First-rate Monsters

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E. F. Benson’s Mapp and Lucia books ruined Beethoven for me, and very nearly Shakespeare too.

Picture, if you will, the most appallingly pretentious person in the world: a well-dressed middle-aged lady at the piano, plonking her way through the slow first movement of the Moonlight Sonata. She is wearing her ‘well-known Beethoven expression’ with the ‘wistfully sad far away look from which the last chord would recall her’. Her guests, enduring the entertainment in various attitudes of suicidal boredom, give dutiful little sighs as that last chord fades, and then steel themselves for . . . another rendition of the slow first movement of the Moonlight Sonata! For – though she pretends otherwise and that Beethoven composed the trickier second movement largely by mistake – it is in fact the only tune she can play.

This is Emmeline Lucas, aka ‘Lucia’, and I’ve not been able to enjoy the Beethoven sonata since meeting her. The Italian affectation of ‘Lucia’ is just that, since she has no connection with Italy and certainly doesn’t speak the language. But by peppering her conversation with plenty of mio caros and molto benes she permits it to be thought that she is quite fluent in la bella lingua.

I’m afraid it gets worse. The bedrooms in Lucia’s house have names like ‘Othello’ and ‘Hamlet’. In the garden there is ‘not a flower to be found save such as were mentioned in the plays of Shakespeare’. And the flowerbed beneath the dining-room window is known as ‘Ophelia’s border’.

In Queen Lucia (1920) this stellar snob lords it over the village of Riseholme, oppressing local society with her profound appreciation of Shakespeare, her merciless Moonlights, her smattering of Italian and her unrelenting energy. Then in Lucia in London (1927) she deploys these same weapons to conquer the capital. Yes, Lucia is a ruthless social climber, a backstabber and a perfectly

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About the contributor

Andrew Nixon is a writer from Bristol, and the co-founder of The Dabbler.

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