Irene Coles bounced out into the street.
“Lucia, beloved one,” she cried. “It’s too cruel! That lousy Town Surveying Department refuses to sanction my fresco-design of Venus rising from the sea. Come into my studio and look at my sketch of it, which they have sent back to me. Goths and Vandals and Mrs. Grundys to a man and woman!”
The sketch was very striking. A nude, well-nourished, putty-coloured female, mottled with green shadows, was balanced on an oyster shell, while a prizefighter, representing the wind and sprawling across the sky, propelled her with puffed cheeks up a river towards a red-roofed town on the shore which presented Tilling with pre-Raphaelite fidelity.
“Dear me! Quite Botticellian!” said Lucia.
“What?” screamed Irene. “Darling, how can you compare my great deep-bosomed Venus, fit to be the mother of heroes, with Botticelli’s anaemic flapper? What’ll the next generation in Tilling be like when my Venus gets ashore?”
“Yes. Quite. So vigorous! So allegorical!” said Lucia. “But, dear Irene, do you want everybody to be reminded of that whenever they go up and down the street?”
“Why not? What can be nobler than Motherhood?” asked Irene.
“Nothing! Nothing!” Lucia assured her. “For a maternity home–”
Irene picked up her sketch and tore it across.
“I know what I shall do,” she said. “I shall turn my wondrous Hellenic goddess into a Victorian mother. I shall dress her in a tartan shawl and skirt and a bonnet with a bow underneath her chin and button-boots and a parasol. I shall give my lusty South Wind a frock-coat and trousers and a top-hat, and send the design back to that foul-minded Department asking if I have now removed all objectionable features. Georgie, when next you come to see me, you won’t need to blush.”
“I haven’t blushed once!” said Georgie indignantly. “How can you tell such fibs?”
Even tho I haven’t enjoyed this last installment in the Mapp & Lucia series as much as the previous books, I am rather sad that this is the end of the series.
I’ll miss Lucia and Georgi and Elisabeth and Major Benjy, and all of the other villagers of Tilling, especially “quaint Irene”, who seemed always good for throwing a spanner in the works of the villagers machinations and Mapp’s and Lucia’s competition for the role of Queen Bee in the community.
Even, tho, I may have marvelled at the absence of any discussion of the prevalent social issues of the time, and most notably any absence of mentioning WWI, the series as a whole has shown me that Benson is not without any depths either. Surprisingly, this last installment seems to feature the issues and difficulties that women face when working in a traditionally male job.
In this last book, Lucia is elected mayor of the village, and fascinatingly, Benson has Lucia experience a whole raft of prejudices – from not being recognised as the mayor, to still being expected to also present a mayoress (as for some reason her husband is not considered an equivalent…). So, whether Benson brought this up as part of his village farce or whether he actually meant to illustrate this as an issue, the book actually does ask questions about gendered roles in public life. I had not expected that from the book, and I rather enjoyed the journey.