Wednesday, July 16, 2008

EF Benson and his entirely queer family

Further to the Mapp and Lucia posting just below this, Lee Randall, Assistant Editor (Magazines & Arts) of The Scotsman writes in:

I seem to recall reading in an intro to one of Benson's lesser (ie not M/L) books - which is at home or I'd have the reference to hand -- that NOT ONE of the Benson siblings ever had sexual congress with a member of the opposite sex. Can't recall the details, but think in addition to EF's being gay, he had a gay sister and possibly a celibate brother in the clergy.

Fascinating family!


Charles Lambert said...

The Strachey family was similarly distinguished, I seem to recall, although there may have been a few heterosexuals lurking among them. And then of course there's my very own family, even though there are only two of us. My mother went to a convention for parents of gay children some years ago and came back with a tee-shirt saying Both My Children Are Gay! This may be the only time she's fully understood the notion of Gay Pride.

Lee Randall said...

My copies of Mrs Ames and Secret Lives date back to the 1980s and were purchased in NY (I'm American) but they're Hogarth Press paperbacks. Both contain intros by Stephen Pile (Who he? as Harold Ross would mutter. No idea but want to meet him if he's alive!).

These intros are comic masterpieces in the style of Benson himself, and you really need to read in their entirety to appreciate -- which I think you would. Will happily copy off and post to an anonymous mail drop if you care to enjoy them, too. The one from Secret Lives mocks the reaction to that for Mrs Ames. THAT's the one containing a 12 point biographical list that had me in tears of mirth last night upon re-reading. You should reprint both on the site, though that's probably not legal.

Among the data included:

1. "Fred"'s father was the Archbishop of Canterbury and headmaster of Wellington college. Met the future Mrs when she was 11 (he was 23 or 5) and groomed her for marriage for 7 years.

2. She was so traumatised on the honeymoon she began keeping a diary.
"Six children later she deserted to Lesbos and shared the last thirty years of her life and a large four-poster bed with Lucy Tait, daughter of the previous Archbishop of Canterbury."

and the one I recalled:

3. "Of Mrs Benson's children none married, none reproduced the species, and all were happier in the company of their own sex. When asked if he had ever kissed a woman, one son, Arthur, replied: 'Yes, once. On the brow.'"

There is a great deal more enjoyment to be had but I really must attend to my day job! Do holler if you want these delicious prefaces posted to you.

Your devoted reader,

Lee Randall
Assistant Editor (Magazines & Arts)
The Scotsman

Madame Arcati said...

Thank you very much for this Lee. I wonder if our new friend Guy has seen all this; I'm sure he must have.

Guy Fraser-Sampson said...

All true! Entire family was gay apart from the father, who was a paedophile. Fred lived with a man who pretended to be his manservant and then another who pretended to be his secretary.

Stephen Pile wrote "The Book of Heroic Failures", a compendium of true stories culled from newspapers.

My favourite concerned the least successful date of all time. A couple were having sex in a sports car in a London car park when the man (who was on top) put his back out, was in agony and unable to move. A radio car from Capital Radio just happened to be passing and, with nothing better to do, started covering the story. The Womens Voluntary Service then arrived and started passing tea through the window. The fire brigade arrived and started cutting the roof off the car. By the time they had finally succeeded, and an ambulance had been summoned to take the man to hospital a large crowd had assmebled.

Thrusting his microphone under the woman's nose as she wrapped a blanket around herself, the radio reporter asked her if she thought the man would be OK. "Sod him," she replied. "What's worrying me is how I'm going to explain to my husband what has happened to his car."