Festivities, masquerades and epiphanies: the comic world of E. F. Benson

Staveley, Annette (1992) Festivities, masquerades and epiphanies: the comic world of E. F. Benson. Doctoral (PhD) thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland.

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Abstract

Edward Frederic Benson (1867-1940) lived a long and productive life as a writer. During his career he published more than a hundred books that ranged across several literary genres, as well as contributing innumerable articles and short stories to magazines in England and North America. E.F. Benson is best remembered for his comic novels, but in spite of the fact that these have been frequently republished, they have received virtually no attention from literary critics. In part, this neglect is due to the traditional scepticism of many critics towards the comic genre during E.F. Benson's life-time. It was only after his death that the seminal work in comedy by C.L. Barber (1951), Susanne Langer (1953), Northrop Frye (1957), Moreton Gurewitch (1975), Robert Heilman (1978), Robert Polhemus (1980) and Harry Levin (1987) established the thematic significance and aesthetic structures of comic works. As yet, however, there has been no formal study of the range of E.F. Benson's comic work within the matrix of the comic genre, though some biographical studies of Benson and his family have been published and some biographical information is useful for understanding the background against which Benson created his comedies. -- E.F. Benson never detached himself from the human capacity for folly. In fact, he drew extensively on his own experience and the experience of his family, friends and acquaintances, who lived at the centre of the political, social and literary world of his time. Nevertheless, although he keenly observed the malice, greed and self-delusion of unredeemed men and women in closely knit communities, he never lost sight of the significant and possibly redemptive role the comic artist can play in exposing human irrationality, pettiness and hypocrisy. -- This dissertation examines a selection of eleven of E.F. Benson's comic novels, establishing their contemporary reception as well as demonstrating the comic patterns in characterization, structure and themes that distinguish them. The purpose of this study is to demonstrate that the enduring appeal of E.F. Benson's work lies not only in these recognizably comic patterns and characters but also in the increasing dexterity of his narrative skill in counterpointing diverse and allusive discourses in order to expose human frailty. The novels are grouped under the headings festivities, masquerades and epiphanies in order to show the versatility of his comic vision and techniques as well as to establish them firmly within the matrix of the comic genre. The "Dodo" novels, Dodo: A Detail of a Day (1893), Dodo's Daughter (1914) and Dodo Wonders (1921), present characters who use their wit, integrity and imagination to overcome worldly limitations. These are E.F. Benson's festive novels. In the "Lucia" novels, Queen Lucia (1920), Miss Mapp (1922), Lucia in London (1927), Mapp and Lucia (1931), Lucia's Progress (1935) and Trouble for Lucia (1939), the characters are devoid of integrity and talent and rely, instead, on disguise and masquerade to control their circumstance. In the final two novels I discuss, Paying Guests (1929) and Secret Lives (1932), the characters initially are no less shallow and self-deceived, but for a brief, epiphanic moment they catch a glimpse of their folly and strive to improve their lives and relationships after these momentary revelations into their fallible condition.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral (PhD))
URI: http://research.library.mun.ca/id/eprint/5436
Item ID: 5436
Additional Information: Bibliography: leaves 344-382.
Department(s): Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of > English Language and Literature
Date: 1992
Date Type: Submission
Library of Congress Subject Heading: Benson, E. F. (Edward Frederic), 1867-1940--Criticism and interpretation; Benson, E. F. (Edward Frederic), 1867-1940--Humor

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