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A fun, festive (and surprisingly chilling!) little diversion… #efbenson #ghoststories #christmas

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How Fear Departed from the Long Gallery by E.F. Benson

I don’t quite know why it is that ghost stories are so closely connected with Christmas – but they do seem to be! I hadn’t planned to squeeze in any festive scariness this year, but I found myself with an odd 15 minutes spare at work before the holidays and with no book to hand – the horror! Fortunately, I did have a tablet with me and as I’d just read somewhere (and I can’t remember where – possibly Twitter?) about this engaging-sound short work, I tracked down a copy and it certainly did entertain me nicely!

E. F. Benson [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Benson is an author I’ve read quite a lot of, in the main the Mapp and Lucia stories I think. However, he seems to also be known as a short story writer, and there are collections of his ghost stories floating around on the Internet. This particular tale seems to get a lot of online coverage, and it’s not hard to see why – it’s a real little gem! The action takes place in the house of Church-Peveril, and the opening line sets the scene beautifully:

Church-Peveril is a house so beset and frequented by spectres, both visible and audible, that none of the family which it shelters under its acre and a half of green copper roofs takes psychical phenomena with any seriousness.

Immediately we’re in a milieu where ghosts are part of everyday life and the shades of the family ancestors are familiar and welcome. In some ways, I was straight away reminded of Wilde’s “The Canterville Ghost”, and certainly Benson’s spooks are mostly benign. However, as with all families, there are the black sheep, and one particular part of the house has a haunting which is not to be endured – the Long Gallery of the title. This is to be avoided at all costs between sunset and sunrise, on pain of an awful fate, and the grim events which led to the manifestation which takes place there (two murdered infants) are related in the story. Alas, it seems as though one of the young family members may well be nodding off in the Long Gallery as the story progresses – is a dreadful demise in store?

I shan’t say any more about the story except to tell you to go and track down a copy if you want an involving, chilly and yet moving read. “Long Gallery…” manages to be witty, scary and thought-provoking all in one. There’s a villain who gets his comeuppance, unresolved trauma, and a moral ending with goodness seen as overcoming evil. It really is a delight of a read, and reminded me how much I like Benson’s writing; it even made me think I ought to track down a copy of his ghost stories, despite the fact I’m really not good at spooky reading (particularly at night – I abandoned Edith Wharton’s Ghost Story collection after reading the first one because it made me too nervy to put the light out!).

But there’s a warmth to Benson’s story, a feeling of resolution, that things will be all right in the end and that even the most awful things can be overcome. It made a wonderful diversion just when I needed one and at about 17 pages long (in the digital version I found) is a quick read. Perfect! 😀

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Sparkly new Mapp and Lucia from Hesperus Press!

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Unless  you’ve been hiding away under a non-bookish rock somewhere, you’re probably aware that the BBC are reviving E.F. Benson’s absolutely wonderful “Mapp and Lucia” for a new series this autumn. I confess to being a devotee of the original 1980s adaptation, so I may be approaching this new version a little nervously….

However, what is lovely is that Hesperus Press, one of my favourite publishing houses, has brought out a gorgeous new edition of the book and this is what it looks like:

Mapp & Lucia

It’s the usual quality Hesperus production, complete with French flaps (I do love French flaps on paperbacks!) and has replaced my rather tired Penguin volume which has gone off to the charity shop. I re-read and loved and reviewed “Mapp and Lucia” here – and if you haven’t yet had the pleasure, I suggest rushing out the nearest book emporium and picking up this lovely edition. I wonder if they will put any more of the series? 🙂

Re-reading Mapp and Lucia

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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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