Book review: A Very Queer Family Indeed by Simon Goldhill

The title of this book about a respectable, but sexually unorthodox English family, will prove a let-down for readers hoping for titillating content.

The author, Simon Goldhill, Cambridge University professor of Greek, gives an unabashed warning early on not to expect a biography, which he describes as “a ludicrous genre” because of its inevitable distortions.

Unfortunately, one seldom gets near the actual family who were almost all entirely or basically gay. The head of the clan was Edward White Benson, archbishop of Canterbury from 1883 until his death in 1896. His wife Mary was a lesbian, but they managed to produce six children, two of whom died young.

Academic and literary talent featured prominently among them. Fred became the famous novelist EF Benson, best remembered for his humorous Mapp and Lucia characters. Goldhill has done an amazing amount of research, but his book reads like a university thesis.

A Very Queer Family Indeed: Sex, Religion And The Bensons In Victorian Britain

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By Simon Goldhill

University of Chicago Press, €29.20; ebook, €19.70


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