Lovers and Friendsby E. F. Benson
The mother is a sort of heartless "Dodo," whom one cannot quite despise because her heartlessness is, like her irrepressible love of pleasure, like that of a child. She is an egoist whom hosts of people are mildly fond of, if
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"Lovers and Friends" is one of the very best of the Bensonian stories—a comedy of three egoists, father, mother, and daughter.
The mother is a sort of heartless "Dodo," whom one cannot quite despise because her heartlessness is, like her irrepressible love of pleasure, like that of a child. She is an egoist whom hosts of people are mildly fond of, if only because she wants them to be a part of her pleasure. She has let herself be married young by the impossible bounder Philip, and, luckily holding the purse-strings, has promptly exiled him the moment he became an utter bore to her. With him into exile (a properly subsidized exile) has gone their girl-child.
Our story begins at the moment when, many years later, the paths of these three touch for a moment. Philip Courthope is a sort of Beau Nash, the self-appointed master of ceremonies at a small English watering-place. He is a bounder, a parasite, a conceited and pompous ass. He is full of pallor tricks, and never happy unless he is showing them off. He is happy only when he thinks all eyes are focused in admiration on his person and his accomplishments.
The girl-child has grown to a charming young woman. She has few illusions about anything, and none at all about her father. Her uncanny trait is that she unaffectedly enjoys her father's absurdities and vulgarities, instead of feeling implicated in them. She lives in a world of self-centred and slightly mocking detachment.
When love comes, and she finds herself the object of a pure and romantic passion, she is incapable of generous surrender. The child of two such egoists cannot escape her inheritance. We are at least given to suppose, in the end, that the noble devotion and comprehension of her husband may rescue her in spite of herself. Philip is a fatuous and vulgar egoist; Florence is an amusing dilettante in egoism; and Celia is the purely hapless egoist bred of such a pair. At least she aspires, "she wants"; how can we ask more of her, and how dismiss her with contempt?
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