I suppose it could be said that I was fairly late to the Mapp and Lucia party, and although I really enjoyed the first three books, I didn’t quite fall in love with them as wholeheartedly as I had expected. Fans of Mapp and Lucia are indeed so enthusiastic about these novels that I began to wonder if I hadn’t missed something. While reading each of the first three novels I found myself by turns, amused, charmed and irritated by the characters and their exploits, I wanted desperately to feel about these books what almost everyone else seemed to. Finally I think I do. With the fourth of E. F Benson’s six Mapp and Lucia novels everything has fallen into place for me. While I really enjoyed the first three, I absolutely loved this fourth instalment.
As Mapp and Lucia opens – Lucia is almost a year into her widowhood. Having retreated a little from Riseholme society, she is starting to plot her return as Daisy Quantock prepares to host an Elizabethan pageant. Daisy is planning on playing Elizabeth I herself, and Lucia is soon back to her old self, as she manages bit by bit to wheedle the part away from a hapless Daisy. Needing a break away from Riseholme, Lucia decides to spend some time in the coastal town of Tilling. She arranges to rent Elizabeth Mapp’s house for a couple of months, while Elizabeth in turn decamps to another house in Tilling, in what is a quite bizarre game of house swap that several of the other Tillingites also take part. Georgie Pillson of course accompanies Lucia to Tilling, himself arranging to take a neighbouring cottage, Georgie’s cook Foljambe accompanies Georgie, though news of her engagement to Lucia’s chauffer causes Georgie more than a little disquiet.
There is a little social power struggle to be got underway as Lucia and Elizabeth Mapp vie for social supremacy in Tilling. Soon things heat up deliciously as the sparring between the queen of Riseholme and the queen of Tilling really gets going. Elizabeth is soon deeply suspicious of Lucia’s apparent ability to speak Italian and sets out to expose her with hilarious results. Elizabeth Mapp’s plotting however seems little match for Lucia’s sly cleverness and Georgie’s unstinting support.
“Lucia stalked about the lawn with a high prancing motion when she had finished her skipping. Then she skipped again, and then she made some odd jerks, as if she was being electrocuted. She took long deep breaths, she lifted her arms high above her head as if to dive, she lay down on the grass and kicked, she walked on tiptoe like a ballerina, she swung her body round from the hips. All this had for Miss Mapp the fascination that flavours strong disgust and contempt.”
The other residents of Tilling are a fabulous collection of slightly ridiculous characters, Major Benjy, Diva, Quaint Irene and the Wyses are swift to form their allegiances amid much plotting, gossiping and bitchyness. As the summer fades into autumn Lucia and Georgie extend their stay in Tilling with neither of seeming very willing to return to Riseholme. Soon they have both sold up and elected to stay in Tilling – much to Elizabeth’s chagrin. As Christmas comes to Tilling, Lucia is firmly settled in her new cottage on the edge of the town. Meanwhile Elizabeth is desperate to steal the recipe for Lucia’s Lobster a la Riseholme. The denouement when it comes is highly improbably, wonderfully hilarious and definitely memorable.
“There is a certain amount which I shan’t mention publicly,” Elizabeth said. “Things about Lucia which I should never dream of stating openly.
“Those are just the ones I should like to hear about most,” said Diva. “Just a few little titbits.” “
Mapp and Lucia is a delightful feast of snobbish bitchiness, sly plottings and strange friendships. I just adore the relationship between Lucia and Georgie; they are so fabulously well matched. E F Benson’s wit and sense of the ridiculous is absolutely faultless and immensely engaging – more so in this novel I think than the previous three, and now I am looking forward to the next two even more than I was.