Most people familiar with E.F. Benson know the Mapp & Lucia series. That was my experience, too—from so long ago that I remember almost nothing about the stories. But this spring, I happened to read Mrs Ames. Published in 1912, the story, like those of Mapp & Lucia, is social satire, dealing with with women jockeying for power in their little social circle. But the characterizations are not caricatures, and Benson’s insights kept surprising me. Here's my favorite:
“...that strange fascination and excitement at the thought of shouting and interrupting at a public meeting, of becoming for the first time of some consequence, began to seethe and ferment Most of the members were women whose lives had been passed in continuous self-repression, who had been frozen over by the narcotic ice of a completely conventional and humdrum existence Many of them were unmarried and already of middle-age; their natural human instincts had never known the blossoming which the natural fulfilment of their natures would have brought. To the eagerness and sincerity with which they welcomed a work that demanded justice for their sex there was added this excitement of doing something at last... They would be doing something, instead of suffering the tedium of passivity, acting instead of being acted on. For it is only through centuries of custom that the woman, physically weak and liable to be knocked down, has become the servant of the other sex. She is fiercer at heart, more courageous, more scornful of consequences than he; it is only muscular inferiority of strength that has subdued her into the place that she occupies; that, and the periods when, for the continuance of the race, she must submit to months of tender and strong inaction.”
You can read the book online here or here.
E.F. Benson photograph from Harper's Weekly, collection of the New York Public Library, courtesy Wikipedia.