E. V. Lucas Critical Essays

Introduction

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

E. V. Lucas 1868-1938

(Full name Edward Verrall Lucas) English essayist, editor, biographer, novelist, critic, journalist, poet, autobiographer, short story writer, playwright, and satirist.

Lucas achieved success as a prolific author of light, entertaining popular nonfiction and novels. He was best known as a witty and observant essayist whose interests ranged from sports and domestic life to fine art and literature. His notable products in other genres include travel guides, literary anthologies, and an acclaimed series of scholarly works on the writer Charles Lamb.

Biographical Information

Lucas grew up in a middle-class Quaker family in Brighton. After an early apprenticeship to a bookseller, he worked as a journalist, eventually moving to London, where he joined the staff of the newspaper the Globe and, later, the literary journal the Academy and the humor magazine Punch. He also established himself as a respected reader and editor for the publishers Grant Richards and Methuen. In addition to his regular employment, he wrote or edited over one hundred books. He became a prosperous and well-regarded figure in the London literary community, associating with writers such as Max Beerbohm, Arnold Bennett, and James M. Barrie.

Major Works

Lucas's flexibility and high productivity as a writer and editor enabled him to have an unusually varied career, as, among other things, a humorist, essayist, novelist, anthologist, literary biographer, travel writer, and art critic. One of his earliest successes as a humor writer was Wisdom While You Wait (1902), a parody of advertisements for the Encyclopedia Brittanica written in collaboration with Charles Larcom Graves, with whom he cowrote the popular "By the Way" column for the Globe. As an essayist, Lucas retained an appreciative following for four decades with his ability to write amusingly and engagingly about a wide variety of topics chosen to appeal to general readers. His essays, many of them written for periodicals such as the London Times, Spectator, Pall Mall Gazette, and Punch, were reprinted in numerous collections, including Domesticities (1900), Fireside and Sunshine (1906), One Day and Another (1909), The Phantom Journal (1919), Giving and Receiving (1922), Visibility Good (1931), and Pleasure Trove (1935). Reviewers compare his novels, such as Listener's Lure (1906) and Over Bremerton's (1908), with his essays for their easygoing, anecdotal style. With his two-volume Life of Charles Lamb (1905), he established himself as a respected expert on Lamb, later compiling his own editions of The Works of Charles and Mary Lamb (1903-05) and The Letters of Charles Lamb (1935). Lucas's work as a travel writer includes Highways and Byways in Sussex (1904) and the Wanderer series, which offer his impressions on traveling in England and other parts of Europe. Fine art is a frequent topic in Lucas's travel books and essays, and he wrote several works on the subject of art, including a set of monographs on European masters such as Michelangelo, Rembrandt, and Leonardo da Vinci, a biography of the painter Edwin Austin Abbey, and The British School (1913), a guide to paintings in London's National Gallery. In addition to his original writings, Lucas edited several anthologies of prose and verse, each centering on a particular subject. Among these are the bestselling The Open Road (1899), about travels in the countryside; The Friendly Town (1905), about London; and The Hambledon Men (1907), which contains material by Lucas and others about his favorite sport, cricket.

Critical Reception

Critics describe Lucas as a genial entertainer, witty and capable of unusual insights, but reluctant to offer self-revealing thoughts that might have given his writings deeper significance. During his lifetime, Lucas enjoyed the respect of many of his most distinguished peers, including Edmund Gosse, who called him the best living essayist since Robert Louis Stevenson. After World War I, however, Lucas's light, impersonal style was less in tune with literary fashions, and after his death interest in his work among critics and readers waned. As for his works on Lamb, which once confirmed his literary prestige, more recent scholarship has greatly lessened their importance.