Back in the 1980s, I first stumbled across Mapp and Lucia, thanks to the very wonderful TV adaptation, starring Geraldine McEwan and Prunella Scales. The production was so brilliantly done that I fell in love with the characters and settings straight away, and was delighted to find, when I read the books, how faithful it was to them. Alas, my copies disappeared in a clear-out over the years (such a mistake, as always….) but I’ve often wanted to re-read them. So coming across a Bookcrossed copy locally was a treat, and it didn’t take me long to start on the book – actually while waiting for the bus home!

E.F. Benson looking jolly serious!

E.F. Benson looking jolly serious!

“Mapp and Lucia” is the fourth volume in E.F. Benson’s series of books about these two ladies, and it’s generally regarded as the one where the series takes off. Although the pair have crossed paths in previous books, the latter have been more about the individual escapades of either Mapp or Lucia. In this one, however, the ladies lock horns and a social battle ensues!

The book opens with a recently widowed Lucia contemplating returning to the social fray in her native Riseholme. Used to being the queen bee par excellence, she is unhappy about rival Daisy Quantock playing Elizabeth 1 in the local pageant and watching her machinations is a joy. But after her triumph she is a little jaded and decides she needs a change – sweeping off to the little seaside town of Tilling, with her loyal acolyte Georgie in tow, and renting Mapp’s house for the summer.

All kinds of social shenanigans follow, with the two protagonists vying for supremacy. But high drama at the end brings about a spectacular denouement which if you didn’t know it was coming (I did!) would perhaps be a little unexpected!

The wonderful cast

The wonderful cast

It has to be said that I’ve fallen in love with Mapp and Lucia and their adventures all over again. Benson’s writing is so wonderful – sparkling, witty, clever, readable; and he nails his characters perfectly. They are *appalling* people in many ways – snobbish, cliquey, bitchy and nosey – and yet I love them all! Lucia, of course, is magnificent – clever, forceful, imperious and determined always to get her own way. Mapp is her counterpart – equally determined to control the social events of Tilling, but mean-spirited, dishonest and sneaky. Georgie is a camp delight, with his painting, embroidery, loyalty to Lucia and dependence on his wonderful retainer Foljambe. The Tillingites, ranging from Diva Plaistow through Major Benjy to Quaint Irene are just a delight.

My Penguin edition comes with a fabulous introduction, musing on why we love these characters so much. I think with Lucia it’s because she is always true to herself, with a sweeping vision – although she may bully the others, she’s trying to do something big and epic. It will, of course, always reflect well on her, but nevertheless it’s always spectacular. Mapp, however, is much more parochial and stoops to much lower levels than Lucia. Seeing them duel is a real delight!

*Love* that frock!

*Love* that frock!

I remember adoring the production qualities of the TV adaptation – McEwan’s frocks were glorious and there was lots of lovely outside location filming. Because I have those actors fixed in my mind as the characters I don’t know if I shall watch the new version – but a revisit to the rest of the series of books is definitely on the cards!!

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