Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Benson, Stella

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(1892-1933) UK author who eventually settled in China. Her only fantasy novel, Living Alone (1919), is set during World War I. Its dispirited heroine encounters a Witch and follows her to the exotic "House of Living Alone", where she meets other individuals with magical Talents and her life is decisively changed. After a series of strange encounters and vivid adventures – including an aerial combat involving two broomstick-riding witches and an air raid whose bombs provoke a few of the dead to rise from their graves in deluded expectation of the Last Judgement – she sets sail for a new life in the USA. One of the finest fantasies of the period, it is a deeply personal book but, in common with many other fantastically transfigured spiritual autobiographies, has considerable power to move readers capable of empathizing with the existential plight of its heroine.

All but one of SB's briefer fantasies – the exception is the Oriental Fantasy Kwan-yin (1922 chap) – can be found in Collected Short Stories (coll 1936), although most had earlier appeared as pamphlets from various private presses. The Awakening (1925 chap) is an allegory of divine underachievement akin to those of Laurence Housman. The Man Who Missed the 'Bus (1928 chap) is a darkly surreal and nightmarish story diametrically opposed in tone and content to Living Alone. Christmas Formula (1932 chap), also reprinted in Christmas Formula and Other Stories (coll 1932), is a satirical extrapolation of the "gospel of commercial intimacy" allegedly preached by the new advertising-supported magazines of its day. "A Dream" is an allegorical Visionary Fantasy. [BS]

Stella Benson


This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.