cover image Desirable Residences and Other Stories

Desirable Residences and Other Stories

E. F. Benson. Oxford University Press, USA, $25 (304pp) ISBN 978-0-19-212304-6

Benson, who died in 1940, is now chiefly known for the comic Mapp and Lucia novels which were successfully adapted for PBS, but he was also a prolific short story writer whose work satirized British society through a cast of droll and generally dotty characters. The 26 stories here, published between 1896 and 1932 and most previously uncollected, are grouped by topic--Society Stories, Cruel Stories, Crank Stories, Spook Stories--the latter his term for his rather mild ghost tales. In ``A Breath of Scandal,'' a gentleman-scholar's relationship with his cook-housekeeper is ever so delicately questioned by his neighbors. Miss Mapp appears in the title story, in which she is outwitted when she tries to get the better of a friend in a house-letting scheme. A social-climbing hostess in ``Entomology '' determines to snare for her salon a psychologist she feels will be the next rage, while the protagonist of ``Music'' engineers the success of a terrible musician and thereby ensures her own social triumph. Veering sometimes into farce, the tales are generally amusing, though the particular foibles Benson skewers with his sharp pen are somewhat dated. The forces of snobbery and greed that move his characters, however, are timeless. (Sept.)