E. F. Benson

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E. F. Benson
E. F. Benson.jpg
Born Edward Frederic Benson
(1867-07-24)24 July 1867
Wellington College, Berkshire
Died 29 February 1940(1940-02-29) (aged 72)
University College Hospital, London
Occupation Writer
Nationality British
Notable works
Notable awards OBE
Spouse Bachelor
Relatives Edward White Benson (father)
Robert Hugh Benson (brother)
A. C. Benson (brother)

Edward Frederic "E. F." Benson (24 July 1867 – 29 February 1940) was an English novelist, biographer, memoirist, archaeologist and short story writer.


E. F. Benson was born at Wellington College in Berkshire, the fifth child of the headmaster, Edward White Benson (later Chancellor of Lincoln Cathedral, Bishop of Truro and Archbishop of Canterbury), and Mary Sidgwick Benson ("Minnie").

Benson was educated at Temple Grove School, then at Marlborough College, where he wrote some of his earliest works and upon which he based his novel David Blaize. He continued his education at King's College, Cambridge.[1] At Cambridge, he was a member of the Pitt Club,[2] and later in life he became an honorary fellow of Magdalene College.[1]

The Benson brothers, 1907.

E. F. Benson was the younger brother of Arthur Christopher Benson, who wrote the words to "Land of Hope and Glory", Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson, author of several novels and Roman Catholic apologetic works, and Margaret Benson (Maggie), an amateur Egyptologist. Two other siblings died young. Benson's parents had six children and no grandchildren. E. F. Benson never married, and is speculated to have been homosexual.[3][4] Proponents of this theory point to what they consider the implicit (though admittedly critical) homoeroticism of his university works such as David Blaize (1916), his appreciation of the qualities of young men, as in "The Blotting Book" (1908), and his friendships with admitted homosexuals such as John Ellingham Brooks with whom he shared a villa in Capri.[5] (Prior to the First World War the island was extremely popular with well-to-do homosexuals).

E. F. Benson was an excellent athlete, and represented England at figure skating. He was a precocious and prolific writer, publishing his first book while still a student. Nowadays he is principally known for his Mapp and Lucia series about Emmeline "Lucia" Lucas and Elizabeth Mapp.

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.

Benson died in 1940 of throat cancer at the University College Hospital, London. He is buried in the cemetery at Rye, East Sussex.


Title page of Miss Mapp, 1922.

Benson's first book was Sketches from Marlborough. He started his novel writing career with the (then) fashionably controversial Dodo (1893), which was an instant success, and followed it with a variety of satire and romantic and supernatural melodrama. He repeated the success of Dodo, which featured a scathing portrait of composer and militant suffragette Ethel Smyth (which she "gleefully acknowledged", according to actress Prunella Scales), with the same cast of characters a generation later: Dodo the Second (1914), "a unique chronicle of the pre-1914 Bright Young Things" and Dodo Wonders (1921), "a first-hand social history of the Great War in Mayfair and the Shires".[6] The Mapp and Lucia series, written relatively late in his career, consists of six novels and two short stories. 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 United States) and Trouble for Lucia. The short stories are "The Male Impersonator" and "Desirable Residences". Both appear in anthologies of Benson's short stories, and the former is also often appended to the end of the novel Miss Mapp.

The last three novels 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 four have been adapted for BBC Radio 4 by both Aubrey Woods and (most recently) Ned Sherrin; the fifth, Lucia's Progress, was adapted for BBC Radio 4 in 2008 by John Peacock. During 2007, the television series was rerun on the British digital channel ITV3. A new 3-part adaptation written by Steve Pemberton was broadcast across three nights on BBC One; 29th, 30th, and 31 December 2014.[7]

Benson was also known as a writer of atmospheric, oblique, and at times humorous or satirical ghost stories, which were often first published in story magazines such as Pearson's Magazine or Hutchinson's Magazine, 20 of which were illustrated by Edmund Blampied. These "spook stories", as they were also called, were then reprinted in collections by his principal publisher, Walter Hutchinson. His 1906 short story, "The Bus-Conductor", a fatal-crash premonition tale about a person haunted by a hearse driver, has been adapted several times, notably in 1944 (in the film Dead of Night and as an anecdote in Bennett Cerf's Ghost Stories anthology published the same year) and in a 1961 episode of The Twilight Zone. The catchphrase from the story, "Room for one more", even spawned an urban legend,[8] and also appears in the 1986 Oingo Boingo song, "Dead Man's Party".

Benson's David Blaize and the Blue Door (1918) is a children's fantasy influenced by the work of Lewis Carroll.[9] "Mr Tilly's Seance" is a witty and amusing story about a man flattened by a traction-engine who finds himself dead and conscious on the 'other side'. Other notable stories are the eerie "The Room in the Tower" and "Pirates".

Benson is also known for a series of biographies/autobiographies and memoirs, including one of Charlotte Brontë. His last book, delivered to his publisher ten days before his death, was an autobiography entitled Final Edition.

H. P. Lovecraft spoke highly of Benson's works in his "Supernatural Horror in Literature", most notably of his story "The Man Who Went Too Far".

Further "Mapp and Lucia" books have been written by Tom Holt, Guy Fraser-Sampson, and Ian Shepherd.

Links to Rye, East Sussex[edit]

Lamb House, home of E. F. Benson and model for "Mallards" in the Lucia series.

The principal setting of four of the Mapp and Lucia 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, Mapp's—and ultimately Lucia's—home in some of the Tilling series. There really was a handsome "Garden Room" adjoining the street but it was destroyed by a bomb in the Second World War.[10] Lamb House attracted writers: it was earlier the home of Henry James, and later of Rumer Godden.

He donated a Church window of the main parish church in Rye, St Mary's, in memory of his brother, as well as providing a gift of a viewing platform overlooking the Town Salts.[11]


Mapp and Lucia[edit]

Also known as the Make Way For Lucia series

Other novels[edit]

Short story collections[edit]

  • Six Common Things (1893 [UK]; published in the USA as A Double Overture 1894)
  • The Room in the Tower, and Other Stories (1912)
    • "The Room in the Tower", "Gavon's Eve", "The Dust-Cloud", "The Confession of Charles Linkworth", "At Abdul Alt's Grave", "The Shootings of Achnaleish", "How Fear Departed from the Long Gallery", "Caterpillars", "The Cat", "The Bus-Conductor", "The Man Who Went Too Far", "Between the Lights", "Outside the Door", "The Other Bed", "The Thing in the Hall", "The House with the Brick-Kiln", "The Terror by Night"
  • The Countess of Lowndes Square, and Other Stories (1920)
  • Visible and Invisible (1923 [UK]; published in the USA 1924)
    • "And the dead Spoke...", "The Outcast", "Machon", "Negotium Perambulans...", "At the Farmhouse", " Inscrutable Decrees", "The Gardener", Mr Tilly's Seance", "Mrs Amworth", "In the Tube", "Roderick's Story", "The Horror Horn"
  • "And the Dead Spake—", and The Horror Horn (1923)
  • Expiation, and Naboth's Vineyard (1924)
  • Spook Stories (1928)
    • "Reconciliation", "The Face", "Spinach", "Bagnell terrace", "A Tale of an Empty House", "Naboth's Vineyard", "Expiation", "Home, Sweet Home", "And No Birds Sing", "The Corner House", "Corstophine", "The Temple"
  • The Male Impersonator (1929)
  • More Spook Stories (1934)
    • "The Step", "The Bed by the Window", "James Lamp", "The Dance", "The Hanging of Alfred Wadham", "The Wishing-Well", "The Bath-Chair", "Pirates", "Monkeys", "Christopher Came Back", "The Sanctuary", "Thursday Evenings", "The Psychical Mallards".
  • Old London (1937: four novellas: Portrait of an English Nobleman; Janet; Friend of the Rich; The Unwanted)
  • The Flint Knife: Further Spook Stories by E. F. Benson; (Equation, 1988) Edited by Jack Adrian (Contains twelve ghost stories none of which had previously been published in volume form, plus the three ghost tales which had appeared in The Countess of Lowndes Square)
  • Desirable Residences and Other Stories (1991) Edited by Jack Adrian
  • The Collected Ghost Stories of E. F. Benson (Carroll & Graf, 1992) Edited by Richard Dalby (Omnibus ed of The Room in the Tower, Visible and Invisible, Spook Stories, and More Spook Stories, with the addition of an essay on "The Clonmel Witch Burning".) The collection omits all of the stories collected by Jack Adrian in The Flint Knife: Further Spook Stories by E. F. Benson
  • Fine Feathers and Other Stories (Oxford University Press, 1994). Edited by Jack Adrian. Divided into thematic sections including 'Crook Stories', 'Sardonic Stories', 'Society Stories', Crank Stories', and 'Spook Stories'. (The three 'Spook Stories' printed here do not appear in either The Flint Knife or The Collected Ghost Stories).
  • The Collected Spook Stories (Ash-Tree Press; Vol.1: The Terror by Night, 1998; Vol. 2: The Passenger, 1999; Vol. 3: Mrs Amworth, 2001; Vol. 4: The Face, 2003; Vol. 5: Sea Mist, 2005). This series collects all of E. F. Benson's supernatural fiction.


  • Sketches from Marlborough (1888)
  • Notes on Excavations in Alexandrian Cemeteries [in collaboration with D. G. Hogarth] (1895; pamphlet)
  • Daily Training [in collaboration with Eustace H. Miles] (1902; physical and mental fitness)
  • The Mad Annual [with Eustace Miles] (1903)
  • A Book of Golf [edited with E. H. Miles] (1903)
  • The Cricket of Abel, Hirst and Shrewsbury [edited with Eustace H. Miles] (1903)
  • Two Generations [10-page pamphlet] (1904; published by the London Daily Mail)
  • Diversions Day by Day [with Eustace Miles] (1905)
  • English Figure Skating (1908)
  • Bensoniana (1912)
  • Winter Sports in Switzerland (1913)
  • Thoughts from E. F. Benson [compiled by E. E. Norton] (1913)
  • Thoughts from E. F. Benson [compiled by H. B. Elliott] (1917)
  • Deutschland Über Allah (1918; republished in Crescent and Iron Cross qv)
  • Crescent and Iron Cross George H. Doran Company (1918)
  • Poland and Mittel-Europa (1918 [UK]; published in the USA 1919; reprinted as The White Eagle of Poland)
  • The Social Value of Temperance (1919)
  • Sir Francis Drake (1927)
  • The Life of Alcibiades (1928)
  • From Abraham to Christ (1928; pamphlet)
  • As We Were: A Victorian Peepshow (1930)
  • Ferdinand Magellan (1929 [UK]; published in the USA 1930)
  • Henry James: Letters to A. C. Benson and Auguste Monod [editor] (1930)
  • As We Are (1932)
  • Charlotte Brontë (1932)
  • King Edward VII (1933)
  • The Outbreak of War, 1914 (1933 [UK]; published in the USA 1934)
  • Queen Victoria (1935)
  • The Kaiser and English Relations (1936)
  • Charlotte, Anne and Emily Brontë (1936; essay)
  • Queen Victoria's Daughters (1938 [USA]; published in the UK [1939] as The Daughters of Queen Victoria)


Selected articles[edit]

  • "A Question of Taste," The Nineteenth Century, Volume 34, July/December 1893
  • The Recent 'Witch Burning' at Clonmel [aka The Clonmel Witch Burning] (1895)
  • Sheridan LeFanu, 1931, republished in Reflections in a Glass Darkly: Essays on J. Sheridan LeFanu, 2011
  • The King and His Reign, a series of twelve articles published in The Spectator between 22 February and 9 May 1935, to commemorate the silver jubilee of King George V


  • Aunt Jeannie (1902; unpublished)
  • Dodo (1905; unpublished)
  • The Friend in the Garden (1906; unpublished)
  • Dinner for Eight (1915; unpublished)
  • The Luck of the Vails (1928; unpublished)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Benson, Edward Frederic (BN887EF)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge. 
  2. ^ Benson, Edward Frederic (1920). Our Family Affairs, 1867–1896. London, New York, Toronto, and Melbourne: Cassell and Company, Ltd. p. 231. 
  3. ^ Aldrich, Robert and Wotherspoon, Garry: Who's Who In Gay and Lesbian History: From Antiquity to World War II, Routledge p49
  4. ^ Penguin Classics: Features
  5. ^ Palmer, Geoffrey: E. F. Benson, As He Was, Lennard Pub, 1988
  6. ^ Introduction by Prunella Scales to Dodo: An Omnibus. Introduction in 1986 edition from The Hogarth Press. Original publication of novels 1893, 1914, 1921.
  7. ^ "New adaptation of E. F. Benson's 'Mapp and Lucia' on BBC1". 21 Dec 2014. 
  8. ^ "Snopes entry on the urban legend based on the Benson story". Snopes.com. Retrieved 2014-04-23. 
  9. ^ Morgan, Chris, "E. F. Benson" in, E. F. Bleiler, ed. Supernatural Fiction Writers. New York: Scribner's, 1985. pp.491–496. ISBN 0-684-17808-7
  10. ^ "Lamb House in Rye, East Sussex". www.ryesussex.co.uk. Retrieved 9 December 2016. 
  11. ^ http://www.tilling.org.uk/friendsoftilling/efbenson.html
  12. ^ "Review: Account Rendered by E. F. Benson". The Athenæum (no. 4350): 273. 11 March 1911. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Bleiler, Everett (1948). The Checklist of Fantastic Literature. Chicago: Shasta Publishers. pp. 47–48. 
  • Goldhill, Simon. A Very Queer Family Indeed: Sex, Religion, and the Bensons in Victorian Britain, University of Chicago Press, 2016. ISBN 978-0226393780
  • Joshi, S.T.. "E. F. Benson: Spooks and More Spooks" in The Evolution of the Weird Tale Hippocampus Press, 2004, 59-65. ISBN 0974878928
  • Masters, Brian. The Life of E. F. Benson. Chatto & Windus, 1991. ISBN 0-7011-3566-2
  • Morgan, Chris, "E. F. Benson" in, E. F. Bleiler, ed. Supernatural Fiction Writers. Scribner's, 1985. ISBN 0-684-17808-7
  • Palmer, Geoffrey and Lloyd, Noel. E. F. Benson As He Was, Lennard Publishing, 1988.
  • Searles, A. L. "The Short fiction of Benson" in Frank N. Magill, ed. Survey of Modern Fantasy Literature, Vol 3. Salem Press, Inc., 1983. ISBN 0-89356-450-8
  • Vicinus, M. (2004). Intimate Friends: women who loved women (1778–1928). Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-85563-5. 
  • Watkins, Gwen. E. F. Benson and His Family and Friends. Rye, Sussex: E. F. Benson Society, 2003. ISBN 1-898659-06-0

External links[edit]