E. F. Benson

BornEdward Frederic Benson
(1867-07-24)24 July 1867
Wellington College, Berkshire, England
Died29 February 1940(1940-02-29) (aged 72)
University College Hospital, London, England
Notable works
Notable awardsOBE
RelativesEdward White Benson (father)
Mary Benson (mother)
Robert Hugh Benson (brother)
A. C. Benson (brother)
Margaret Benson (sister)

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

Early life

The Benson brothers, 1907.

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 his wife born Mary Sidgwick ("Minnie").

E. F. Benson was the younger brother of Arthur Christopher Benson, who wrote the words to "Land of Hope and Glory", Robert Hugh Benson, author of several novels and Roman Catholic apologetic works, and Margaret Benson (Maggie), an author and amateur Egyptologist. Two other siblings died young. Benson's parents had six children and no grandchildren.

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]


Title page of Miss Mapp, 1922.

Benson was a precocious and prolific writer. His first book was Sketches from Marlborough, published while he was a student. He started his novel-writing career with the (then) fashionably controversial Dodo (1893),[further explanation needed] which was an instant success,[citation needed] and followed it with a variety of satire and romantic and supernatural melodrama. He repeated the success of Dodo, which featured a scathing description of composer and militant suffragette Ethel Smyth,[Note 1] 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".[3]

The Mapp and Lucia series, written relatively late in his career, consists of six novels and two short stories. The novels are: Queen Lucia, Miss Mapp, Lucia in London, 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.

Benson was also known as a writer of atmospheric and at times humorous or satirical ghost stories, which often were published in story magazines such as Pearson's Magazine or Hutchinson's Magazine, twenty of which were illustrated by Edmund Blampied. These "spook stories", as he called them, were 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.[1]

Benson's story David Blaize and the Blue Door (1918) is a children's fantasy influenced by the work of Lewis Carroll.[5] "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 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 titled Final Edition.

Links to Rye, East Sussex

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 named Tilling, which is recognizably based on Rye, East Sussex, where Benson lived from 1918 and served as mayor from 1934. 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 during the Second World War.[6] 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.[7]

Personal life

Benson was an intensely discreet homosexual.[8] At Cambridge, he fell in love with several fellow students, including Vincent Yorke (father of the novelist Henry Yorke), about whom he confided to his diary, "I feel perfectly mad about him just now... Ah, if only he knew, and yet I think he does."[9] In later life, Benson maintained friendships with a wide circle of homosexual men and shared a villa on the Italian island of Capri with John Ellingham Brooks;[10] before the First World War, the island had been popular with wealthy homosexual men.

Homoeroticism and a general homosexual sensibility suffuses his literary works, such as David Blaize (1916), and his most popular works are famed for their wry and dry camp humour and social observations.

Benson was a good athlete, and represented England at figure skating.[citation needed]

In London, Benson also lived at 395 Oxford Street, W1,[Note 2] where much of the action of Lucia in London occurs and where English Heritage placed a Blue Plaque during 1994.


Benson died on 29 February 1940 of throat cancer at University College Hospital, London. He is buried in the cemetery at Rye, East Sussex.



Dodo trilogy:

  1. Dodo: A Detail of the Day (1893)
  2. Dodo's Daughter (1913; published in the UK [1914] as Dodo the Second)
  3. Dodo Wonders (1921)

David Blaize series:

  1. David Blaize (1916)
  2. David Blaize and the Blue Door (1918)
  3. David of King's (1924; published in the United States as David Blaize of King's)

Mapp and Lucia series:

  1. Queen Lucia (1920)
  2. Miss Mapp (1922 [UK]; published in the United States 1923)
  3. Lucia in London (1927 [UK]; published in the United States 1928)
  4. Mapp and Lucia (1931)
  5. Lucia's Progress (1935; published in the United States as The Worshipful Lucia)
  6. Trouble for Lucia (1939)

Colin series:

  1. Colin: A Novel (1923)
  2. Colin II (1925)

Self-contained novels:

All short stories

Collections and uncollected short stories


Uncollected short stories:



Articles (selected)



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


  1. ^ Ethel Smyth "gleefully acknowledged" the description, according to actress Prunella Scales.[3]
  2. ^ Now a branch of Russell & Bromley just west of Bond Street Underground Station), 102 Oakley Street, SW3, and 25 Brompton Square, SW3.

See also


  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. ^ a b Introduction by Prunella Scales to Dodo: An Omnibus. Introduction in 1986 edition from The Hogarth Press. Original publication of novels 1893, 1914, 1921.
  4. ^ "Snopes entry on the urban legend based on the Benson story". Snopes.com. 19 September 1999. Retrieved 23 April 2014.
  5. ^ 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
  6. ^ "Lamb House in Rye, East Sussex". www.ryesussex.co.uk. Retrieved 9 December 2016.
  7. ^ "E F Benson". www.tilling.org.uk. Retrieved 10 May 2018.
  8. ^ Aldrich, Robert ; Wotherspoon, Garry: Who's Who In Gay and Lesbian History: From Antiquity to World War II, Routledge, p49
  9. ^ Masters, Brian "The Life of E. F. Benson", Chatto & Windus, 1992, p86
  10. ^ Palmer, Geoffrey: E. F. Benson, As He Was, Lennard Pub, 1988
  11. ^ "Review: Account Rendered by E. F. Benson". The Athenæum (4350): 273. 11 March 1911.
  12. ^ "Play Dinner for Eight". Great War Theatre. Retrieved 6 December 2019.
  13. ^ "New adaptation of E. F. Benson's 'Mapp and Lucia' on BBC1". 21 December 2014.

Further reading

Online collections
Physical collections
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