The Atlantic

Before Straight and Gay

The discreet, disorienting passions of the Victorian era
Source: Marc Burckhardt

Even by the formidable standards of eminent Victorian families, the Bensons were an intimidating lot. Edward Benson, the family’s patriarch, had vaulted up the clerical hierarchy, awing superiors with his ferocious work habits and cowing subordinates with his reforming zeal. Queen Victoria appointed him the archbishop of Canterbury, the head of the Anglican Church, in 1883. Edward’s wife, Minnie, was to all appearances a perfect match. Tender where he was severe, she was a warmhearted hostess renowned for her conversation. Most important, she was Edward’s equal in religious devotion. As a friend daringly pronounced, Minnie was “as good as God and as clever as the Devil.”

All five of Edward and Minnie Benson’s adult offspring distinguished themselves in public life. Arthur Benson served as the master of Magdalene College at Cambridge University, wrote the lyrics to Edward Elgar’s hymn “Land of Hope and Glory,” and was entrusted with the delicate task of co-editing Queen Victoria’s letters for publication. His brother Fred was a best-selling writer, well known today for the series of satirical Lucia novels (televised for the second time in 2014, on the BBC), which poked good-natured fun at the pomposities of English provincial life. Their sister Margaret became a pioneering Egyptologist, the first woman to lead an archaeological dig in the country and to publish her findings. Even

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from The Atlantic

The Atlantic6 min readPolitics
Malta’s Fledgling Movement for Abortion Rights
The country is the only one in Europe that outright bans abortion, but public perception is slowly shifting.
The Atlantic9 min read
What John F. Kennedy’s Moon Speech Means 50 Years Later
“We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”
The Atlantic5 min readPolitics
Trump Tells America What Kind of Nationalist He Is
In a series of tweets attacking four Democratic congresswomen, the president reiterated his belief that only white people can truly be American.