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Arnold Bennett

Arnold Bennett (1867-1931), British novelist

Born Enoch Arnold Bennett on May 27, 1867 in Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, he was the son of a solicitor. Hanley is one of six towns in the area known as the Potteries[?]. Bennett was brought up in modest surroundings and educated locally and at the University of London. Enoch Bennett, his father, had qualified as a solicitor in 1876 and had an office in Piccadilly Street, Hanley.

At age 21, Arnold who worked as a rent collector, left his father's practice and went to London as a solicitor's clerk. He won a literary competition in "Tit Bits[?]" magazine in 1889 and was encouraged to take up journalism full time. In 1894 he became assistant editor of the periodical "Woman". He noticed that the material offered by a syndicate to the magazine was not very good, so he wrote a serial which was bought by the syndicate for 75 pounds. He then wrote another. This became The Grand Babylon Hotel. Just over four years later his first novel A Man from the North was published to critical acclaim and he became editor to the magazine.

From 1900 he devoted himself full time to writing, giving up the editorship and writing much serious criticism, and also theatre journalism, one of his special interests. In 1902 "Anna of the Five Towns", the first of a succession of stories which detailed life in the Potteries, appeared.

In 1903 he moved to Paris, where other great artists from around the world had converged on Montmartre and Montparnasse. Bennett spent the next eight years writing novels and plays. In 1908 The Old Wives Tale was published, and was an immediate success throughout the English-speaking world. After a visit to America in 1911 where he had been publicised and acclaimed as no other visiting writer since Dickens, he returned to England where the "Old Wives Tale" was reappraised and hailed as a masterpiece. During the First World War, he became Director of Propaganda at the War Ministry. He refused a knighthood in 1918. In 1926 at the suggestion of Lord Beaverbrook, he began writing an influential weekly article on books for the Evening Standard newspaper.

He separated from his French wife in 1922 but fell in love with the actress Dorothy Cheston[?], with whom he remained until his death on March 27, 1931 from typhoid. His ashes are buried in Burslem cemetery. Their daughter Virginia Eldin lives in France and is president of the Arnold Bennett Society[?].

His most famous works are the Clayhanger[?] trilogy and The Old Wives Tale[?] which in 2001 was named as one of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century by the editorial board of the American Modern Library.

Bennett believed in ordinary people. His style reminds one of Maupassant, one of the French writers on whom he modeled himself. Bennett made simple things and ordinary people interesting. He has also documented the daily life in the Potteries as well as anyone could have done. For some reason, however, Bennett left out one of the towns.

Some of his writings:

The Six Towns of Stoke-on-TrentBennett's Five Towns
TunstallTurnhill
BurslemBursley
HanleyHanbridge
StokeKnype
FentonThe 'forgotten town'
LongtonLongshaw

For further guidance consult Studies in the sources of Arnold Bennett's novels by Louis Tillier (Didier, Paris 1949), and Arnold Bennett and Stoke-on-Trent by E. J. D. Warrilow (Etruscan Publications, 1966).

"In front, on a little hill in the vast valley, was spread out the Indian-red architecture of Bursley - tall chimneys and rounded ovens, schools, the new scarlet market, the high spire of the evangelical church... ...the crimson chapels, and rows of little red houses with amber chimney pots, and the gold angel of the Town Hall topping the whole. The sedate reddish browns and reds of the composition all netted in flowing scarves of smoke, harmonised exquisitely with the chill blues of the chequered sky. Beauty was achieved, and none saw it".

 
Clayhanger 1910
 

External Links

e-texts of some of Arnold Bennett's works: see also: http://www.thepotteries.org



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