Although I had heard of E F Benson‘s series about these characters, I have not read one until now. I enjoyed it for the quality of the writing and the clarity and humour with which the author examines a small but active village (called Tilling) somewhere on the English coast.
Set in the 1930s it describes a society of well-heeled socialising which is probably distilled and tidied up in the interests of a clear story. We can no longer read it as the original readers did: we know the lighthearted world Benson’s characters inhabit is about to be swept away by another war. But, of course, they didn’t know it and they carried on with their gossiping, bickering and jostling for status in a round of luncheons, dinners and bridge as if it would last forever.
The two ladies of the title are both strong-willed social leaders – large fish in tiny ponds. When Lucia leaves her home village and moves to Tilling, which is Miss Mapp’s stamping ground, there is bound to be friction. The other characters gather round to enjoy the ever-so-polite but quite ruthless clashes.
I would almost describe the book as a celebration of the trivial. This is not to denigrate it. The trivial has its place in life so why not enjoy it and give it recognition? The group of characters, of course, don’t see their daily round as trivial. It is important to them who wins at bridge, who dines with who, and who takes the lead in social affairs.
Like any well written novel Mapp and Lucia touches on deeper matters. Hidden in the surface brightness are serious comments on the value of generosity and the nature of friendship, among others.
I shall probably read others in the series, next time I want high quality, diamond bright entertainment and escapism.