I am aware that some people dismiss the continuation of an old story as the worst kind of literary sacrilege. They are eager to defend the author’s original ideas, so eager, in fact, that they refuse to see how new writers breathe life into those ideas and put them into the reach of a new generation. I don’t know what E. F. Benson would think of my stories, or whether he would approve of them, but I can’t help loving his characters. So much that I want to send them on new adventures whilst giggling to myself about a ridiculous comeback that I was lucky enough to think up. There’s so much to love about Benson’s Tilling. Why stop with reading?
However, note that the following is very silly indeed. But since I enjoyed writing it so much, I decided to share it with whoever is willing to spend the time to read it.
‘Well, dear, it’s not my fault that he has only eyes for her. She is the rising star from outer space (that sleepy Riseholme, mind!), benevolent enough to bathe us poor Tillingites in her light of infinite wisdom and high culture. Pah! Fake Italian and baby-talk. She’s nothing but a fraud, that’s what I call it. There’s something shady about her, I tell you. And we are supposed to be thankful! Just think of it. A few months ago she was nothing but a tourist, and now she’s settled for good. Beethoven and tomatoes. I can’t think of what’s to come!’
Elizabeth turned to face the window. She paced up and down in front of it, which she believed to be the thoughtful strides of the lady of the house. It did, however – due to limited space – look rather like a fox in the zoo that had been caged for too long.
It took a while until Elizabeth’s theatrical reciprocating seemed to have any effect on the guest she was entertaining just now. The young lady sat in an ungainly manner, with her elbows resting on her knees and the face half buried in her hands. She was indeed thinking, almost meditating, and took no notice of her host. Her frock was midnight blue and very simple, yet her height and figure allowed her to look elegant in whatever she chose to wear. She had a pale face with round eyes and pink cheeks, not distinctly beautiful, but certainly charming. When she spoke, it came as a perfect shock to Elizabeth.
‘You do like him, don’t you, Auntie?’
‘Whom, dear? Who are you talking about?’
‘The Major, of course. You’ve always liked him. Once you mentioned in a letter that he called you ‘Miss Elizabeth’ for the first time. I could almost see you blush between the lines.’
And she did so now, although it was hardly noticable behind the healthy colour introduced to her cheeks by that fiery talk about Lucia.
‘I augur from your silence, dear Auntie, that there is something in it. I won’t torment you. And I’m glad that I have, as usual, an ace up my sleeve to sort it all out. But you need to play your part in making it a success. It’s your love life, after all.’
‘Really, Ruthie! I don’t think –.’
‘No, Auntie, dearest. Leave that to me. Your poor head must be aching already from all the conspiracies you’re conjuring up all the time. Say no more. I’ll go upstairs and will be back in a second. Don’t move. I said don’t move!’
Overall, I’ve always been a happy outsider. Even when others made it hard to stay happy. Even when the happiness seemed to vanish because I was too different. And even when I didn’t notice I was still happy inside. But I’ve stayed an outsider until today. It seems deep down, I always was happy enough.
I, the shy one, afraid of too much self-confidence, and yet starting so many sentences with the letter following H in the alphabet. I grew up with strange interests and stuck to them, I first was around other children my age when I turned three and had trouble fitting in. I talked like an adult, I ate with a fork and knife instead of a spoon and sat down to draw for hours instead of playing with the others. If they didn’t let me or I never really wanted, I don’t remember. Only that they never understood. Some were nasty, but better times came and turned worse. Worst. And better again, quite good, and finally fantastic. My life has changed so much in the past few years, and even more so in the past few months. In fact, I’ve never been happier. And never more content.
But still, there is the one conundrum about my character neither I nor anyone else seems able to wrap their head around. I am shy. I am afraid to show confidence. I am terrible in social situations. I positively dread them. And yet I talk. Far more than I should, far more than is appropriate. Talking, babbling even is my way of covering up the shyness. I’d rather talk than fall silent. Silence is the one thing I fear, especially with people I don’t know very well. It makes me helpless and I can regain control by talking alone. I’ll joke and laugh too loudly only to be embarrassed about it a split second later. Nevermind, but please no painful silence!
My case proves that talkative natures aren’t automatically extroverts. Making yourself the centre of attention makes it easier to deal with situations in which you fear to loose control. As long as you only need to manage your monologue, you are responsible only for yourself and your statements. They might be embarassing but at least it’s not your fault if the conversations takes a bad course. It’s your monologue after all, no one else is involved. A proper flood of words is an action as introverted as can be. At least in my experience. You can always ask me about it, I’ll sit in my corner and answer with a little monologue. Promise!
And yes, for anyone who was just about to ask it, there’s a kind of chiasm-like alliteration in the title.
My second great-grandfather, Philipp Fabry, born in 1863, wrote this story for Christmas 1923. It tells a remarkable, beautiful story.
The Story of the Christmas Bell
As a heavy iron plate I was loaded onto a smokey cargo train in Westphalia that took me to Offenbach on Main. There, I was driven from the station to the metal goods factory of P. Schlesinger. Many centners of the likes of me were stored there together, until two sooty men took one plate after the other to a large round press. With a forceful thrust I, round like a circle, was pushed out of the plate. Many of my comrades and I, we fell into a iron chest. There we lay united, for several days, crowded together. Then we were fetched and taken to the annealing furnace, where we were made white-hot. And as this hellish heat was overcome and we had cooled down, we were taken to another press. Loaded under the punch that was menacing above me, I received a tremendous impact and thus came by my current shape. By chance, I came to a stop lying beside the chest that took in my comrades. Thereby, I escaped further pressings that my comrades had yet to endure until they received their final shape as igniters. As I, still a workpiece (as the first pressing is called), was found, I was thrown into a chest in which there were igniters ready for despatch and we were taken to the delivery department. Lucky for me, an interested person discovered me there who took me along in the war year of 1916 and now, for Christmas 1923, dressed me in a shiny little coat to turn me into a happy Christmas bell. My pretty clang had appealed to him.
So I escaped my destiny, to rule the battlefield as an igniter, and did not need to tear human bodies apart.
I owe this to Mr Ph. Fabry.
Philipp who worked as a bookbinder and bookseller and his wife Olga did handicraft of all sorts, and Philipp had a love for poetry. There is not only a story written from the bell’s perspective but a poem, too:
Meant as a lethal igniter,
I was made into a jingling bell.
And when at beautiful Christmas time
The meadows and streets are covered in snow
Ice flowers deck the windows
And the wind ghoulishly sweeps through the chimney
When the Christmas tree is glistening in the warm parlour
And the door still hinders curious looks
I am jingling to the children’s delight
Like a jolly ray of sunshine.
Then I will tell the children all
How many heroes fell for them
In the turmoil of war everywhere
By land and on the booming sea.
How the brave, with their bodies, protected
The homeland in the rain of bullets and the thunder of grenades
Then I will tell the children big and small
How I was turned into a little bell
How they wanted to press me into a murder weapon
That we must never forget.
Yes, I am glad to be called a Christmas bell
And that I was spared from tearing humans limb from limb.
I never went on a literary pilgrimage before, but then the notion had never been more tempting: the annual Gathering of The Friends of Tilling was going to take place on my birthday this year and I had no excuses left. I joined The Friends a few months ago after immersing myself in the craze that is Mapp and Lucia (I’ve written about the books by E F Benson here) and falling head over heels in love with the witty writing and timeless characters. I had caught a glimpse of Rye last year, and I was determined to go back and enjoy its quaintness to the full. Five days of shameless fangirling – what more could you wish for?
Day 1: Thursday, 3 September
I’m not much of a traveller, and the idea of flying and having to rely on public transport abroad made me slightly uncomfortable (in other words, I was scared to death). When I boarded my plane, the idea of an impending strike of Lufthansa didn’t exactly lift my spirits, but the view of candy floss clouds soon calmed my nerves. I changed planes once and landed safely at London Heathrow, took the underground to St Pancras Station and, changing trains at Ashford International, arrived in Rye on Thursday afternoon, 3 September. My ‘base’ was the Bed & Breakfast Forge House in Wish Street, and Maggie and George welcomed me to their home. The B&B is very conveniently situated, with lovely rooms and wonderful hosts – whenever you think of going to Rye, try Forge House!
I had a first look around Rye and then, in true Diva-fashion, popped into Marino’s at The Mint to get some scrumptious fish ‘n’ chips for dinner. What a dream! After this, I went to bed so early that I actually got 11 hours of sleep. But then, I sorely needed it …
Day 2: Friday, 4 September
It was time to go exploring. After walking around Rye and taking (even more) photos, I visited Lamb House (now owned by the National Trust), the former home of Mapp & Lucia author E F Benson and Henry James before him. Benson immortalised his beloved home as Mallards, property of Elizabeth Mapp who later sells it quite happily to Lucia. Some props of the 2014 BBC series were displayed, along with original items of furniture and photos. The walled garden was by far the most enchanting part of my excursion, with countless hidden corners and a magnificent Mulberry tree. Chris, working for the National Trust, even picked a fruit for me to taste, it was quite extraordinary in every way.
I lunched at The Cobbles Tea Room where I had a lovely piece of quiche and a brownie and tea afterwards. It was such a treat, this little hidden gem is definitely worth a visit! After my fortifying break, I headed off to climb the tower of St Mary’s, just like Mapp does in order to spy on the allegedly invalid Lucia who secretly skips in the garden of Mallards. It was quite an endeavour and I had to go sideways and duck my head at times to fit through the narrow passages. But the fine view rewarded me – and I could look straight into the garden, too! Rye lay beneath my feet and it was beautiful. Also, the fresh air did me good after the amounts of food I had managed to devour. As did the exercise of climbing down again!
Day 3: Saturday, 5 September
The time had come! It was the day of the Gathering and my excitement level had reached unknown heights. Also, it was the first time that a few drops of rain made their way to Rye, but nothing could bother me on this glorious morning. The Friends of Tilling met at Rye Station to walk to Benson’s grave in Rye Cemetery outside of town. The rain stopped as we started, which was very pleasant (and exactly as we had planned, of course). We thought of Fred and made conversation – some of the Friends have known each other for years but I felt welcome right away. Everyone was truly charming and I couldn’t have been happier to be with such lovely people.
We had a Ploughman’s at the Mermaid Inn, dating back to the 12th century (!), where I was seated at ‘The Padre’s Table’ (the tables are always named after Mapp & Lucia characters). I met other Friends and enjoyed a scrumptious meal and many, many laughs. After we finished, Richard Crowest gave a talk titled ‘Never Sing Louder Than Lovely: Olga Bracely – An Appreciation’, the fictional biography of an opera diva featured in the novels, ingeniously written by Darren Reynolds. There were tears of laughter and aching jaws all round, what a success!
Between lunch and dinner, the author and Friend of Tilling Guy Fraser-Sampson was at the lovely Rye Bookshop to sign his new Mapp and Lucia novels. I bought ‘Major Benjy’ (fabulous and different and absolutely worth a read!) and I’m soon to read the follow-ups ‘Lucia on Holiday’ and ‘Au Reservoir’. Then I took some time to clad myself in 20s-inspired attire (a cream dress by Gatsbylady London and heels not fit for Rye’s cobbled streets) and went to meet with the Friends for dinner. This time, I was seated at ‘Mrs Wyse’s Table’ and once again engaged in the most wonderful conversation between courses. The food was sublime! I also tasted guinea fowl for the first time in my life and throughly enjoyed the experience.
I didn’t know I was in for a shock after the petit-four had been served: the Friends’ president, Gyles Brandreth, started his talk with birthday congratulations in the name of all the Friends of Tilling. I was given a wonderful biography of E F Benson with a very kind inscription and a little cupcake with three pink candles I of course blew out, making a (very secret) wish. The Friends even sang ‘Happy Birthday’! I was perfectly flabbergasted and lost for words, and coming from me, that means a lot! An enjoyable Mapp & Lucia-themed quiz followed (terribly ‘diffy’, as Lucia would have said). I was still exhilarated when we said our goodbyes – it was the most beautiful evening I could have ever imagined and I felt like I had made many new friends.
Day 4: Sunday, 6 September
I attempted to walk up to Military Road to see the house that inspired Lucia’s (and later Mapp’s) home Grebe, but on my way there I met two lovely ladies one of whom I had already met at the Gathering. They said they wanted to walk to Winchelsea, a small town (actually rather a small village) between the High Weald and the Romney Marsh and I spontaneously decided to come with them. Of course they invited me first, just so you know. We walked there on a footpath that went by Camber Castle, built by Henry VIII in the 16th century to protect the coast, but when the Camber and its harbours silted up, it became unusable. Now it stands in the middle of the field, a very curious sight.
On our way, we passed many hedgerows heavy with blackberries. We had a very tasty lunch in the giardino segreto of The New Inn in Winchelsea and took photos of the beautiful little place before we decided to walk directly to the coast to take a glimpse at the sea. It was quite a walk, but definitely worthwhile – the sight of the sea, so sublime and spreading as far as one could see, such a calming experience. We went back by way of Rye Harbour and I had dinner in the most beautiful little cottage. Altogether, it was a successful day of strangely relaxing exercise after so much social excitement!
Day 5: Monday, 7 September
On my last day, I once again roamed the streets of Rye and took (still even more!) photos. It was such a wonderful holiday – I met lovely people and learned why the enchanting Rye inspired Fred to create the world of Tilling. I’ll be back!
I might be writing a Mapp & Lucia Modern Day AU. But maybe it’s just a very silly idea.
‘Did you read it?’
‘My blog, silly. You said you wanted the chocolate cake recipe.’
‘Can’t you just write it down for me on a scrap of paper?’
‘I’ve written it down, on my blog, and you got WiFi three years ago, so don’t even start!’
‘This whole thing confuses me, dear. I’m more comfortable with good old pen and paper.’
‘Last time I wanted to pop by, you were researching so hard, you didn’t even notice me. I saw you with your laptop in the bow window. I can’t believe you’re too lazy to type two words into Google Search. God, Elizabeth.’
‘Oh, Diva! Isn’t it a shame they’re called social media? I’ve never felt less social in my life!’
‘Oh, come on! I know for a fact you once had a fake profile on uniformdating.com! Pretending to be a nurse… As if!’
‘Ha. You’re the one who’s been writing to ‘Paddybear55′ from datingbeginsatforty! How come you didn’t meet him yet? Worried he might realise you aren’t quite forty anymore?’
‘Well, at least I didn’t have to put on fancy dress to take my profile picture. The recipe’s tagged with ‘chocolate delights’. Au res!’
Since this blog bears a number of references to the delicious Miss Mapp-story by E F Benson involving iced redcurrant fool, we resolved to make use of the abundance of redcurrants in our garden. Now, I can proudly present our very own recipe for Grandmamma Mapp’s Redcurrant Fool.
There’s a most comical story behind this. Some day Miss Mapp, vicious heroine of the Mapp and Lucia novels, came up with the fool, and because she wanted it to cause a real stir, she claimed it to be an ancient family recipe by her ‘grandmamma’. When she was later invited to a friend’s house who served the fool herself, she was furious – theft, and right under her nose! But the delicious fool soon cooled her boiling blood. Everyone was very jolly indeed, and Miss Mapp started to talk about her ‘grandmamma Napp’… As it turned out, the inventive hostess had infused the non-alcoholic fool with a bottle and a half of champagne and half a pint of old brandy. Miss Mapp didn’t care much in the end: ‘How pleasant it all was!’
Miss Mapp was for a moment mistaken in thinking that yolk of egg (apparently an ingredient of the fool) was stimulating her so much. Our fool is egg-free and non-alcoholic of course – we wouldn’t dare to cross Miss Mapp – with some spoonfuls of wonderfully aromatic honey from our bees. My family has been keeping bees for some years, and a lot of care is taken to ensure their wellbeing and a high quality of the honey they give us. So have fun recreating this refreshing dish and read a few pages of Benson – you won’t regret either!
300 g of fresh ripe redcurrants (if you have frozen fruit, make sure that they are thoroughly thawed before using them)
350 g of whipping cream
4 tbsp of honey (you can vary the amount depending on taste or substitute the honey with powdered sugar)
1 tbsp of lemon juice
Mix the redcurrants with the honey and lemon juice, then squash them with a masher (or a fork or whatever you have handy) until they are reduced to a juicy pulp. Then, take a sieve and with a spoon strain the redcurrant pulp. By doing so, you’ll get a thick juice and the currant pips and skins will be left in the sieve. But don’t worry if a few fall through – there’s nothing wrong with a crunchy little surprise.
Now, put the redcurrant juice into the fridge and take the whipping cream out. Whisk it with an electric hand whisk until you get soft peaks when pulling the whisk out. It doesn’t have to be super stiff. If you want a fresh twist, substitute half of the whipped cream with yoghurt. You might want to sweeten the yoghurt with a little honey or powdered sugar.
You can cool both the juice and the cream for a few hours, or just use them as soon as they’re finished, depending on how hellish the weather is. It was on a whole new level of hellishness when we made our fool, so we left the unmixed ingredients in the fridge for about an hour.
When your juice and cream are as cool as you want them, layer them in glasses, starting with cream. Just dribble a nice amount of juice on each layer of cream until the glass is full, juice being the last layer. You can garnish your fool with mint leaves, little biscuits, chocolate, sprinkles or whatever may take your fancy. And then, you need nothing more than a spoon and a shady spot in the garden to enjoy the fruit of your labour – literally!
As you might have observed, I’ve changed the design of my blog and also added a few details leading directly to my latest obsession: the ‘Mapp and Lucia’ novels by British writer E. F. Benson. They are brilliant, I love them and will shamelessly tell you all about them. So sit back, grab a glass a wine (or alternatively one of redcurrant fool) and enjoy.
There are six novels altogether:
Queen Lucia (1920): introducing us to the novels’ principal heroine who rules over the village of Riseholme
Miss Mapp (1922): a peep into the life of Miss Mapp, queen bee of the village of Tilling
Lucia in London (1927): no Mapp here, since they haven’t met yet, but Lucia has inherited a London house and spends the season there
Mapp and Lucia (1931): Lucia summers in Tilling and choses it as her new home and kingdom – Mapp begs to differ
Lucia’s Progress (1935): Lucia becomes the Queen of Tilling, Mapp fights her like a force of nature
Trouble for Lucia (1939): Lucia’s newly gained power goes to her head, but she doesn’t want to stop just there
There are also two short stories set in Tilling during the reign of Mapp: The Male Impersonator and Desirable Residences. I have yet to read the second, but I adored the first.
One (TV) review summarised ‘Mapp and Lucia’ as ‘beautifully tart one-upmanship’ and I wholeheartedly agree. It’s a story about upper middle class women who have nothing much to do, but want to make sure they are busy at all times. So they spy on their neighbours, conjure up conspiracies and gossip as much as one possibly can. There’s always a gathering to organise, or a bridge party, or practically any event enabling the discussion of the latest news. Lucia gets bored of reigning Riseholme (pronounced ‘rizzum’), decides to take Mapp’s place as Queen of Tilling and finally succeeds since she is the cleverer bully of the two. Mapp is furious, rages, and loses everything. But she’s not the one to ever give up! Altogether, it’s a joy to read, since the plotlines following absurd trivialities are familiar to anyone who is or has been a member of any kind of small-scale community. The stories are a rich source of the juiciest sarcasm and do indeed tell the truth about people ‘making their lives’, as Miranda Richardson put it so fittingly.
Mrs Emmeline Lucas (known as Lucia, Italian for ‘the wife of Lucas’): A snob, a fraud and ravishingly brilliant. Tall and handsome, she’s a keen italophil, loves Beethoven (whose Moonlight Sonata – or rather the first movement thereof – she constantly plays on the piano) and effortlessly rules everyone around her. She doesn’t fear feigning interest in anything that’s new – as long as she can make sure to annex it and present it as her own discovery.
Miss Elizabeth Mapp: A ‘handsome hyena’ with impressive teeth and the nosiest, angriest neighbour ever imaginable. She always has her binoculars ready, is full of vigour and bile and will know things before anyone else even dreams of them. Mapp has a certain weakness for her neighbour, the retired Major Benjy, and is ready to do anything to secure him. Being more fallible than Lucia, one might at times side with her, but she is originally designed as Lucia’s nemesis – and doesn’t disappoint.
Georgie Pillson: Lucia’s right-hand man, occasionally bearing a streak of Bolshevism in his well-dressed breast, which he doesn’t usually allow to break through. He enjoys needlework and painting, sports an impressive collection of ‘bibelots’ and wears an auburn toupet (but please don’t tell!). Georgie is kind-hearted and polite, a loyal friend to Lucia, but certainly shouldn’t be underrated. If his queen does indeed fail, he’s the prince consort to make it alright again. And he wears a lovely little cape.
The minor characters (Riseholmites and Tillingites alike) are brilliantly written, with great detail and lots of wit.
In Riseholme, we have Daisy Quantock always following the latest fads – nothing from Christian Science to Ouija is safe from her insatiable appetite. There is talkative, red-faced Mrs Weston in her bath chair, Colonel Boucher who has his eye on her, deaf Mrs Antrobus, constantly carrying an ear-trumpet, and her skipping and gambolling daughters Piggy and Goosie, who are not (as one might assume) teenagers, but in their mid-thirties.
In Tilling, there’s wonderfully forthright Diva Plaistow with her ‘circular feet’, trundling along talking like a telegram, thoroughly modern ‘Quaint’ Irene Coles who wears slacks and paints pictures of naked men and women alike, the vicar (called ‘Padre‘) who comes from Birmingham but talks Scotch, his mouse-like ‘wee wifey’ Evie Bartlett, Susan Wyse wearing her fur coat throughout the year and driving a Royce to cross distances of just a few hundred yards – not to forget her husband Algernon, polite to the extreme and bowing to everyone (and everything). And, last but not least, the gallant, golf-playing, whiskey-drinking Major Benjy, Miss Mapp’s love interest.
Georgie and Quaint Irene are quite obviously homosexual, like Benson himself – a topic that is dealt with in a surprisingly progressive way. Georgie and Irene are respected members of their community (of course, no one openly addresses their sexuality, but it is reflected in their behaviour and pointed out by Benson), they are both likeable and strong, and although people are occasionally turning up their noses at their little quirks, they would never change their ways.
The TV Adaptations
Channel 4 TV Series, 2 Series, 10 Episodes (1985-86)
This classic adaptation is well beloved by fans and spans the last three novels. The wonderful Geraldine McEwan gave a brilliant Lucia, all airs and graces, untouchably haughty with a magnificent range of voice, but indeed adorable. Prunella Scales was Mapp, sweet, smiley and marvellously sickening, showing off a seemingly calm exterior, but certainly boiling inside. And of course, Nigel Hawthorne gave a lovely Georgie, polite, charming and very likable, but nobody’s fool.
BBC TV Series, 1 Series, 3 Episodes (2014)
The latest take on adapting Mapp and Lucia for the screen took its material mainly from the third novel, but borrowed plotlines from ‘Queen Lucia’, inserting them from Riseholme into Tilling, and ‘Miss Mapp’ (which worked very well). Anna Chancellor impressed as a slightly bohemian, incredibly snobbish but equally enchanting Lucia. Mapp was played by Miranda Richardson, whose achingly fixed smile, outrageous use of voice and relentless vigour certainly didn’t fail their purpose. Steve Pemberton’s (he also wrote the script) Georgie was very sweet, warm-hearted and clever, showing off his various interests and abilities.
I learned about M&L via the 2014 TV series. Judging by the first promotional photos on tumblr, I thought it was a detective story in the fashion of Agatha Christie’s Marple, with two lady sleuths and a colourfully dressed sidekick (forgive me, Georgie!). When I actually watched it, I quickly fell in love with the beautiful scenery of Rye. E. F. Benson lived there and was major for some years, modeling Tilling on the seaside village he knew so well. You can directly translate each and every street, even singular houses! I visited Rye in the summer of 2014, shortly after filming took place, but didn’t know anything about it then. Now I’m determined to go back and look at it in a completely new light. I usually don’t think it wise to start with watching an adaptation before reading the books. But they are fairly unknown to a younger readership, or any readership, for that, especially in Germany, so in this particular case, I was glad to get to know them at all.
Firstly, I didn’t watch the whole of the 80s series, which means that I won’t make any judgements about it. Secondly, I don’t believe in comparing two formats which do not only differ in length and concept, but have also been filmed almost 30 years apart. After all, there’s no accounting for taste. The 2014 version is made for a 21st century audience: it’s quickly paced, bright and colourful, presenting the characters in a sympathetic way. Steve Pemberton said in an interview that in the process of writing, his heart ‘went out to Mapp’ since Lucia is always two steps ahead, taking everything from her. This becomes obvious when looking at the depiction of the respective ladies. Mapp does have a few scenes where we are granted a look into her interior and see that in fact, she’s sad, lonely and afraid to lose everything she lives for. Then, there’s Major Benjy comforting her with a kind heart and honest affection.
The Channel 4 series lacks this kind of modern kindness towards the characters. Reading the books, you’ll also look for it in vain. The novels are very sharp and clever, but do not aim at describing the characters’ inmost feelings – we get to know their motivations and designs, but little about what’s in their hearts. It wouldn’t be as funny if we did. And although I admired the way in which Miranda Richardson gave Mapp personality, playing her very much like she’s been written by Benson, with an added touch of heart (that is very credible), it was not one of Benson’s original intentions. A book is, after all, a book, and a TV series something completely different. What was expected from TV in the 80s again differs from what is expected now, and I believe that both adaptations do credit to their purpose. I fell in love with Richardson’s Mapp, and I probably wouldn’t have by reading the books. This enables me to see Benson’s Mapp in a different light, to be critical, to reflect on the sympathy for characters like her that seems so essential in a contemporary discourse. It doesn’t suffice just to label the new series as a crowd-pleaser (since it couldn’t draw an audience great enough to be renewed for a second series). We should rather ask ourselves why it has been created in said way to meet with the expectations of the 21st century viewer.
As a little taster (and an explanation for the strange hints hidden all over my blog), here’s an excerpt from my favourite M&L novel, Miss Mapp (which else could it be?). There’s a bridge party and everybody is in quite a jolly mood, but the non-alcoholic redcurrant fool being served can hardly be the reason – or can it?
Even that one glass of redcurrant fool, though there was no champagne in it, had produced, together with the certainty that her opponent had overbidden his hand, a pleasant exhilaration in Miss Mapp; but yolk of egg, as everybody knew, was a strong stimulant.
Suddenly the name redcurrant fool seemed very amusing to her. ‘Redcurrant fool!’ she said. ‘What a quaint, old-fashioned name! I shall invent some others. I shall tell my cook to make some gooseberry idiot, or strawberry donkey… My play, I think. A ducky little ace of spades.’
‘Haw! Haw! Gooseberry idiot!’ said her partner. ‘Capital! You won’t beat that in a hurry! And a two of spades on the top of it.’
Do you want to read Mapp and Lucia straight away? They are on Project Gutenberg for free, just click on the links:
Deryck Solomon has a very clever blog, the Mapp & Lucia Glossary, explaining practically anything you might stumble upon when reading the novels. He also writes stories about Tilling’s senior police officer, Herbert Morrison.
For more info on the 2014 BBC series, click here. This page sports nice and short descriptions of the principal Tillingites as well as interviews with the actors.
And of course, there is a group of avid Mapp & Lucia admirers, The Friends of Tillingwho organise an annual gathering in Rye to honour E. F. Benson and his creation. They’re on Twitter, too!