Monday, 22 December 2008

Mapp and Lucia

I'm having a Mapp and Lucia phase at the moment. I came to these wonderful books rather late; in fact in my mid-thirties. It was Fr Daniel Seward of the Oxford Oratory who introduced me to them at about the time I left that community, and it says something for my immediate desperation to read more that I took his copy of Queen Lucia away with me and had to post it back when I finished it. I find E.F.Benson's writing utterly entrancing and cripplingly funny; if the books have a fault it is that there are not enough of them. I am not the only one to think that, for others have tried to write more. Tom Holt made a pretty good stab at it, producing Lucia Triumphant and Lucia in Wartime, where he doesn't quite catch the limpid, acid, prose, but the storylines are pretty good. There has been a new Lucia book just published, called Major Benjy, by Guy Fraser-Sampson. As soon as I spotted it, I rushed to buy it, but have regretted the expense. Neither prose nor storyline hold a candle to even Tom Holt's books. The worst aspect, I think, is the way that he has utterly failed to catch the tone of Tilling (the town where most of the action takes place). Tom Holt himself is credited with saying 'Benson himself would have loved this book, and so will you'. I wonder if we are speaking of the same book. How could anyone think that, for instance, Benson would have loved coarse sexual innuendo? Gentility was the very essence of Benson's books. Major Benjy opens the door to Miss Mapp without his trousers; he gets seduced by his housekeeper; Irene Coles and Lucy plaster each other's naked bodies with paint…… need I go on? It is more redolent of Tom Sharpe (though without the genuine—though crude—acute humour of that talented writer) than Benson or even Tom Holt. The characters behave uncharacteristically, also. Mr Wyse regularly props up the bar of a local pub, for instance. In this, I think Fraser-Sampson followed something from the TV adaptation of Mapp and Lucia rather than the books themselves. Twistevant, the shopkeeper, is spelt in three different ways within the first fifty pages. And, frankly, the book is boring: I've given up half way through. How very disappointing. How tarsome, in fact.
I've been revisiting the Benson books by medium of my iPod. Some are available on iTunes, read wonderfully by Nadia May. Mapp and Lucia is read very well by Prunella Scales (who played Miss Mapp on TV). And now I have found the rest of the books on CD and am busy transferring them one by one to my iPod. Even the Tom Holt books are available in this form. I'm listening right now to Lucia in London, read by Geraldine McEwan (who played Lucia in the TV adaptation).

Which brings me on to the last topic, which is that of the TV adaptation. I didn't really think it was terribly good, I'm afraid, (though others disagree) and I think it's time for another try. The question is who one might get to play the chief roles. I've thought a lot about this, and I think that there are some very good candidates. I would love to see Penelope Keith play Lucia and Patricia Routledge play Miss Mapp: both of them are simply made for the role, I think. Georgie Pillson is a more difficult decision, but I wonder whether John Cleese wouldn't do it really well. All these three actors physically resemble their characters, and I'm sure could bend their considerable talents to the parts.


PeterHWright said...

What a delightful post. The Mapp and Lucia novels are some of my favourite reading, although not recently. I really must get round to reading them again.

Of the two characters, I think I have more sympathy with Lucia (who plays the piano with "merciless sincerity", if I remember correctly). Mapp I think I might find too formidable in real life. Together, in the hands of E. F. Benson, they are very funny indeed.

Dramatisation of novels is a touchy subject. You can successfully dramatise the work of some writers (Agatha Christie, D.L. Sayers), but not others (Evelyn Waugh). [I'm not sure about Greene or Maugham.] The original TV adaptation was made back in the 1980s, I think ?

I would entirely agree with Father's cast for a new dramatisation, although I wonder if John Cleese (and I beg his pardon) might not now be a liitle too old ?

Au reservoir


Pastor in Valle said...

Peter: yes, you're right of course, but I think that probably Penelope Keith is not in the first flush of youth either (and I beg her pardon, too). The important thing is that Lucia and Georgie should balance each other, and though the books describe them as being in their forties, in fact they behave much older (at least by our modern standards).
On the other hand, I thought that the TV dramatization of Brideshead was very good, and I even enjoyed Stephen Fry's Vile Bodies.

the hound said...

Prinknash Abbey in Gloucestershire have recently opened a coffee shop with a selection of secondhand books for sale, ( culled from their library when they moved from their modern monastery back to their medieval house). Among them are numerous well read Bensons, not just the Map and Lucia series, (and Tom Holt sequels), but autobiography, short stories and other works.

It's quite amusing to discover what monks read in their " spare time". In this case lots and lots of classic crime fiction, Michael Innes, Dorothy L. Sayers, Edmund Crispin and the like, Patrick O'Brien and Hornblower, and a great deal of Wodehouse, ( one titled " Pearls, Girls and Monty Bodkin" had the inscription " Please return to Fr. Sebastian").

PeterHWright said...

Well, yes, I can't deny I myself have the DVD of the original TV adaptation of Brideshead, made in 1980 (?) In itself, it's quite brilliantly done, and there is some splendid acting. But what would Waugh have thought of it ? Does it really capture the true spirit of the book ?

I've not seen any other adaptations of Waugh's work, but I still think of him as a man who was a master of the written word. He knew how not to waste words. How do you dramatise that ? How do you dramatise the satire, the witticism, the [at times] almost savage humour, which in the books is all rather finely balanced ? It seems to me it really needs to be read.

(In this respect, it could be argued, and I am probably committing heresy, that Brideshead, the most easily dramatised of his works, was, despite its central theme, not very well written, perhaps even over written, compared with his earlier works.)

Waugh, I think, was a complex man, never quite at ease with himself, or with the world (perhaps both), and far too sensitive. At least some of this emerges in his writing, but I honestly don't think it can be dramatised.

I think Waugh himself would probably ask me not to be so analytical, and merely to enjoy his writing. I suppose he would be right.

PeterHWright said...


What The Hound says about monks' reading habits is most interesting.

I don't doubt they read plenty of Wodehouse. He wrote so much ! When Wodehouse created the world of Blandings Castle, he did so, I understand, mainly to inhabit it with his fictional characters. But in so doing, he created, in my opinion, an enchanted garden which will never stale. It can never grow old (because it never really existed).

pelerin said...

Interesting to learn that monks enjoy reading crime novels! Perhaps the 'Brother Cadfael' books are required reading in this genre?

Yes the Mapp and Lucia novels are delightful and very amusing - based in Rye I believe. I have only just discovered that E F Benson was the brother of Robert Hugh Benson - both sons of the Archbishop of Canterbury. I had not connected them before.

Many years ago I read 'Come Rack! Come Rope!' written by R H Benson and I have just found it again and intend to re read it. It is an amazingly vivid novel described as being 'solidly grounded on historical facts' about the struggles endured under Queen Elizabeth I to keep the Faith alive.

I see that it bears the Imprimatur of Cardinal Griffin - whatever happened to the Imprimaturs I wonder?

Penelope Keith and 'Mrs Bouquet' as Mapp and Lucia? what a wonderful thought - I don't think age matters for these two characters. I wonder if the writer of Mrs Bouquet was influenced by the Mapp and Lucia books?

PeterHWright said...

Sorry, it's me again.

Pelerin makes a most fascinating point in her comment. I have to admit I have not seen enough of the TV character "Hyacinth Bouquet" to make a judgement on what might have inspired the scriptwriters , but I wonder if the fine actress Patricia Routledge based her interpretation of this character at least in part on Mapp ? It is a most interesting thought.

Fr Michael Brown said...

I first satarted reading these while I had `flu in my forst year at seminary. I`m delighted you returned your copy of `Queen Lucia`. I never got mine back. For myself, I enjoyed Geraldine McEwan`s depiction very much and thought the programmes were beautifully made. I think your suggested cast, while wonderful, would be too old.

Pastor in Valle said...

Fr Michael: I didn't add that I lent all the books, including the Holt ones, to a friend and he never returned one. It has taken me a while to replace them. Knowing that this is the usual reaction, I never lend them now.

On the side of the angels said...

Geraldine McEwan was a perfect Lucia ; Prunella Scales an incomparable Mapp ; and in the TV version the casting of minor characters was inspired...The main problem was the cast was bigger and better than the tone of the production and direction.
The problem is that the books are like concertos - themes interact and harmonise and resurge in differing but redolent forms - perfect for a novel or film adaption ; but serialisation loses so much of the impetus.... for this new book - NOOO!!!
No innuendo : No Farce ; one does not unmask a mask - it's a comedy of manners ; the manners maketh the humour !

When one considers that Belinda Lang and Nichola McCauliffe would be ideal for the roles - look how the radio versions simply fell apart...

Ponte Sisto said...

Only Benson's books work for me.

I agree with OTSOTA concerning the actors in the original TV adaptation. While there were some failures in the series, I enjoyed the characterizations of Lucia, Mapp and Georgie especially.

Growing up in Cheltenham (and a frequent visitor to Prinknash, to boot, although the books have nothing to do with me) I encountered the remnants of these same eccentricities in that town. My spinster piano teacher was one such character - a Miss Mapp, almost to a tee. Needless to say, she did not approve of "un po’ di musica". Also, I think "Riseholme" was based on nearby Broadway.

As Lucia might have said, Buon Natale, padre!

Au reservoir!

gemoftheocean said...

I've never read them. But now that you've mentioned them I will. They sound like such fun. I see there are freebies of the first two available here at Project Gutenberg. so I'm going to download them.

Jo Mendelsohn said...

The minute I started reading "Queen Lucia" (many years ago), I envisioned Penelope Keith in the role!