Renewing the Struggle

Penelope Fitzgerald

  • Father of the Bensons: The Life of Edward White Benson, Sometime Archbiship of Canterbury by Geoffrey Palmer and Noel Lloyd
    Lennard, 226 pp, £16.99, May 1998, ISBN 1 85291 138 7

It’s more of a difficulty than a help that so much has been written about the Bensons (Palmer and Lloyd have already done a biography of Fred Benson) and that the family should have written so much about themselves. The Archbishop kept diaries, and his wife Minnie wrote two – one a dutiful sightseer’s journal, kept at her husband’s suggestion on her honeymoon, another one 20 years later which told some, at least, of the story of her heart. (There is also a contemporary diary of Minnie’s for 1862-63.) Arthur Benson wrote four and a half million words of diaries, a book of family reminiscences, a family genealogy, lives of his father, his sister Maggie and his brother Hugh, and a memoir of his sister Nellie. Fred wrote Our Family Affairs, Mother, As we Were and (almost on his deathbed) Final Edition. He also kept a diary. The Bensons, ‘a rather close little corporation’, as Arthur called them, had a boundless talent for self-expression, self-justification and self-explanation. Yet they did not give themselves away.

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