The Life of E.F. Benson

The GLBTRT has been reviewing books and movies in its newsletter since the early 1990s. Trace the evolution of queer publishing through these historic reviews. This review was originally published in Vol. 4, No. 1, Spring 1992.

Cover of the Life of E.F. BensonThe Life of E.F. Benson. By Brian Masters. Chatto & Wind us Ltd. Distributed by Trafalgar Square N. Pomfret, VT 05053. Hardcover. $29.95. (ISBN 0-7011-3566-2)

Both fans of E.F. Benson and readers who are unfamiliar with his work will be delighted with this fascinating biography of the English writer. Benson, born in 1867 to a distinguished English family, was an amazingly prolific writer of biographies, novels, and essays, including the wonderfully comic Lucia novels which were produced for PBS.

The biography tells the extraordinary story of a family headed by a rigid father who served as the Archbishop of Canterbury and who proposed to his cousin Minnie when she was eleven. Minnie, who gave birth to four gifted, eccentric children, reserved her deepest intimacies for her women friends, even sharing a bed for many years with one companion after her husband’s death.

The portrait of E.F. is complex and well-drawn. His biographer calls Benson, “a gregarious, hedonistic, clubbable man,” and paints a picture of a man who found solace in London society life and romantic male friendships. Was Benson gay? Masters does not avoid the question. He dwells at iength on Benson’s intensely homoerotic writing in the autobiographical David Blaize; his preference for male company; his stays on Capri with gay writers including John Ellingham Brooks; his friendship with Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas. But Masters concludes that Benson was deeply afraid of sexual impulse and felt that love is traduced by carnal expression and so lived a life of sexual self-denial.

This is a terrific literary biography of interest to many types of readers – Anglophiles, feminists, writers, gay and lesbian readers, fans of the Lucia series, to name a few. Highly recommended for all types of libraries.

Reviewed by Kathy Anderson
Atlantic County Library System
Mays Landing, New Jersey


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