Hanley, Staffordshire, England
|Died||1931 (Aged 63)
Chiltern Court, London
Cause of death
- 1 Early life
- 2 Career
- 3 Quotations
- 4 List of works
- 5 In gastronomy
- 6 Other geographical links
- 7 Further reading
- 8 External links
Bennett was born in a modest house in Hanley in the Potteries district of Staffordshire. Hanley is one of a conurbation of six towns which were joined together at the beginning of the 20th century as Stoke-on-Trent. Enoch Bennett, his father, qualified as a solicitor in 1876, and the family moved to a larger house between Hanley and Burslem.1 Bennett was educated locally in Newcastle-under-Lyme.
Bennett was employed by his father but the working relationship failed. Bennett found himself doing jobs such as rent-collecting which were uncongenial. He also resented the low pay; it is no accident that the theme of parental miserliness is important in his novels. In his spare time he was able to do a little journalism, but his breakthrough as a writer came after he had moved from the Potteries. At the age of 21, he left his father's practice and went to London as a solicitor's clerk.
Bennett won a literary competition hosted by 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 of the magazine.
From 1900 he devoted himself full-time to writing, giving up the editorship. He continued to write journalism despite the success of his career as a novelist. In 1926, at the suggestion of Lord Beaverbrook, he began writing an influential weekly article on books for the Evening Standard newspaper.
As well as the novels, much of Bennett's non-fiction work has stood the test of time. One of his most popular non-fiction works, which is still read to this day, is the self-help book How to Live on 24 Hours a Day. His diaries have yet to be published in full, but extracts from them are often quoted in the British press.2
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. Bennett believed that ordinary people had the potential to be the subject of interesting books. In this respect, an influence which Bennett himself acknowledged was the French writer Maupassant whose "Une Vie" inspired "The Old Wives' Tale." Maupassant is also one of the writers on whom Richard Larch, the protagonist of Bennett's first (and obviously semi-autobiographical) novel, A Man from the North, tries in vain to model his own writing.
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 publicized and acclaimed as no other visiting writer since Dickens, he returned to England where Old Wives' Tale was reappraised and hailed as a masterpiece.
During the First World War he became Director of Propaganda for France at the Ministry of Information. (At that time the word propaganda did not have the negative implications it acquired later in the twentieth century). His appointment was made directly on the recommendation of Lord Beaverbrook, who also recommended him as Deputy Minister of that Department at the end of the war.3 He refused a knighthood in 1918.
Osbert Sitwell,4 in a letter to James Agate,5 notes that Bennett was not, despite current views, "the typical businessman, with his mean and narrow outlook." Sitwell cited a letter from Bennett to a friend of Agate, who remains anonymous, in Ego 5:
I find I am richer this year than last; so I enclose a cheque for 500 pounds for you to distribute among young writers and artists and musicians who may need the money. You will know, better than I do, who they are. But I must make one condition, that you do not reveal that the money has come from me, or tell anyone about it.
Bennett separated from his French wife in 1921 and fell in love with the actress Dorothy Cheston (b. 1896), with whom he stayed for the rest of his life. She changed her last name to Bennett, although they were never married. They had one child, Virginia, born in 1926.
Bennett won the 1923 James Tait Black Memorial Prize for his novel Riceyman Steps.
His daughter, Virginia Eldin, lived in France and was president of the Arnold Bennett Society.
In 1902, Anna of the Five Towns, the first of a succession of stories which detailed life in the Potteries, appeared. His most famous works are the Clayhanger trilogy and The Old Wives' Tale. These books draw on his experience of life in the Potteries, as did most of his best work. In his novels the Potteries are referred to as "the Five Towns"; Bennett felt that the name was more euphonious than "the Six Towns" so Fenton was omitted. The real towns and their Bennett counterparts are:
|The Six Towns of Stoke-on-Trent||Bennett's Five Towns|
|Fenton||The 'forgotten town'|
All but one of these are mild disguises; "Knype" may possibly be taken from the nearby village of Knypersley near Biddulph, and Knypersley Hall. Neighbouring Oldcastle, where Edwin Clayhanger went to school, is Newcastle under Lyme. Axe, towards which Tertius Ingpen lived, is Leek.
Critically, Bennett has not always had an easy ride. His output was prodigious and, by his own admission, based on maximizing his income rather than from creative necessity.
As Bennett put it:
Am I to sit still and see other fellows pocketing two guineas apiece for stories which I can do better myself? Not me. If anyone imagines my sole aim is art for art’s sake, they are cruelly deceived.
Contemporary critics—Virginia Woolf in particular—perceived weaknesses in his work. To her and other Bloomsbury authors, Bennett represented the "old guard" in literary terms. His style was traditional rather than modern, which made him an obvious target for those who liked to present themselves as ' challenging literary conventions '.78 Max Beerbohm criticized him as a social climber who had forgotten his origins. He drew a mature and well fed Bennett expounding, "All to plan, you see" to a younger tougher version of himself, who replies: "Yes—but MY plan." Bennett in his turn regarded the Bloomsberries as decadents, whose vices and general sense of life were contrary to the optimism and decency he saw in the mass of people.
For much of the 20th Century, Bennett's work was affected by the Bloomsberry intellectuals' perception; it was not until the 1990s that a more positive view of his work became widely accepted. The noted English critic John Carey was a major influence on his rediscovery. He praises him in his 1992 book, The Intellectuals and the Masses. ISBN 978-0-571-16926-9., declaring Bennett to be his "hero" because his writings "represent a systematic dismemberment of the intellectuals' case against the masses" (p. 152).
In his notable work The Intellectuals and the Masses (1992), Carey offers a well-considered assessment of Bennett and his works in the more general context of the sentiments prevailing during Bennett's lifetime.
- My mother is far too clever to understand anything she doesn't like.
- Any change, even a change for the better, is always accompanied by drawbacks and discomforts.
- Good taste is better than bad taste, but bad taste is better than no taste.
- (Speaking of his first serial 'The Man From the North') I put in genuine quantities of wealth, luxury, feminine beauty, surprise, catastrophe and genial incurable optimism.
- A Man from the North – 1898
- The Grand Babylon Hotel – 1902
- Anna of the Five Towns – 1902
- The Gates of Wrath – 1903
- Leonora – 1903
- A Great Man – 1904
- Teresa of Watling Street – 1904
- Sacred and Profane Love – 1905 (Revised and republished as The Book of Carlotta in 1911)
- Tales of the Five Towns – 1905 (short story collection)
- Whom God Hath Joined – 1906
- Hugo – 1906
- The Grim Smile of the Five Towns – (short stories 1907)
- The Ghost--a Modern Fantasy – 1907
- Buried Alive – 1908
- The Old Wives' Tale – 1908
- The Card – 1910
- Clayhanger – 1910
- Helen with a High Hand – 1910 (Serial title: The Miser's Niece)
- Hilda Lessways – 1911
- Milestones – play written with Edward Knoblock
- The Matador of the Five Towns – (short stories 1912)
- The Great Adventure. A Play of Fancy in Four Acts - play
- The Regent – 1913 (US Title: The Old Adam)
- Paris Nights and other impressions of places and people – 1913 (Illustrated, E. A. Rickards; George H. Doran Company, NY)
- The Price of Love – 1914
- These Twain – 1916
- The Pretty Lady – 1918
- The Roll-Call – 1918
- Mr Prohack – 1922
- Riceyman Steps – 1923
- Elsie and the Child – 1924
- The Clayhanger Family – 1925, the complete trilogy consisting of Clayhanger, Hilda Lessways, and These Twain
- Lord Raingo – 1926
- The Woman who Stole Everything and Other Stories – 1927
- The Vanguard – 1927 (published in the U.K. as The Strange Vanguard, 1928)
- Accident - 1928
- Imperial Palace – 1930
- Venus Rising from the Sea – 1931
- Journalism For Women – 1898
- Fame and Fiction – 1901
- How to Become an Author – 1903
- The Reasonable Life – 1907
- Literary Taste: How to Form It – 1909
- How to Live on 24 Hours a Day – 1910
- Mental Efficiency – 1911
- Those United States – 1912 (Also published as Your United States)
- The Author's Craft – 1914
- Self and Self-Management – 1918
- Things That Have Interested Me – 19219
- The Human Machine– 1925
- How to Live – 1925, consisting of How to Live on 24 Hours a Day, Mental Efficiency, and Self and Self-Management
- The Savour of Life – 1928
- Piccadilly – 1929
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). Also, Arnold Bennett: A Biography by Margaret Drabble (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London 1974).
Bennett is one of a select number of celebrities to have a dish named after them. While he was staying at the Savoy Hotel in London, the chefs perfected an omelette incorporating smoked haddock, Parmesan cheese and cream, which pleased the author so much he insisted on it being prepared wherever he travelled. The 'Omelette Arnold Bennett' has remained a Savoy standard dish ever since.10 It is served in several other hotels and restaurants in London as well.
The George Hotel in Burslem, Stoke-on-Trent, has a restaurant named after Bennett. It is adorned with Arnold Bennett photographs and memorabilia.
- 1907/8, Paris: Old Wives Tale written here.
- 1908, French Riviera: convalescence after typhoid fever. Married and moved to Fontainebleau.
- 1914, Camarques, Thorpe-le-Soken, Essex coast: here he had the yacht Velsa and trips from this 'home in the country' to Frinton-on-Sea gave rise to one of the characters in The Price of Love.
- 1917, Bennett's bachelor pad is at the Thames Yacht Club: a couple of rooms 'furnished to his own taste'.
- 1920, A month trip to Portugal with Frank Swinnerton, as Bennett was at a particularly low ebb.
- May–June 1926, Bennett stayed in the village of Amberley, West Sussex where he wrote the last two thirds of The Vanguard in 44 days, noting 'I have never worked more easily than in the last six weeks.1112
- 1928, house rented in Le Touquet for the summer13
A number of streets in the Bradwell area of Newcastle-under-Lyme (the town that neighbours Stoke-on-Trent) are named after places and characters in Bennett's works, and Bennett himself.
- Strand Palace Hotel, London: he frequented as it offered a bedside light during his periods of insomnia.
- His wife Marguerite's London flat was over a bank on the corner of New Oxford Street and Rathbone Place.
- "large flat" George Street, Hanover Square, London, where Marguerite subsequently lived.
- 1921-ish: 75, Cadogan Square; Dorothy moved in here, and from here they moved, in 1930 (according to the plaque on the building), to Chiltern Court, an "impressive block of flats" at Baker Street Railway Station where H. G. Wells also lived.
- 1931 Bennett died at Chiltern Court on 27 March.14
- Smith, Adrian (1996). The New statesman: portrait of a political weekly, 1913-1931. Taylor & Francis. p. 122. ISBN 978-0-7146-4169-0.
- Sitwell, Osbert, Noble Essences: Or Courteous Revelations, Being a Book Of Characters and the Fifth and Last Volume, New York, MacMillan and Co., 1950.
- Ego 5. Again More of the Autobiography of James Agate., London, George G. Harrap and Co. Ltd (page 166), 1942.
- "Straw for Silence". The Spectator (F.C. Westley) 203. 1959. ISSN 0038-6952. OCLC 1766325. Retrieved 16 March 2011.
- Seminar - "Mr Bennett and Mrs. Brown"
- Essay on the debate between Woolf and Bennett including comments on poor modern reputation of Bennett
- Smith, Delia (2001-2009). "Omelette Arnold Bennett". Delia Smith / NC Internet Ltd. Retrieved 2009-06-06.
- The Journals, Arnold Bennett ed. F. Swinnerton; Penguin Books pp. 510-514
- Hepburn, J. Arnold Bennett and Amberley. Smoke Tree Press (2002) ISBN 0-9539914-0-7
- Frank Swinnerton Arnold Bennett: a Last Word, Hamish Hamilton, 1978 ISBN 0-241-89877-3
- Frank Swinnerton Arnold Bennett: a Last Word. Hamish Hamilton, 1978 ISBN 0-241-89877-3
- Arnold Bennett by F. J. Harvey Darnton
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- Works by Arnold Bennett at Project Gutenberg
- Arnold Bennett's biography by his biographer Frank Swinnerton
- The Potteries
- Portraits of Arnold Bennett at the National Portrait Gallery (London).
- Omelette Arnold Bennett A late supper dish that was created at the Savoy Hotel specially for Mr. Bennett
- The Literary Debate Between Arnold Bennett and Virginia Woolf
- Stoke-on-Trent Museums cares for a historic collection of Benett's letters and personal effects
- Images of England Photo of the Bennett family home
- Free book downloads in HTML, PDF, text formats at ebooktakeaway.com
- Public domain audio books of works by Arnold Bennett at Librivox
- Arnold Bennett Society
- Arnold Bennett Books & Persons at Mount Holyoke College