Benson, Robert Hugh

Tagged: Author

(1871-1914) UK author; third son of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Edward White Benson (1829-1896), and brother of the fantasy and horror authors A C Benson and E F Benson, the latter remaining by far the best-known of the three. Benson was ordained as a priest in the Church of England in 1895 but converted to Catholicism in 1902 and was ordained as a priest in 1904. His fiction, unsurprisingly, is composed with a convert's intensity, and is deliberately propagandistic; many of his short stories – including the fantasies featured in the Club Story collection, A Mirror of Shalott, Composed of Tales Told at a Symposium (coll 1907; cut vt A Mirror of Shalott: Being a Collection of Tales Told at an Unprofessional Symposium 1907) – use Catholic priests as exemplary central characters. In Lord of the World (1907), the first alternate Near Future described in the remarkable apocalyptic Lord of the World sequence, the Religion of "Humanitarianism" – a Parody of the precepts underlying Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward (1888) – takes over the world. Socialism is rife in Underground cities, as is euthanasia. The government maintains a tyrannical Pax Aeronautica with the aid of advanced Airships called volors, along with the Antichrist. A very different future is depicted in The Dawn of All (1911), a Britain whose Pax Aeronautica is enforced through a triumphant Roman Catholicism, with heresy punishable by death, though a more lenient governance comes eventually into play, after the One Religion establishes planetary rule. The promulgators of each vision conceived their world as Utopian; although Benson clearly renders the socialist world of Lord of the World as a Dystopia, he is subtle enough to hint that some of the religious strictures enacted in The Dawn of All could be understood as dystopian. [JC/BS]

see also: End of the World.

Robert Hugh Benson

born Crowthorne, Berkshire: 18 November 1871

died Salford, Lancashire: 19 October 1914

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