[The following passages come from the author's As Good as God, as Clever as the Devil: The Impossible Life of Mary Benson, which is reviewed on this site. — Joe Pilling]

Left: Edward White Benson as headmaster of Wellington in 1867. Source: A. C. Benson, frontispiece. Right: Mary Benson aged 20. Source: E. F.Benson, p. 19.

Edward Benson's diary entry about his feelings for the eleven-year-old Mary

[Edward Benson communes with himself in a diary entry about his feelings for his second cousin, the eleven-year-old Mary ("Minnie" at this time) Benson]

As I have always been very fond of [Minnie] and she of me with the love of a little sister, and as I have heard of her fondness for me commented on by many persons, and have been told that I was the only person at whose departure she ever cried, as a child, and how diligent she has always been in reading books that I have mentioned to her, and in learning pieces of poetry which I have admired, it is not strange that I, who from the circumstances of my family am not likely to marry for many years to come, and who find in myself a growing distaste for forming friendships (fit to be so called) among new acquaintances and who am fond indeed (if not too fond) of little endearments, and who also know my weakness for falling suddenly in love, in the common sense of the word, and have already gone too far more than once in these things and have therefore reason to fear that I might on some sudden occasion be led [the following in cipher: into a step I might all my life repent] — it is not strange that I should have thought first of the possibility that some day dear little Minnie might become my wife. [qtd. in Bolt 24]

Retrospective glances from the adult diaries of Mary Benson

I realise that he chose me deliberately, as a child who was very fond of him and whom he might educate — he even wanted to preserve himself from errant fallings-in-love... God, though gavest me a nature which desired to please — and on its natural gaiety and natural-lovingness had been planted by my Mother a strong sense of duty. . . .

Desire of pleasing E. because of fear of vexing... [qtd. in Bolt 25]

Arthur and Fred Benson, in their own middle age, reflect upon their parents' marriage

Arthur: [....] It was a case of real natural incompatibility. Mama was an instinctive pagan, hence her charm. Papa was an instinctive puritan with a rebellious love of art. Papa on the whole hated and distrusted the people he didn't wholly approve of. Mama saw their faults and loved them. How very few friends Papa ever had. [...] He disliked feeling people's superiority. His mind was better and stronger than his heart and his heart didn't keep his mind in check. It was a fine character, not a beautiful one. He certainly had a tendency to bully people as he believed from good motives. Mama never wanted to direct or interfere with people and I think was the most generous and disinterested character I have ever known. But her diary is very painful to me because it shows how little in common they had and how cruel he was. [qtd. in Bolt 217]

Fred: Papa was a very difficult person to deal with, because he was terrifying, and remembered things, not very accurately, because he remembered the points which were in his favour and forgot the points which were not. Mama forgot everything, or is she remembered, forgot the sense of resentment. Then he wanted, as you say, obedience and enthusiasm. Mama never claimed either exactly, but got both. Then Papa cared intensely about details, and details never interested Mama; and one must remember, as you say, the other side — and Papa's affection, when it rose to the surface, was very revealing indeed. [From correspondence between the two brothers in 1925. [qtd. in Bolt 217-18]

Related Material

Illustrated and formatted by Jacqueline Banerjee. You may use the images from the Benson biographies without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the source and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one. [Click on the images to enlarge them.]


Bolt, Rodney. As Good as God, as Clever as the Devil: The Impossible Life of Mary Benson. London: Atlantic Books, 2011.

Benson, Arthur Christopher. The Life of Edward White Benson: sometime Archbishop of Canterbury. Volume 1. London and New York: Macmillan, 1899. Internet Archive. Book contributor: Saint Mary's College of California. Web. 2 June 2014.

Benson, Edward Frederic. Our Family Affairs, 1867-1896. New York: George H. Doran Company, 1921. Internet Archive. Uploaded by Robarts Library, University of Toronto. Web. 2 June 2014.

Last modified 2 June 2014