Genteel comedy

E.F. Benson's Mapp and Lucia comedies are great; sarcastically sharp and hilariously funny the novels follow the lives of two gentlewomen of a certain age in small town England. Clearly set in Rye on the south coast, Rye (here re-named Tilling) is confusingly teleported to somewhere near Worcester (which is also near Lucia's previous abode of Riseholme) - fine for those who are geographically challenged, but a little confusing for those who know either area.

Miss Mapp and her foe, Lucia, are both queens in their own little worlds, but when the effervescent Lucia bids to take over Miss Mapp's coterie, there are going to be knitting needles at twenty paces before too long. Set in the 1930's these are very snobbish comedies, saved from being too irritating by their sly wink at the reader. Benson knows that these people are out-and-out snobs but rather than allying himself with them he pokes fun in the most delicious manner. I've got the omnibus edition of volumes 4-6 in the series, but they're best read in small chunks, much as I enjoy them I suspect that a surfeit of Lucia could be rather nauseating. They are very much of their period, and are to be enjoyed as great period pieces.


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