E.F. Benson was born at Wellington College in Berkshire, the fifth child of the headmaster, Edward White Benson (later Chancellor of Lincoln Cathedral, Bishop of Truro and Archbishop of Canterbury), and Mary Sidgwick Benson ("Minnie").
Benson was educated at Marlborough College where he wrote some of his earliest works, and upon which he based his novel David Blaize. He was the younger brother of Arthur Christopher Benson, who wrote the words to "Land of Hope and Glory", Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson, author of several novels and Roman Catholic apologetic works, and Margaret Benson (Maggie) an amateur Egyptologist. Two other siblings died young. Benson's parents had six children and no grand-children. E. F. Benson never married, and is likely to have been homosexual.<1><2> Certianly this reveals itself through the camp humour of his novels, the implicit homoeroticism of his university works such as David Blaize (1916), his love of the company of handsome men, and his close friendships with known homosexuals such as John Ellingham Brooks with whom he shared a villa in Capri.<3> Prior to the First World War the island was extremely popular with wealthy gay men.
E. F. Benson was an excellent athlete, and represented England at figure skating. He was a precocious and prolific writer, publishing his first book while still a student. Nowadays he is principally known for his Mapp and Lucia series about Emmeline "Lucia" Lucas and Elizabeth Mapp.
Lamb House, home of E.F. Benson and model for "Mallards" in the Lucia series
The principal setting of four of the Mapp and Lucia books is a town called Tilling, which is recognizably based on Rye, East Sussex, where Benson lived for many years and served as mayor from 1934 (he moved there in 1918). Benson's home, Lamb House, served as the model for Mallards, Lucia's home in some of the Tilling series. There really was a handsome 'Garden Room' adjoining the street but, unfortunately, it was destroyed by a bomb in the Second World War. Lamb House attracted writers: it was earlier the home of Henry James, and later of Rumer Godden.
In London, Benson also lived at 395 Oxford Street, W1 (now the branch of Russell & Bromley just west of Bond Street Underground Station), 102 Oakley Street, SW3, and 25 Brompton Square, SW3, where much of the action of Lucia in London takes place and where English Heritage placed a Blue Plaque in 1994.
Benson died in 1940 of throat cancer in University College Hospital, London.