The fourth of the Mapp and Lucia series and the book in which the two ladies first cross swords (we are told that they have met earlier, when Miss Mapp visited and stayed a short while in Riseholme, and from where, we learn some of her contributions to Tilling society like ‘Au Reservoir’ actually came).
Anyway, the book opens in Riseholme where we find that Peppino has died and Lucia has been in mourning for nearly a year. Meanwhile preparations are on for the village fete, an idea proposed and planned by Lucia but now taken over by Daisy Quantock, who is also to play Queen Elizabeth in the tableaux, while Georgie Pillson is to be Sir Francis Drake. But Lucia is slowly becoming her old self once again, and wants as a result to be the centre of attention once again. But Daisy naturally does not want Lucia to take over, and so Lucia decides to simply go away for a while, having come upon an advertisement by Miss Mapp who wishes to let her house Mallards in Tilling for two months. She convinces Georgie to drive down to Tilling with her to look over the house, and before they know it, Tilling has captivated them, and not only has Lucia taken Mallards for the said period, Georgie has taken the smaller Mallards Cottage as well. They will return to Riseholme for fete week of course, particularly as Daisy finds that things have gotten too much for her to handle. At Tilling, Miss Mapp thinks that she is going take Lucia under her wing and direct (or at least attempt to) social life as she always tries to do (but not quite as successfully as Lucia). But little does she realise, the imperious Lucia is no naïve lamb, and before she knows it, Lucia has more or less taken over Tilling society, participating in its social life with dinners and luncheons, the art exhibition, and bridge, even taking classes for other Tllingites. Miss Mapp tries, very hard to throw every obstacle in her path, but Lucia seems to get the better of her each time. But then Lucia seems to overstep her bounds too, and Tilling begins to get tired of being ‘directed’. Will Miss Mapp finally prevail?
I’ve been enjoying my revisits of these books by Benson very much, and picked this one up after reading Miss Mapp and then Queen Lucia (I skipped Lucia in London, but will probably read that as well). It was interesting seeing the two ladies ‘clash’ (including over the famed recipe for Lobster à la Riseholme) and Lucia getting the better of Miss Mapp in most situations. Of the two I prefer Lucia since even if she is domineering and does manipulate things a bit, she doesn’t have a downright nasty streak that Miss Mapp does. Also Miss Mapp is something of a cheat as well, not playing straight right from the start, not only with those she knows but also those she doesn’t. So, its fun when Lucia manages even to come out victorious even when Mapp has her cornered.
In this book, we get the full flavour of life in Riseholme and Tilling—the fete and preparations for the same which are great fun, and seeing Daisy start confidently but fumble and stumble through things only to admit that Lucia alone can pull it off. At Tilling too, life seems richer in this book than was described in Miss Mapp where we mostly saw tea parties and bridge games. Now there is also an art exhibition (a Tilling Art Society) in which everyone participates, as well as (since Lucia has arrived) things like classes–from callisthenics to bridge and Dante— as well as a fete complete with tableaux, and musical evenings (po-di-mu) which she organises. The Riseholmites it appears are financially far better off than most Tillingites, so when Lucia and Georgie come in, entertainments change in terms of regular dinner/luncheon parties rather than simply teas.
Also, I felt this book also described Tilling better—‘that broad expanse of water, now lit by a gleam of sun, in front of which to the westward, the hill of Tilling rise dark against a sky already growing red against the winter sunset’—not only nature but also the streets and houses. Tilling of course is based on Rye in East Sussex while Mallards is Lamb House where Benson (and before him Henry James) lived. Both the adaptations of the Mapp and Lucia books (1985 and 2014) were filmed here as well.
I enjoyed all of their clashes and adventures (with the exception of one little episode towards the end which didn’t make much sense to me—why he put it in I mean, unless it was for a certain plot development that follows). Of the characters, I do find Roseholmites much more fun than the Tillingites (especially Daisy Quantock and her fads), but this book has them both, so there was little to complain about, and at the end of the day, like us the reader, Tilling too enjoys our two ladies better when they clash, not very pleased with the calm periods before the storms recommence.
Have you read this one or any of the others in the series? Which ones, and how did you like them? Have you seen either (or both) of the adaptations? Which did you prefer? Looking forward to your thoughts!
Image source: Lamb House: IXIA at English Wikipedia / Public domain (here); cover image from Goodreads as always