Oh, E. F. Benson, I should never have doubted you! Apologies are also due to the book man in Winchester, whose judgement I was rather doubting after being a little underwhelmed by my first experience of reading a Lucia book. However, it was enjoyable enough for me tocontinue on with the series in spite of my disappointments, and so I picked up Lucia in London, the second book in the series, when in search of something light and fluffy to read and I loved it. This was in fact the first one that I bought, attracted by the lovely cover art, and thankfully I’ve managed to collect all the rest of the books in the same Black Swan editions. Isn’t that picture gorgeous?
As the title suggests, in Lucia in London Lucia and Pepino inherit a house in London after his aunt dies. Despite all her protestations of finding London dull and unimaginative compared to Riseholme, it doesn’t take Lucia long to abandon the quiet village and move up to town where she is soon unashamedly engaged in worming her way into London society, assuming familiarity on the slightest of acquaintances and inviting herself to other people’s dinner parties. However, Riseholme does not take kindly to being snubbed and retaliates with a flurry of activity in which Lucia is decidedly not involved. Unused to such independence on behalf of her subjects, Lucia must try to maintain her soveriegnty in Riseholme while battling her way to the top in London.
I think the reason that I enjoyed this book so much more than the first one, despite it being much the same to all intents and purposes, is the fact that it is the second book. A great deal of the fun and enjoyment of the Lucia books comes from knowing the characters and being able to predict exactly how they will behave in any given situation, then laughing at the inevitability of it all, and this sort of familiarity really needs more than one three hundred page book to be developed. Like Olga and her friends in Lucia in London, I have become a Luciaphil, and thoroughly enjoy watching Benson engineer situations in which I know Lucia will behave in a rude, crass manner and equally I know that everyone else will pretend not to notice because a. they’re too polite and b. they’re having just as much fun observing Lucia brazen out awkward social situations as I am. This obvious awareness of the silliness of events but genuine delight in them nonetheless is what makes this book so particularly enjoyable.
I think my favourite incident in Lucia in London involves Lucia deciding to pretend to take a lover, having come to the conclusion that affairs are very fashionable following a celebrated divorce case. However, because she cannot explain that she is going to pretend to be in love to the object of her feigned affections, because this would defeat the object:
But caution was necessary in the first steps, for it would be hard to explain to Stephen what the proposed relationship was, and she could not imagine herself saying ‘We are going to pretend to be lovers, but we aren’t’. It would be quite dreadful if he misunderstood, and unexpectedly imprinted on her lips or even her hand a hot lascivious kiss, but up till now he certainly had not shown the smallest desire to do anything of the sort. She would never be able to see him again if he did that, and the world would probably say that he had dropped her. But she knew she couldn’t explain the proposed position to him and he would have to guess: she could only give hime a lead and must trust to his intelligence, and to the absence in him of any unsuspected amorous proclivites. She would begin gently, anyhow, and have him to dinner every day that she was at home. And really it would be very pleasant for him, for she was entertaining a great deal during this next week or two, and if he only did not yeild to one of those rash and turbulent impulses of the male, all would be well. (p. 170)
Of course, Stephen is about as interested in women as Lucia’s former attendant Georgie, and so hilarity ensues as they each misconstrue the other’s actions.
Although much of the action takes place in London, Riseholme is not neglected. I loved watching them scheming indignantly following Lucia’s mocking of Riseholme and the spread of gossip is a wonder to behold. I felt like I got to know some of the Riseholmites better in this book, and I’m definitely looking forward to spending more time with them in the remaining four Lucia books.
Lucia in London by E. F. Benson. Published by Black Swan, 1986, pp. 266. Originally published in 1927.