Arnold Bennett

Arnold Bennett

Bennet, from a New York Times Magazine, published 1915
Born Enoch Arnold Bennett
(1867-05-27)27 May 1867
Hanley, United Kingdom
Died 27 March 1931(1931-03-27) (aged 63)
London, United Kingdom
Cause of death Typhoid
Nationality British
Occupation Novelist

Enoch Arnold Bennett (27 May 1867 – 27 March 1931) was an English writer. He is best known as a novelist, but he also worked in other fields such as journalism, propaganda and film.

Early life

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.


Journalism and nonfiction

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 (equivalent to £10,000 in 2015).[2]. 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.[3]

Move to France

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 publicised and acclaimed as no other visiting writer since Dickens, he returned to England where Old Wives' Tale was reappraised and hailed as a masterpiece.

Public service

Bennett in 1914
Arnold caricatured by OWL for Vanity Fair, 1913

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.[4] He refused a knighthood in 1918.

Osbert Sitwell,[5] in a letter to James Agate,[6] 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.

Final years

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 London in 1926.[7]

Bennett won the 1923 James Tait Black Memorial Prize for his novel Riceyman Steps.

Bennett died of typhoid at his home in Baker Street, London, on 27 March 1931, after returning from a visit[8] to Paris where, in defiance of a waiter's advice, he had drunk tap water in a restaurant. His ashes are buried in Burslem cemetery. His death is believed to be one of the last occasions where the Victorian practice of spreading straw in the street to dull the sound of traffic outside the home of a dying person was performed in London.[9][10]

His daughter, Virginia (Mary) Bennett/Eldin (1926-2003), lived in France and was president of the Arnold Bennett Society.

References to the Staffordshire Potteries in his works

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 The Clayhanger Family 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
Tunstall Turnhill
Burslem Bursley
Hanley Hanbridge
Stoke Knype
Fenton The 'forgotten town'
Longton Longshaw

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.

Several of his books set in the Potteries have been made into films (for example The Card starring Alec Guinness) and television mini-series (such as "Anna of the Five Towns" and "Clayhanger").


Critically, Bennett has not always had an easy ride. His output was prodigious and, by his own admission, based on maximising 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 '.[11][12] Max Beerbohm criticised him as a social climber who had forgotten his origins. He drew a mature and well fed Bennett expounding, "All gone according to plan, you see" to a younger and leaner version of himself, who replies: "Yes — 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 Bloomsbury 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). Carey offers here a well-considered assessment of Bennett and his works in the more general context of the sentiments prevailing during Bennett's lifetime.

In the 1951 survey of crime fiction Queen's Quorum, Ellery Queen listed The Loot of Cities among the 100 most important works in the genre. The story collection recounts the adventures of a millionaire who commits crimes to achieve his idealistic ends. Although "one of his least known works," it is nevertheless "of unusual interest, both as an example of Arnold Bennett's early work and as an early example of dilettante detectivism."[13]


List of works


  • 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
  • The City of Pleasure, A Fantasia on Modern Themes — 1907
  • Buried Alive – 1908
  • The Old Wives' Tale – 1908
  • The Glimpse: An Adventure of the Soul — 1909
  • Clayhanger – 1910
  • Denry the Audacious – 1910
  • Helen with a High Hand – 1910 (Serial title: The Miser's Niece)
  • The Card, A Story Of Adventure In The Five Towns – 1911
  • 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, A five towns story of adventure in London – 1913 (US Title: The Old Adam)
  • The Price of Love – 1914
  • These Twain – 1916
  • The Loot of Cities – 1917 (novella + seven short stories)
  • 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 UK as The Strange Vanguard, 1928)
  • Accident – 1928
  • Imperial Palace – 1930
  • Venus Rising from the Sea – 1931


Film and television



  • Don Juan de Mañera

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).

In gastronomy

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.[15] 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.

Other geographical links

Newcaste-Under-Lyme, Staffordshire

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.



  1. "Listed Buildings in Stoke-on-Trent. (33a) Former home of Arnold Bennett, Cobridge". 1972-04-19. Retrieved 2016-11-07.
  2. UK CPI inflation numbers based on data available from Gregory Clark (2016), "The Annual RPI and Average Earnings for Britain, 1209 to Present (New Series)" MeasuringWorth.
  3. Lyons, Paul K (2009-09-30). "The Diary Review: A half-crown public". Retrieved 2016-11-07.
  4. Smith, Adrian (1996). The New statesman: portrait of a political weekly, 1913–1931. Taylor & Francis. p. 122. ISBN 978-0-7146-4169-0.
  5. Sitwell, Osbert, Noble Essences: Or Courteous Revelations, Being a Book Of Characters and the Fifth and Last Volume, New York, MacMillan and Co., 1950.
  6. Ego 5. Again More of the Autobiography of James Agate., London, George G. Harrap and Co. Ltd (page 166), 1942.
  7. "Index entry". FreeBMD. ONS. Retrieved 29 April 2014.
  8. "Straw for Silence". The Spectator. F.C. Westley "In a Paris hotel he drank ordinary water from a carafe. The waiter protested, 'Ah, ce n'est pas sage, Monsieur, ce n'est pas sage....'". 203. 1959. ISSN 0038-6952. OCLC 1766325. Retrieved 16 March 2011.
  9. "Arnold Bennett: The Edwardian David Bowie?". BBC. 23 June 2014. Retrieved 17 October 2016.
  10. My Music. Season 17. Episode 4. 4 February 1981. 7 minutes in. BBC. One of the last times it was done was in Baker Street, 1931, Arnold Bennett's death...
  11. Seminar – "Mr Bennett and Mrs. Brown" Archived 9 September 2006 at the Wayback Machine.
  12. "Essay on the debate between Woolf and Bennett including comments on poor modern reputation of Bennett" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-11-07.
  13. Queen, Ellery, Queen's Quorum: A History of the Detective-Crime Short Story As Revealed by the 100 Most Important Books Published in this Field Since 1845, Boston: Little, Brown (page 50), 1951.
  14. Arnold Bennett (2008-03-05). "Things that Have Interested Me". Retrieved 2016-11-07.
  15. Smith, Delia (2001–2009). "Omelette Arnold Bennett". Delia Smith / NC Internet Ltd. Retrieved 6 June 2009.
  16. The Journals, Arnold Bennett ed. F. Swinnerton; Penguin Books pp. 510–514
  17. Hepburn, J. Arnold Bennett and Amberley. Smoke Tree Press (2002) ISBN 0-9539914-0-7
  18. Frank Swinnerton Arnold Bennett: a Last Word, Hamish Hamilton, 1978 ISBN 0-241-89877-3
  19. Frank Swinnerton Arnold Bennett: a Last Word. Hamish Hamilton, 1978 ISBN 0-241-89877-3

Further reading

External links

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