Mapp and Lucia

By E.F Benson
  • Classic
  • Fiction
  • Humour

E. F. Benson (1867-1940) came from an extraordinarily gifted family. His father, Edward White Benson was an Archbishop of Canterbury, his brother Arthur Christopher Benson wrote the words to ‘Land of Hope and Glory’, another brother, Robert Hugh Benson was also a novelist and their sister, Margaret a noted Egyptologist. Benson himself was an archaeologist, memoirist, short story writer and novelist. His fame now rests on his comic novels, particularly the series of novels that feature the characters Elizabeth Mapp and Emmeline Lucas or Lucia. His two protagonists first meet in Mapp and Lucia published in 1931, but he introduced them to readers in earlier works, Queen Lucia (1920), Miss Mapp (1922) and Lucia in London (1922). In each of the earlier novels the main character strives to maintain dominance in her social milieu - Lucia in the picturesque village of Riseholme and Mapp in the seaside town of Tilling - using all the means at her disposal to do so, invariably with comic results. It is inevitable when these two social lionesses meet, a battle royal begins to see which of them will be queen bee of Tilling. Every tea party, bridge evening, music recital or garden fete becomes a battle ground for the two competing grande dames of Tilling to the delight of the extraordinary cast of characters that surround them. The struggle to be first lady of Tilling society continues in two further novels, Lucia’s Progress (1935) and Trouble for Lucia (1939). The novels have been adapted for television twice. Channel 4’s Mapp and Lucia ran for two seasons in 1985 and 1986 and had Prunella Scales and the late Gerladine McEwan in the main roles. More recently, the BBC’s Mapp and Lucia cast Anna Chancellor and Miranda Richardson. A number of writers have attempted to continue the rivalry of Mapp and Lucia since Benson’s death. Perhaps the best of these ‘continuations ‘is Tom Holt’s Lucia in Wartime (1985) which is set in World War Two and comes quite close to capturing the comic tone of the originals.

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