E.F. Benson •
Mapp and Lucia •
Machiavelli could have learned a thing or two from the plots and counterplots of Elizabeth Mapp and Emmeline Lucas. The pair engage in full-scale social warfare in and around the sleepy English village of Tilling, their skirmishes and battles providing constant entertainment for their neighbors. (The classic Tilling response to any juicy tidbit imparted over the morning shopping is a gasped “No!”)
Lucia is an energetic social climber who affects Italophilia. Odious as her pretensions are, you can’t help rooting for her against the scheming busybody Mapp, who attempts to cloak her malicious nature in a sweetness-and-light simper that fools no one.
Their long-running feud, vigorously pursued over three delicious books, involves a sea rescue, a nude painting, an opera diva, Roman ruins, precarious investments, a closely guarded lobster recipe, and an ill-fated budgerigar, among other things. Three more books centering on the same characters take place before Lucia relocates to Tilling.
Benson, like many fine writers, revels in the sound play of words. The visit of an Indian mystic in Queen Lucia raises this delicate point of etiquette: Should one say, “How do you do, Guru”? The firm of Woolgar & Pipstow is known to Georgie Pillson, Lucia’s neighbor and confidant, as Woggles & Pipsqueak. Georgie also gets the most-quoted line in the whole series: “Children are so sticky, particularly after tea” (The Worshipful Lucia).
Anyone who enjoys a good gossip will be in heaven here.