Saturday, November 2, 2019

Tessa Arlen

Tessa Arlen is the author of the critically acclaimed Lady Montfort mystery series—Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman was a finalist for the 2016 Agatha Award Best First Novel. She is also the author of Poppy Redfern: A Woman of World War II mystery series. And the author of the historical fiction: In Royal Service to the Queen.

Arlen lives in the Southwest with her family and two corgis where she gardens in summer and writes in winter.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Arlen's reply:
Mapp and Lucia by E.F. Benson

It has been an intense couple of years: moving to our new house in Santa Fe and writing the debut to a new mystery series have been tremendous fun, but sometimes a bit draining! So, last week when the weather cooled and we lit the first fire of the season, I hunted through my bookshelves for a comforting re-read and chose Mapp and Lucia by E.F. Benson. A book that rewards those exhausted from the stern realities of our world, and in search of a good chuckle by the fireside.

E.F. Benson ranks among my favorite fiction re-reads along with Nancy Mitford and P.G. Wodehouse. Benson’s Lucia novels, written between 1920 and 1939, had an enormous impact on the subsequent Golden Age of British writing, influencing the comic work of Mitford, Waugh and Coward who were all doting fans.

For those not yet acquainted with the incomparable Lucia, the novels are delicious send-ups of the snobbish cultural lives of upper-middle-class people in interwar Britain. Amid endless musical evenings and ridiculous mannered luncheons, we watch social rivals Miss Mapp and Lucia vie with each other to become Queen of Tilling-on-Sea.

When Lucia invites Georgie to play “un petit morceau” of Beethoven (opening movement of the Moonlight Sonata only) after a dinner party, in her Elizabethan drawing room that looks out on her beloved Shakespeare garden, or as they chatter away together in broken restaurant-Italian, completely unaware that an Italian countess has been invited to luncheon, their dreadful pretentions are hilarious and we simply hug ourselves with delight at their come-uppance, and pray, at the same time, that somehow they won’t lose face.

Someone once asked me if E.F. Benson wasn’t a bit silly. Yes, his books are utterly daft, but so spot on! Wherever we go, whoever we meet, there are always a frantically scheming Miss Mapp; a ruthlessly lofty Lucia; an excruciatingly artistic Quaint Irene; a desperately earnest Daisy Quantock, and an affable and worshipful Georgie among us, that’s what makes the novels so rewarding.

And please, let’s never underestimate how difficult it is to write wickedly farcical plots, deftly portrayed characters, and witty dialogue the way Benson does it, or be fooled that the travails and dilemmas of the inhabitants of Tilling-on-Sea aren’t relevant—even today.

If the hard reality of life is getting you down a bit, just pick up a copy of one of Benson’s Lucia books (there are five of them) and within twenty minutes you will be giggling away as you recognize your greatest friends and dearest enemies within its pages.
Visit Tessa Arlen's website.

See Tessa Arlen’s top five historical novels.

Coffee with a Canine: Tessa Arlen & Daphne.

--Marshal Zeringue