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Benson’s Pleasure

Noël Annan, 4 March 1982

Edwardian Excursions: From the Diaries of A.C. Benson 1898-1904 
edited by A.C. Benson and David Newsome.
Murray, 200 pp., £12.50, April 1981, 9780719537691
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Geoffrey Madan’s Notebooks 
edited by John Gere and John Sparrow.
Oxford, 144 pp., £7.95, October 1981, 0 19 215870 8
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... Benson resembles a large tabby which stalks round the house switching its tail, delicately sniffing this, softly circling round that; every so often a paw is extended to pluck gently at a human being who has crossed its path – as if to explore what kind of a creature this intruder might be and whether he likes cats ...

Short Cuts

Rosemary Hill: Successive John Murrays, 8 November 2018

... many exasperating delays and alterations attendant on all royal publications. As the editor A.C. Benson wrote to Murray in the course of a letter threatening to resign, ‘Royalty have no conception how much trouble they give.’ With the new century the correspondence changed in various ways. Telegrams began to appear, film rights became a consideration and ...

Morgan to his Friends

Denis Donoghue, 2 August 1984

Selected Letters of E.M. Forster: Vol. I: 1879-1920 
edited by Mary Lago and P.N. Furbank.
Collins, 344 pp., £15.95, October 1983, 0 00 216718 2
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... But the most typical – not the liveliest – letter is one that arose from Howards End. A.C. Benson read it, compared notes on it with his mother, Mary Sidgwick Benson, and wrote off warmly to Forster, complaining only that ‘the appeal of the house was a little strained – I should rather have expected the ...

Insolence

Blair Worden, 7 March 1985

Poetry and Politics in the English Renaissance 
by David Norbrook.
Routledge, 345 pp., £15.95, October 1984, 0 7100 9778 6
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Restoration Theatre Production 
by Jocelyn Powell.
Routledge, 226 pp., £19.95, November 1984, 0 7100 9321 7
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Theatre and Crisis: 1632-1642 
by Martin Butler.
Cambridge, 340 pp., £25, August 1984, 0 521 24632 6
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The Court Masque 
edited by David Lindley.
Manchester, 196 pp., £22.50, August 1984, 0 7190 0961 8
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Ben Jonson, Dramatist 
by Anne Barton.
Cambridge, 370 pp., £30, July 1984, 0 521 25883 9
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... In 1892 A.C. Benson published an essay which introduced the modern appreciation of Andrew Marvell. For more than two hundred years Marvell’s verse had shared with Metaphysical poetry a lowness of esteem which now seems puzzling. As the Cyclopaedia of English Literature explained in 1844, Marvel ‘is better known as a prose writer than a poet, and is still more celebrated as a patriotic member of parliament ...

A Life without a Jolt

Ferdinand Mount: M.R. James, 26 January 2012

Collected Ghost Stories 
by M.R. James.
Oxford, 468 pp., £14.99, October 2011, 978 0 19 956884 0
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... much else. Even among his fellow dons his insulation was thought remarkable. His best friend, A.C. Benson, declared that Monty’s ‘mind is the mind of a nice child – he hates and fears all problems, all speculation, all originality or novelty of view. His spirit is both timid and unadventurous.’ James’s knowledge, he conceded, was ‘extraordinarily ...

Boomster and the Quack

Stefan Collini: How to Get on in the Literary World, 2 November 2006

Writers, Readers and Reputations: Literary Life in Britain 1870-1918 
by Philip Waller.
Oxford, 1181 pp., £85, April 2006, 0 19 820677 1
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... gathering of ‘eminent authors’, attended by William Archer, J.M. Barrie, Arnold Bennett, A.C. Benson, Hugh Benson, Laurence Binyon, Robert Bridges, Hall Caine, G.K. Chesterton, Arthur Conan Doyle, John Galsworthy, Thomas Hardy, Maurice Hewlett, Anthony Hope, W.J. Locke, E.V. Lucas, J.W. Mackail, John ...

Midges

J.I.M. Stewart, 15 September 1983

M.R. James: An Informal Portrait 
by Michael Cox.
Oxford, 268 pp., £14.50, June 1983, 0 19 211765 3
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... fair. He allows a good deal of space to a formidable devil’s advocate in the person of A.C. Benson. Monty regarded Benson as his oldest friend, and Benson declared Monty to be very dear to him. But the two appear seldom to have met without ...

Gosserie

J.I.M. Stewart, 5 April 1984

Edmund Gosse: A Literary Landscape 1849-1928 
by Ann Thwaite.
Secker, 567 pp., £15, April 1984, 0 436 52146 6
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... Christian revealed religion had never seemed so little worthy of belief.’ When A.C. Benson asked him what he believed he answered: ‘Nothing supernatural, thank God!’ This last is a witticism of sorts, but it appears to have been not preponderantly by wit that Gosse made his conversation – as he undoubtedly did – extremely attractive. It ...

Browning Versions

J.I.M. Stewart, 5 July 1984

Oscar Browning: A Biography 
by Ian Anstruther.
Murray, 209 pp., £12.50, October 1983, 9780719540783
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... with his own additions: ‘a bully and a liar’. Better balanced, if more merciless, was A.C. Benson, that expert in pinning into his diary the writhing anatomies of his intimates. He receives a letter from a 68-year-old O.B., whom King’s is preparing to superannuate: A long letter from O.B., & a very sad one ... All this is very pathetic; & what makes ...

Oh, you clever people!

Tom Crewe: The Unrelenting Bensons, 20 April 2017

A Very Queer Family Indeed: Sex, Religion and the Bensons in Victorian Britain 
by Simon Goldhill.
Chicago, 337 pp., £24.50, October 2016, 978 0 226 39378 0
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... Arthur Benson​ never stopped dreaming about his father. Edward White Benson, Archbishop of Canterbury, dropped dead saying the Confession in 1896 – he sank onto his prayer cushion and didn’t get up again – but nearly twenty years later his son found him crouched in the cupboard under the stairs, dressed in his purple cassock and playing with some toys: ‘Papa … giggled; then he said: “But now that you have found me out, you must run down here as often as you can, and we will have a good game at something – You don’t know what fun it is ...

Dying Falls

John Lanchester, 23 July 1987

Temporary Shelter 
by Mary Gordon.
Bloomsbury, 231 pp., £11.95, July 1987, 0 7475 0006 1
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Bluebeard’s Egg 
by Margaret Atwood.
Cape, 287 pp., £10.95, June 1987, 0 224 02245 8
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The Native 
by David Plante.
Chatto, 122 pp., £9.95, May 1987, 0 7011 3247 7
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The March of the Long Shadows 
by Norman Lewis.
Secker, 232 pp., £10.95, May 1987, 0 436 24620 1
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... of disaster – and see life as ferocious and sinister,’ James wrote in 1896 to a startled A.C. Benson), but the story itself could not be less Jamesian: it is a thousand-word-long lament, in which a woman faces the prospect of a nuclear war, and confronts the inadequacy of any possible imagining of it. ‘I could weep for my furniture. The earth will be ...

Ripping Yarns

John Sutherland, 8 April 1993

Tennyson 
by Michael Thorn.
Little, Brown, 566 pp., £18.99, October 1992, 0 316 90299 3
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Tennyson 
by Peter Levi.
Macmillan, 370 pp., £20, March 1993, 0 333 52205 2
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... the spirit of the age. In 1904, influenced by Max Nordau’s theories of racial degeneration, A.C. Benson ascribed the pervasive Tennysonian gloom to a strain of ‘dark Southern blood’ tainting the predominantly Scandinavian stock of the family. In 1923, Harold Nicolson, persuaded by Strachey’s sardonic view of eminent Victorians, diagnosed ...

Top People

Luke Hughes: The ghosts of Everest, 20 July 2000

Ghosts of Everest: The Authorised Story of the Search for Mallory & Irvine 
by Jochen Hemmleb and Larry Johnson.
Macmillan, 206 pp., £20, October 1999, 9780333783146
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Lost on Everest: The Search for Mallory and Irvine 
by Peter Firstbrook.
BBC, 244 pp., £16.99, September 1999, 0 563 55129 1
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The Last Climb: The Legendary Everest Expeditions of George Mallory 
by David Breashears and Audrey Salkeld.
National Geographic, 240 pp., £25, October 1999, 0 7922 7538 1
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... looks (he credited him ‘with the face of a Botticelli’). In April 1915, Mallory wrote to A.C. Benson, his former tutor: ‘there’s something indecent when so many friends have been enduring so many horrors in just going on at one’s job quite happy and prosperous.’ Eventually, he took a commission in the Royal Artillery and went to France in May ...

Adored Gazelle

Ferdinand Mount: Cherubino at Number Ten, 20 March 2008

Balfour: The Last Grandee 
by R.J.Q. Adams.
Murray, 479 pp., £30, November 2007, 978 0 7195 5424 7
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... On a cycling holiday in Scotland A.C. Benson went to meet Arthur Balfour at Whittingehame. The prime minister was out practising on his private golf course. They saw him ‘approaching across the grass, swinging a golf club – in rough coat and waistcoat, the latter open; a cloth cap, flannel trousers; and large black boots, much too heavy and big for his willowy figure ...

Gargoyles have their place

A.N. Wilson, 12 December 1996

Wisdom and Innocence: A Life of G.K. Chesterton 
by Joseph Pearce.
Hodder, 522 pp., £25, November 1996, 0 340 67132 7
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... many of his contemporaries (whom Pearce fails to quote) found him exasperating. One thinks of A.C. Benson, who regarded Heretics as ‘inflated, flashy stuff’ (‘flashy’ is just the right word) and was less than impressed when GKC came to dine in Cambridge: ‘Chesterton sweated so that when he shook hands and held his cigar downwards, the sweat ran down ...

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