I’m not quite sure how I have managed to make it to my advanced age without ever having read any of E F Benson’s Mapp and Lucia books – but there it is. I am now delightedly anticipating the remaining books I have to look forward to. I actually read this first book in Volume one of Wordsworth classics The Complete Mapp and Lucia – which contains the first three novels. I like to spread out such delicious treats however, so I have decided to read (and review) each book separately – although I suspect I will be reading at least one of the next two books this month.
In ‘Queen Lucia’ we are introduced to the very genteel atmosphere of Riseholme where no one seems to do anything very much; but read, listen to music, plan dinner parties, indulge in the latest fad of the moment, and speculate about their neighbours.
“The hours of the morning between breakfast and lunch were the time which the inhabitants of Riseholme chiefly devoted to spying on each other.”
The undisputed queen of Riseholme is Mrs Emmeline Lucas – otherwise known as Lucia, who lives in three Elizabethan cottages made into one, surrounded by her Shakespearean garden (beds named for Shakespearean characters). Nothing of a remotely social or artistic nature takes place is Riseholme without Lucia being at the heart of its inception and preparation. Always at her side is her husband Philip – or “Pepino” and her “gentleman-in-waiting” Georgie. Lucia is hilariously affected, she pretends to speak Italian – despite only knowing a few phrases, practises playing new pieces of music, then upon sitting down to play declares it to be the first time she has tried it. Using baby language with Georgie while plotting to retain her hold over Riseholme society, Lucia goes as far as to “steal” her neighbour Daisy Quantock’s “Guru” – in order to continue to hold sway. Moving Daisy’s Indian Guru into her spare room so he can hold his yoga classes in her house is just one of the ways Lucia connives to put herself at the centre of Riseholme society.
“Throughout August, guruism reigned supreme over the cultured life of Riseholme, and the priestess and dispenser of its mysteries was Lucia. Never before had she ruled from so elate a pinnacle, nor wielded so secure a supremacy. None had access to the guru but through her: all his classes were held in the smoking- parlour and he meditated only in Hamlet or in the sequestered arbour at the end of the laburnum walk. Once he had meditated on the village green, but Lucia did not approve of that and had led him, still rapt, home by the hand.”
Lucia’s reign is soon threatened however, when a professional singer and Italian speaking beauty sweeps into Riseholme, captivating all – especially Georgie. Olga Bracely’s presence leads to a couple of very unfortunate and highly embarrassing episodes for poor Lucia, which hardly endears the newcomer to her.
Wonderfully satirical and hugely witty Queen Lucia is an absolute guaranteed literary pick-me-up. Many of the characters – in fact almost all of them are not really very likeable – however in a funny way that is definitely part of the charm. Lucia is fairly monstrous in her way, although not absolutely hateful. She is pretentious, snobbish and hypocritical, although also very slightly pitiful, there were moments I started to feel sorry for her. Georgie however is a comic delight, very vain and very camp he indulges Lucia in her pretensions, before being blinded by the light that is Olga Bracely. I adored the hilarious Daisy Quantock and her series of fads, having once been fascinated by Christian Science, she takes up yoga, and after losing her guru, embraces spiritualism, and which ever new fad Daisy endorses Lucia is soon to follow. Brilliantly comic, Queen Lucia makes me long to meet her rival Miss Mapp in the next instalment – which I may be doing, as early as next week.