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The Impossible Life of Mary Benson

3.77 of 5 stars 3.77  ·  rating details  ·  86 ratings  ·  21 reviews
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 andsometimes hilarious, this is thestory of one lovable, brilliant woman and her trajectory through the often surprising opportunities and the remarkab
...more
Paperback, 384 pages
Published April 1st 2013 by Atlantic Books (first published 2011)
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Kristy
I do love a good book about eccentric people from the past. Mary Benson was married to the man who became Archbishop of Canterbury. He proposed to her when she was 11 and he was 23, convinced that she was perfect for him. No great looker but very intelligent, Mary did her duty as a wife reasonably well. Mary had many infatuations with other women while married and after her husband died she shared a bed for the rest of her life with Lucy Tait. Unusual for Victorian times maybe, though it sounds ...more
Chris
I had only previously been aware of E.F. Benson, Mary's son, whose 'Mapp and Lucia' novels I love. This biography brought to my attention the rest of the family, who were, perhaps, equally well known in their day, but have not stood the test of time quite so well. It is easy to feel sympathy with Mary, whose path through life seems to have been decided for her by her mother and her future husband, long before she was of an age to make decisions for herself, a little less easy to understand quite ...more
Jane
If you think Elvis was out of line proposing to Priscilla at age fourteen, what do you make of Edward Benson, future Archbishop of Canterbury and intimate of Queen Victoria, proposing to his bride when she was eleven? Poor Minnie Benson, married off to a terrifying older man who made
George Eliot's Mr. Casaubon look like a sunny soul - what a life she led! And yet she managed, in spite of his selfishness and deep depressions, to not only raise a family and be his helpmeet, but to have numerous pa
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Karen
The Bensons - what a family! Imagine meeting an eight year old girl and deciding yep, that's the girl for me! So begins their stories, and each of them weirder than the others. I loved this book, great characters all the more fascinating because they were real people.
Kath
Fascinating and readable. Interesting passages about religious doubt too, especially as Mary was the wife of the Archbishop of Canterbury. The Bensons moved in high (Royal) society and were unconventional and highly intelligent. Some amusing as well as sad moments.
Jessica
Perhaps somewhat shamefully, given my love for the Victorians, I'd never heard of any of the Bensons. Then again, I'm not particularly well-versed in either religious history or minor Edwardian literature, so I suppose there's no reason why I should have known about them. Nonetheless, I was intrigued by the book's title when I spotted it on a library shelf, and especially by the book's promise of a scandalous lesbian affair. The book was actually more mundane than this, but enjoyable regardless. ...more
Lesley
The Benson family - you could not make them up, really. Future archbishop who picks out a future wife when she's only 13. Future wife turns out, over the course of being a clergy wife, to be much more into other women and even before his death her dear friend, daughter of another archbishop, moves into the palace. Their children kept up the wackiness quotient - the most normal/successful was EF Benson of Mapp and Lucia fame. There's actually a lot of sadness about this story, but also a deep sen ...more
Flora
At first I wasn't sure about the breezy style, particularly after reading the more formal The Pinecone by Jenny Uglow, but after a while I came to really enjoy this vivid biography of an unusual Victorian woman.

About half way through it starts to feel more like a potted biography of the Benson family - Mary gets a little bit lost in the muddle - so it feels quite jarring when the book suddenly comes to a stop after her death. I would have liked a bit more on what happened to the remaining Benso
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Bee Halton
By accident I came across this book at my local library. I have no idea why I chose to read it it just appealed to me.

The book shows the life of Mary Benson wife of one of the Archbishops of Canterbury. He fell in love with her when she was twelve and hence formed her mind and life until his death.

It is not a story of a happy union but definitely a successful one. The book gives a good insight into Victorian life but also shows the incredibly individualistic members of the Benson family.

If you l
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Susan Shields
A fascinating account of a remarkable woman and her eccentric family. Mary Benson enjoyed several lives, including being the wife of the Archbishop of Canterbury during Victorian times. Highly readable and most enlightening. The writing is pungent and not weighed down with laborious detail. Many interesting sidelights relating to the life of the educated middle class at that time, not to mention the effects of depression. "Good" in this sense means "equally talented", not "well-behaved".
Ayah
Fascinating biography of an amazing family. Every single one of the kids was a published author, some very well known. The book is very well written, and includes quotations from various sources which help to illustrate different relationship and cultural ideas, and are really very pertinent. Recommended if you're interested in biographies, the Victorian era, or any one of the Benson children.
Theresa
While Mary Benson had an interesting life, it's unfortunate that the author was unable to cite more instances of why she was considered to be a wit and to demonstrate her intelligence. This is a book about yet another woman (and her daughters as well)who was held back by the restrictions of her time period.
Kay
This was a light read but very informative about what was in many ways a traditional Victorian family, but one in which behind the social conventions all the members were highly individual. A fascinating book.
Jill
A fascinating account of a Victorian family in which undercurrents of homosexuality and depression emerge from the veneer of middle class respectability and religious fervor.
Princessofwails
An amazing woman, with tremendous strength of character, at a time when most women didn't admit to such a virtue. Worth a read; I thoroughly enjoyed it!
Lesley
Interesting book about a fascinating family.

(NB Last third of the book is notes and an index.)
Sarah
Interesting - didn't know when I picked this up that it was about E.F. Benson's mother.
Larry-bob Roberts
E.F. Benson's mother was a lesbian and his father was an archbishop!?
Sarah Harkness
Aug 12, 2011 Sarah Harkness rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone who likes Victorian families
Shelves: nelly
Lovely - beautifully written, and a fascinating story!
Helen Smith
An extraordinary life of an extraordinary woman and family
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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 Travel Writer of the Year awards in Germany and is the author of History Play, an invented biography of Christopher Marlowe (H ...more
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