Pipers and a Dancer

Sometimes you open a book by a writer you don’t know, you read a paragraph, and you think: “Where has this writer been all my life?”

Stella Benson’s Pipers and a Dancer (1924) begins:

Ipsie suddenly stopped speaking and heard with horror the echo of her own voice saying, “You see, I lost my three brothers in the War.” “How damn pathetic,” she thought, and she reminded herself for the thousandth time that she had determined to be reserved.

Ipsie is Benson’s heroine and struggles continuously (and unsuccessfully) with the urge to present herself to the others as someone interesting, or dramatic, or pathetic; she calls this desire her inner Showman:

Ipsie was cruelly and deliciously obsessed by her Showman. All her life she had been exhibited by a showman before a ghostly and ideal public. She hated the Showman because his voice was almost always heard by fools. All his best perorations were only enjoyed by fools. And yet what he had to say was often good. The story of her brothers, for instance, was good.

It is not only Ipsie who is a role-player. She goes to China in order to marry a very dreadful man, and just about everyone she meets is posing in one way or another. Their attempts to impress each other, and their reactions to each other’s poses, make up the novel.

This seems to be Benson’s key theme. Her first novel was entitled simply I Pose. I must read some more. Her second novel, This is the End (1919) seems to be about the War. So does Living Alone (1920).


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