Near the end of E.F. Benson's Queen Lucia, first in his series of novels following the social progress of Benson's monstrous but lovable anti-heroine Lucia Lucas, Lucia's primary accomplice Georgie Pilson (euphemistically described as a "confirmed bachelor") suddenly breaks down and reveals his true feelings for Lucia's main rival of the moment, opera star Olga Bracely.
It's just a moment. It's just a (very short) sentence. And yet it is the absolute moment in which Queen Lucia is elevated from being a delightful, gently twisted light comedy to the status of a genuine classic. Like all the people at home in Lucia's main stomping grounds, the little English village of Riseholme, Georgie may be a predominately comic character, but in that moment he becomes real: and that's an achievement that many more high-brow and more highly-thought-of novels often fail to arrive at.
The book made me happy on many levels; and the good news is, there is more to come: and I believe they get better from here.
The LUCIA stories differ greatly from the Larkin family novels of H.E. Bates, from the Fairacre and Thrush Green books of Miss Read, and from the much zanier stories of Wodehouse, and yet they are all joined at the hip, for their good humour, their humanity, for the fully-realized worlds that they create, and for capturing specific and different aspects of the British personality. Like all the best fantasies, they take root in the reader's hearts, in a place where one joyfully returns to them again and again.
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