I am an opsimath. An opsimath, according to the Oxford Dictionary is 'a person who begins to learn or study later in life'.
Well, as far as the wonderful Mapp and Lucia books by EF Benson are concerned, I definitely fall into this category and yet I feel rather glad that I have only just discovered them. Heard about them, saw them on the shelves years ago when I worked in the library system and wondered what they were about, knew there was a TV series but never watched it. Why? Answer comes there none. I can only assume they were lurking in a corner knowing that one day I would find them and appreciate them and now this day has finally arrived.
I was in Waterstones in Cambridge a couple of weeks ago and decided to purchase the omnibus edition of the first three novels, there is a second omnibus but I decided just to buy the one in case I found I did not like them.
Yes ok gales of merriment all round.
I have been punished for this slip as both Waterstones in Colchester (we actually have two), where I made a special trip this morning, did not have them in stock and when I mentioned Mapp and Lucia to the under age, spotty youth on the counter, I received the usual blank look and 'er well I will just go and look on the computer'. Told him not to bother, I have had enough of computers this week. So Amazon it is and I will have to twiddle my thumbs and learn to be patient until they arrive.
I am sure there is no need for me to give a detailed review of these books because if you know and love them already, and many of you will, it is all familiar to you. If you do not know of them, then please take note of this aging opsimath and go out and buy them and prepare for the delight in store. The portrait of Lucia, snobbish, pretentious, and Queen of Riseholme is irresistible. Her playing of the slow movement of the Moonlight Sonata (she cannot manage the others) her enraptured sigh at the end, her use of Italian phrases, her husband is Pepino, her friend George is Georgino, everything is molto bene and friends are caro mio, are simply wonderful. I once had a friend who used to do this and answered his phone with Pronto! Perhaps he was a fan and I did not know it...
Miss Mapp, whom we meet in the second book, is even more magnificent than Lucia, if that is possible. She lives in the village of Tilling and she, in her turn, is Queen of all she surveys. I am looking forward to their meeting up (when I can get my hands on the next omnibus) as I am sure sparks are going to fly.
The third - Lucia goes to London - is quite quite superb. Lucia hits town and nothing, but nothing stands in her way as she acquires a place in society. She is quite ruthless in 'getting on' and in the end a society of Luciaphils is founded, whose members are enchanted by her hypocrisy, duplicity and push and shove and all admire her enormously.
After reading these three, the main thought that crossed my mind was how exhausting it all was. This constant maneuvering to be first in everything, to have a choice bit of news to pass on before anybody else, the seizing on of every slight deviation and the hours spend pondering on what it all means and to second guess other villagers. Seems to me that the entire population of RIsehome and Tilling are either hiding behind twitching curtains watching their neighbours, rushing around gossiping and trying to prise secrets out of each other, or trying out outdo everybody else. As I said, quite exhausting.
I am simply delighted to have discovered these books and spent all of last week counting the hours at work till I could get home and read some more (no point in trying to read on the train, I just fall asleep) and I have loved every single word. My edition has this quote on the front:
Noel Coward said he was ''like a fish on a hook'' when it came to the pair, a sentiment echoed by such luminaries as Cyril Ritchard, Gertrude Lawrence, W. H. Auden and the critic Gilbert Seldes. In the 1950's, several theater and literary lights were listed by a New York bookshop as ''willing to pay anything'' for Lucia books, then out of print.
This comment appears in an article in the New York Times which I stumbled upon and here is a link;
and I have also found another post over on one of my favourite blogs Cornflower and here is the link. Just take a look at the wonderful pictures used in this post - they are just right for the subject matter:
I now feel I am in great danger of becoming totally besotted with these books and turning into a crashing bore on the subject of E F Benson, but what joy it has been already to find I know so many people who have loved these books for years and with whom I can exchange comments and laughter.
I may have come late to the party but I am glad I have finally arrived.