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Arnold Bennett Edit Profile

also known as born Enoch Arnold Bennett

novelist and playwright

Enoch Arnold Bennett was an English writer. He is best known as a novelist, but he also worked in other fields such as journalism, propaganda and film. Of all recent novelists he was perhaps best in depicting the hidden glamour of the commonplace. Steeped in French fiction and a great admirer of the Russians, he did even more than George Moore to acclimatize the naturalistic novel in England.

Education

He matriculated at London University with the expectation of following his father as a lawyer, but instead he quarreled with his father and found himself a job as cost clerk in a London establishment.

Career

Arnold was employed by his father—his duties included rent collecting. He was unhappy working for his father for little financial reward, and 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 was to come after he had moved from the Potteries. At the age of twenty-one, he left his father's practice and went to London as a solicitor's clerk.

Bennett 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 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.

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. He refused a knighthood in 1918.

Achievements

  • His first novel to be published, A man from the north, appeared in 1898 and its success allowed him to give up other work to concentrate on writing.

  • He had won a twenty-guinea prize from Tid-Bits, when one of his stories was accepted by the then famous Yellow Book.

Works

  • autobiographical novel

    • A Man From the North (1898)

  • Autobiography

    • The Truth about an Author (1911)

  • drama

    • Milestones (1912)

  • novel

    • Clayhanger (1910)

    • Hilda Lessways (1911)

    • These Twain (1916)

    • Riceyman Steps (1923)

    • Imperial Palace (1930)

  • publication

    • The Old Wives' Tale (1908)

Politics

Soon after the outbreak of the First World War, Charles Masterman the head of the War Propaganda Bureau (WPB) invited twenty-five leading British authors to Wellington House, to discuss ways of best promoting Britain's interests during the war. Those who attended the meeting included Bennett, Arthur Conan Doyle, John Masefield, Ford Madox Ford, William Archer, G. K. Chesterton, Sir Henry Newbolt, John Galsworthy, Thomas Hardy, Rudyard Kipling, Gilbert Parker, G. M. Trevelyan and H. G. Wells.

Bennett soon became one of the most important figures in this secret organisation. His first contribution to the propaganda effort was Liberty: A Statement of the British Case. It first appeared as an article in the Saturday Evening Post. In December it was expanded and published as a pamphlet by the War Propaganda Bureau. To disguise the fact it was a government publication, the WPB used the Hodder and Stoughton imprint.

When George Bernard Shaw, who was unaware of the existence of the War Propaganda Bureau, attacked what he believed to be jingoistic articles and poems being produced by British writers during the war, Bennett was the one chosen to defend their actions in the press.

In June, 1915, the WPB arranged for Bennett to tour the Western Front. Bennett was deeply shocked by the conditions in the trenches and was physically ill for several weeks afterwards. His friend, Frank Swinnerton, later recalled, "he visited the front as a duty, and was horrified at what he saw and felt that he must not express that horror." Bennett agreed to provide an account of the war that would encourage men to join the British Army. The result was the pamphlet, Over There: War Scenes on the Western Front (1915).

In March, 1918, Lord Beaverbrook, the new Minister of Information, recruited Bennett and Charles Masterman to join his new three-man British War Memorial Committee (BWMC). Their job was to select artists to produce paintings that would help the war effort. Bennett was also appointed director of British propaganda in France.

Views

Quotations: 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.

Interests

  • Other Interests

    Studied French novels.

    Arnold Bennett was also a respected playwright, his interest in the theatre following on from his work as a critic. His most successful play was Milestones, written with Edward Knoblock.

Connections

Enoch Bennett, his father, qualified as a solicitor in 1876, and the family were able to move to a larger house between Hanley and Burslem.

He separated from his French wife in 1922 and fell in love with the actress Dorothy Cheston, with whom he stayed for the rest of his life.

Their daughter, Virginia Eldin, lived in France and was president of the Arnold Bennett Society.