To the End of the World

Robert Hugh Benson (1871-1914) was the third son of Edward Benson, archbishop of Canterbury from 1883 to 1896, to become a successful author.  Arthur Christopher Benson was a popular essayist and poet, whose best-known legacy is the text of the finale of Elgar’s Coronation Ode, “Land of Hope and Glory.”  Edward Frederic Benson was a prolific writer of comic novels and ghost stories; six of the former, featuring female friends Mapp and Lucia, and the bulk of the latter are frequently reprinted.

Robert Hugh’s work hasn’t fared as well.  His transgressiveness, as a postmodernist might call it, lay in proceeding from the Anglican priesthood into the Catholic Church.  No son of an archbishop had done that for 300 years, nor did Robert Hugh until well after the death of his father, who had ordained him.  Nevertheless, it caused a sensation, duly followed by his Catholic ordination in Rome and an astonishingly prolific and popular, though short, literary career, during which he wrote the contents of 42 books, including 18 novels.

In the Preface to an earlier reprinting, reused by this one, the late Ralph McInerny calls Lord of the World (1907), one of the most famous of those novels, “futuristic fiction” rather than science fiction.  While I think I first encountered the title in some science-fiction reference,...

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