The Impossible Life of Mary Benson: The Extraordinary Story of a Victorian Wife

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Atlantic Books, Limited, 2013 - Biography & Autobiography - 384 pages

The remarkable true story of the life of Mary Benson: wife of an archbishop, friend of
Queen Victoria, mother of three "unpermissably gifted" children—including E. F.
Benson, and in love with dozens of women

Sometimes touching and sometimes hilarious, this is the story of one lovable, brilliant woman and her trajectory through the often surprising opportunities and the remarkable limitations of a Victorian woman's life. Young Minnie Sidgwick was just 12 years old when her cousin, 12-year-old Edward Benson, proposed to her in 1853. Edward went on to become Archbishop of Canterbury and little Minnie—as Mary Benson—to preside a social world that ranged from Tennyson, Henry James, and Oscar Wilde to foreign royalty and Queen Victoria herself. Yet Mrs. Benson's most intense relationships were not with her husband and his associates, but with other women. When the Archbishop died, Mary, or "Ben" to her intimates, turned down an offer from the Queen to live at Windsor, and set up home in a Jacobean manor house with her friend Lucy Tait. Drawing on the diaries and novels of the Bensons themselves, including E. F. Benson's Mapp and Lucia novels, as well as the writing of contemporary writers and poets, this book creates a very rich portrait of Mary Benson, her family, her close female friends, and their world.

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User Review  - vguy - LibraryThing

Surprisingly delightful. I was expecting something scandal-ridden and rackety but in fact we get a story, improbable but very real, of a warm-hearted and intelligent woman, caught in the web of ... Read full review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - dgbdgb - LibraryThing

Good, well written biography - she was wife to Edward Benson, Archbishop of Canterbury, and quite a matriarch, and brought up a brood of very talented, if somewhat odd children - several of whom became quite well known (E F Benson) and mixed with many of the key figures of the age. Read full review

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About the author (2013)

Rodney Bolt was born in South Africa. He studied at Rhodes University and wrote the play Gandhi: Act Too, which won the 1980 Durban Critic's Circle Play of the Year award. That same year he won a scholarship to Cambridge and read English at Corpus Christi. He has twice won twice won Travel Writer of the Year awards in Germany and is the author of History Play, an invented biography of Christopher Marlowe and The Librettist of Venice, a biography of Lorenzo Da Ponte, which was shortlisted for the Los Angeles Times Book Award. He lives in Amsterdam.

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