 by both Aubrey Woods and (most recently) Ned Sherrin.
Benson was also known as a writer of ghost stories, which frequently appear in collections, and of a series of biographies/autobiographies and memoirs, including one of Charlotte Brontė. His last book, delivered to his publisher ten days before his death, was an autobiography entitled Final Edition.
A critical essay on Benson's ghost stories appears in S. T. Joshi's book The Evolution of the Weird Tale (2004).
He died in 1940 of throat cancer in University College Hospital, London.
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