Sunday 27 July 2008

Mapp and Lucia

I can't believe I've been blogging for over a year and not made mention of a series of books which I'm sure you all either do love or will love - the Mapp & Lucia series by EF Benson. I've recently had the pleasure of watching Elaine at Random Jottings succumb to Elizabeth and Emmeline, and it has set me off re-reading. I've only read the first four of the six, actually, and if you throw in Tom Holt's well-respected sequels (in the style of EF Benson) then I have only got halfway. More news on Benson sequels very soon...

For those who don't know, EF Benson wrote Queen Lucia in 1920, Miss Mapp in 1922, Lucia in London in 1927 - and by 1931 had the brilliant idea to bring his creations together in Mapp and Lucia. I haven't read the final two books, as I say, but presume that the characters remain united enemies in them. Mapp and Lucia are not likeable characters, by any means - both with their varying pretensions and self-delusions, but both holding sway over their neighbourhood, there is inevitable friction and competition when they meet. And these characters, especially when they meet, are an absolute delight to read about. We laugh at them, we are fond of them, we realise how intimidating it would be to meet them in real life.

My dear friend Barbara-in-Ludlow introduced me to these books, back in 2004, very kindly lending me her beautiful Folio edition. These were returned when I went to university, and I bought up the Black Swan paperback editions. Very nice, even featured in my post about favourite book covers - but I did hanker for the beautiful Folio editions. When I was reading Barbara's, I was so worried I'd get them dirty that I read them with custom-made brown-paper covers. What can people have thought I was reading... Anyway, I found this boxset secondhand in Oxford, and was utterly delighted. Annoyingly, I have to use my glasses to read them (never know why this is true of some books and not others - nothing to do with font size) but it's a sacrifice I'm willing to make.

Advance apologies to anyone who now must go out and buy this edition... but it's worth it.


  1. Well you will just have to apologise really hard, in fact you may have to grovel, as I am now determined to track this set down...
    Love the pic you have used - is it one of yours Simon?

  2. Thought you might be, Elaine!

    That picture is actually on the side of the boxset - the same illustrator has pictures throughout the books, and are just right for them, I think.

  3. Wow - what gorgeous editions. I read about the books over on Random Jottings so know I "need" them and this pretty much clinches it. I'm off on a folio hunt!

  4. Yep, I want it. The editions are beautiful and the illustrations look...well, whimsical. They remind me, for some reason, of P.G. Wodehouse, and your own drawings. Anyway, thanks for adding these to my books-I-must-covet list.

  5. Simon

    I am a collection of Folio Society books (158 and counting) and this was one set that had, until now, flown under my radar. So thanks very much for pointing it out *and* raising the price to unaffordable levels!

    On the plus side, if you take such care of books on loan, I'd lend you one of my books any time! Folio Society books are indeed very precious.

  6. Once you've finished reading the six Mapp & Lucia stories give a try to another Tillingesque book by Benson:
    _Secret Lives_, featuring Miss Susan Leg, authoress (think Marie Corelli), who writes under the name of Rudolph da Vinci (publisher thought a man's name would sell better). She acquires 25 Durham Square (Benson's 25 Brompton Square home), London, and is considered a bit lowbrow by those already living in the square.

    Another blogger thinks this is "one of the funniest books" he's read. You can read what he has to say about it and its characters here:

    Along with the Mapp & Lucia books it is one of my favorites! Please give it a try...

  7. Those are Really Gorgeous and I suppose they can only be bought in the UK!?

  8. Danielle - they're not in print, don't think this version has been since 1994, so you might have luck in the US as much as UK!

    Nancy - have now ordered Secret Lives...

  9. Folio Society has just republished the set! And they deliver to the US as well as the UK. Available on Happy reading!

  10. Thanks Helen - but I can't find them on the website! Could you send me a direct link?

  11. Sorry - took me ages to work this out because I'm a useless technophobe! Apparently you can only see the set if you're a full member and logged in. The customer service guy said it would be available at full price (not special member discount price) on the website for non members from some time next week.

    BTW - you said you liked the illustrations for Mapp and Lucia and you also mentioned Rose Macaulay (whom I love...) Folio did an edition of Towers of Trebizond with illustrations by Natacha Ledwidge. I think it's out of print but SO lovely. Keep an eye out for it in second hand bookstores!

  12. Thanks, Helen, I'll keep an eye out for that!


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