One pleasure I allow myself every new year is a rereading of E.F. Benson’s Mapp & Lucia novels which consist of six shortish books: Queen Lucia, Miss. Mapp, Lucia in London, Mapp and Lucia, Lucia’s Progress and Trouble for Lucia. I usually also find the time to watch the DVDs of the television adaptations of the last three novels which were first shown on Channel 4 back in the 1980s (I was much too young to watch them at that time!). The wonderful thing about the adaptations is that in general they follow the novels very closely (even in the dialogue) and reading the novels one hears the voices of the great Prunella Scales as Mapp, Geraldine McEwan as Lucia and Nigel Hawthorne (probably known to Americans for his portrayal of mad king George III, and to the British as Sir Humphry from the sitcoms Yes, Minister! and Yes, Prime Minister!).
People might say time spent in such pursuits is rather wasted. After all there is nothing to be achieved in the completion of such a novel, nothing very much at all happens. Nevertheless, it happens beautifully. In fact, novels which don’t try to be clever, or to “do” something with their plots and characters are quite my favourites. That coupled with the escapism of Tilling makes the Lucia novels right up my street. Since I am having a pretty depressing time in other ways at the moment, it is a great pleasure to immerse oneself (and better than medication!) in another world and simpler times.
I have visited Tilling which is based upon the lovely town of Rye in Sussex (one of the famous Cinque Ports of south eastern England) and am considering a short interlude there later in the year. If you are visiting on a Wednesday you might take the E.F. Benson tour of the town, which points out his own and his literary characters’ associations with the town. And on a Thursday or a Saturday you could call into Lamb House, which was the home of Benson and also of his two famous characters, for everything in Tilling has it’s equivalent in the real Rye. I have stayed in nice places in Rye: Jeake’s House, which is an elegant Bed and Breakfast, on my first visit with a dear friend; The Mermaid Inn, might be good for one on his own (travelling alone is great fun, but it is not nearly so much fun as travelling with an agreeable companion – it is simply that they are so hard to come by). Both have their own charms. Both the Anglican and Catholic churches in Rye have much to commend them. The Anglican church is ancient, it was “rebuilt in 1106” and again reorganised in the fourteenth century, and is dedicated to St. Mary the Virgin. Benson himself donated some of the more modern (though very attractive) glass, and can be spotted in the traditional attitude of a benefactor in the corner of one of his own windows. The Catholic church is dedicated to St. Anthony of Padua and is run by the Conventual Franciscans. Architecturally it is a sort of Spanish-Romanstyle, and includes a lovely rood crucifix donated by that rather odd character Radclyffe Hall. There is a very good article in theSeaside Parish serious of pieces published in the Tablet (I know, I know) which gives some nice information about the parish of Rye.