Arnold Bennett

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Arnold Bennett
Arnold Bennet's Photograph.jpg
Bennett, from a New York Times Magazine, published in 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 the theatre, journalism, propaganda and films.

Early life

Bennett was born in a modest house in Hanley in the Potteries district of Staffordshire. Hanley was one of the Six Towns that were joined together at the beginning of the 20th century as Stoke-on-Trent and are depicted as "the Five Towns" in some of Bennett's novels. 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 in Newcastle-under-Lyme.

Bennett was employed by his father, but the working relationship failed. He found himself doing jobs such as rent-collecting which were uncongenial. Bennett also resented the low pay: it is no accident that the theme of parental miserliness is important in several of his novels. In his spare time he was able to do a little journalism, but his breakthrough as a writer came after he had left the Potteries. At the age of 21 he left his father's practice and went to London as a solicitor's clerk.

Bennett suffered from a stammer, which Somerset Maugham described as making it "painful to watch the struggle he had sometimes to get the words out." Maugham, who also suffered from a stammer, speculated that "except for the stammer which forced him to introspection, Arnold would never have become a writer."[2]


Journalism and nonfiction

Photo by Pirie MacDonald

In 1889 Bennett won a literary competition run by the magazine Tit-Bits and was encouraged to take up journalism full-time. In 1894 he became assistant editor of the magazine Woman. He noticed that the material offered by a syndicate to the magazine was not very good, so he wrote a serial that was bought by the syndicate for 75 pounds (equivalent to £10,000 in 2015).[3] He then wrote another. This became The Grand Babylon Hotel. Just over four years later his novel A Man from the North was published to critical acclaim and he became editor of the magazine.

In 1900 Bennett gave up the editorship of Woman and dedicated himself to writing full-time. However, he continued to write for newspapers and magazines while finding success in his career as a novelist. In 1926, at the suggestion of Lord Beaverbrook, he began writing an influential weekly article on books for the London newspaper the Evening Standard.

One of Bennett's most popular non-fiction works was 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 have often been quoted in the British press.[4]

Move to France

In 1903 Bennett moved to Paris, where other artists from around the world had converged on Montmartre and Montparnasse. Bennett spent the next eight years writing novels and plays. He believed that ordinary people had the potential to be the subjects of interesting books, and in this respect, as he himself acknowledged, he was influenced by the French writer Maupassant. Maupassant is also one of the writers on whose work Richard Larch, the protagonist of Bennett's novel A Man from the North tries in vain to model his own writing.

Bennett's novel The Old Wives' Tale had an immediate success throughout the English-speaking world when it was published in 1908. In 1911 he visited the United States, then returned to England, where The Old Wives' Tale was reappraised and hailed as a masterpiece.

Public service

Arnold Bennett caricatured by OWL for Vanity Fair, 1913

During the First World War Bennett became Director of Propaganda for France at the Ministry of Information. His appointment was made on the recommendation of Lord Beaverbrook, who also recommended him as Deputy Minister of the Department at the end of the war.[5] He refused a knighthood in 1918.

Osbert Sitwell,[6] noted in a letter to James Agate[7] that Bennett was not "the typical businessman, with his mean and narrow outlook". Sitwell cited a letter from Bennett to a friend of Agate's, 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.[8]

In 1923 Bennett won the 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[9] 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 have been one of the last occasions when the practice of spreading straw in the street to dull the sound of traffic outside the home of a dying person was carried out in London.[10][11]

Bennett's 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

Anna of the Five Towns, the first of Bennett's novels about life in the Potteries, appeared in 1902. The Clayhanger Family and The Old Wives' Tale also draw on experience of life in the Potteries, as did several of his other novels. In all of them the Potteries are referred to as "the Five Towns" because Bennett felt that the name was more euphonious than "the Six Towns" and omitted Fenton. The real towns and their fictional counterparts are:

The Six Towns of Stoke-on-Trent Bennett's Five Towns
Tunstall Turnhill
Burslem Bursley
Hanley Hanbridge
Stoke Knype
Longton Longshaw

The name "Knype" may have been taken from the village of Knypersley near Biddulph, and/or Knypersley Hall.

Oldcastle, where Edwin Clayhanger goes to school, represents Newcastle-under-Lyme.

Axe, towards which Tertius Ingpen lives, represents Leek.

Several of Bennett's novels set in the Potteries have been made into films, for example The Card starring Alec Guinness, or television mini-series, such as Anna of the Five Towns[12] and Clayhanger.[13]


Bennett's output was prodigious and, by his own admission, was based on maximising his income. 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, notably Virginia Woolf, perceived weaknesses in his work. To her and other Bloomsbury authors Bennett represented the "old guard". His style was traditional rather than modern, which made him an obvious target for those who liked to present themselves as challenging literary conventions.[14][15] Max Beerbohm criticised Bennett as a social climber who had forgotten his origins, and 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 the people.

For much of the 20th century the critical and academic reception of Bennett's work was affected by the Bloomsbury intellectuals' perception and it was not until the 1990s that a more positive view of his work became widely accepted.[16] The English critic John Carey had a major influence on this reassessment. Carey praises him in his book The Intellectuals and the Masses, declaring Bennett his "hero" because his writings "represent a systematic dismemberment of the intellectuals' case against the masses".[17]

In Queen's Quorum (1951), a survey of crime fiction, Ellery Queen listed Bennett's The Loot of Cities among the 100 most important works in the genre. This collection of stories recounts the adventures of a millionaire who commits crimes to achieve his idealistic ends. Although it was "one of his least known works," it was nevertheless "of unusual interest, both as an example of Arnold Bennett's early work and as an early example of dilettante detectivism".[18]


  • 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.
  • [Referring to his novel The Man from the North] I put in genuine quantities of wealth, luxury, feminine beauty, surprise, catastrophe and genial incurable optimism.

List of works




  • What the Public Wants — 1909
  • Cupid and Commonsense — 1912
  • Milestones (with E. Knoblock) — 1912
  • The Great Adventure — 1913
  • The Title — 1918
  • Judith[22] — 1919
  • The Love Match — 1922
  • Body and Soul — 1922
  • The Bright Island — 1924
  • A London Life — 1926
  • The Return Journey — 1928


Film Adaptations

Television Adaptations


Statue of Arnold Bennett outside the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery in Hanley, Stoke-On-Trent

The Omelette Arnold Bennett

While Bennett was staying at the Savoy Hotel in London the chefs perfected an omelette incorporating smoked haddock, Parmesan cheese and cream, which pleased him so much that he insisted that it be prepared wherever he travelled. The Omelette Arnold Bennett has remained a standard dish at the Savoy ever since.[23]

Newcastle-Under-Lyme, Staffordshire

A number of streets in the Bradwell area of Newcastle-under-Lyme, which neighbours Stoke-on-Trent, are named after places and characters in Bennett's works, and Bennett himself.


Two blue plaques have been installed to commemorate Bennett. The first, at his former residence in Cadogan Square, London was placed by London County Council in 1958.[24] The second was placed in 2014 by Stoke-on-Trent City Council at Bennett's childhood home on Waterloo Road in Cobridge.[25]

A brown plaque has also been placed by the Arnold Bennett Society on Bennett's final residence at Chiltern Court in London.[26]

A two-metre-high bronze statue of Bennett has been placed outside the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery in Hanley, Stoke-On-Trent in June 2017 during the events marking the 150th anniversary of his birth.[27]


  1. "Listed Buildings in Stoke-on-Trent. (33a) Former home of Arnold Bennett, Cobridge". 19 April 1972. Retrieved 7 November 2016.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Morgan, Ted (1980). Somerset Maugham. London: Jonathan Cape. p. 17. ISBN 0224018132.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. UK CPI inflation numbers based on data available from Gregory Clark (2015), "The Annual RPI and Average Earnings for Britain, 1209 to Present (New Series)" MeasuringWorth.
  4. Lyons, Paul K. (30 September 2009). "The Diary Review: A Half-Crown Public". Retrieved 7 November 2016.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Smith, Adrian (1996). The New Statesman: Portrait of a Political Weekly, 1913–1931. Taylor & Francis. p. 122. ISBN 978-0-7146-4169-0.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Sitwell, Osbert, Noble Essences: Or Courteous Revelations, Being a Book Of Characters and the Fifth and Last Volume, New York, MacMillan and Co., 1950.
  7. Ego 5. Again More of the Autobiography of James Agate., London, George G. Harrap and Co. Ltd (page 166), 1942.
  8. "Index entry". FreeBMD. ONS. Retrieved 29 April 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. "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.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. "Arnold Bennett: The Edwardian David Bowie?". BBC. 23 June 2014. Retrieved 17 October 2016.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. 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...<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. "Anna of the Five Towns". 9 January 1985 – via IMDb.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. "Clayhanger". 1 January 1976 – via IMDb.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. Seminar – "Mr Bennett and Mrs Brown" Archived 9 September 2006 at the Wayback Machine
  15. "Essay on the debate between Woolf and Bennett including comments on poor modern reputation of Bennett" (PDF). Retrieved 7 November 2016.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. Bukowski, Nicholas Howe, and Morris Dickstein (2014). "Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Woolf." In: A Voice Still Heard: Selected Essays of Irving Howe, edited by Nina Howe. New Haven: Yale University Press, pp. 335–340.
  17. Carey, John (1992). The Intellectuals and the Masses. London: Faber and Faber, p. 152.
  18. 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.
  19. Bennett, Arnold (6 November 2007). "Mental Efficiency, and Other Hints to Men and Women" – via Project Gutenberg.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  20. Arnold Bennett (5 March 2008). "Things that Have Interested Me". Retrieved 7 November 2016.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  21. "Project Gutenberg".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  22. "Project Gutenberg".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  23. Smith, Delia (2001–2009). "Omelette Arnold Bennett". Delia Smith / NC Internet Ltd. Retrieved 6 June 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  24. "Arnold Bennett Blue Plaque in London". Retrieved 14 January 2017.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  25. "Novelist Arnold Bennett Honoured with a Blue Plaque at his Childhood Home in Cobridge". The Staffordshire Sentinel. 13 October 2014. Retrieved 14 January 2017.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  26. "Arnold Bennett Brown Plaque in London". Retrieved 14 January 2017.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  27. "Arnold Bennett Statue to Be Unveiled in Hanley to Mark 150th Anniversary of His Birth". The Staffordshire Sentinel. 11 January 2017. Retrieved 14 January 2017.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Further reading

  • Allen, Walter (1948). Arnold Bennett. London: Home and Van Thal.
  • Baker, Ernest A. (1957). The History of the English Novel, Vol. 10. New York: Barnes & Noble.
  • Bennett, Marguerite (1925). Arnold Bennett. London: A.M. Philpot.
  • Bennett, Marguerite (1931). My Arnold Bennett. London: Nicholson & Watson.
  • Bennett, Richard, ed. (1935). Arnold Bennett's Letters to His Nephew. New York: Harper & Brothers.
  • Bullett, Gerald (1926). "Arnold Bennett". Modern English Fiction: A Personal View. London: Herbert Jenkins. pp. 34–45.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Chesterton, G.K. (1923). "The Mercy of Mr. Arnold Bennett." In: Fancies versus Fads. London: Methuen & Co., pp. 86–92.
  • Cooper, Frederic Taber (1912). Some English Story Tellers. New York: Henry Holt & Company.
  • Cross, Wilbur L. (1930). Four Contemporary Novelists. New York: The Macmillan Company.
  • Darton, F.J.H. (1920). Arnold Bennett. London: Nisbet & Co.
  • Delattre, Floris (1926). "Sur Deux Ouvrages Récents d'Arnold Bennet". Revue Anglo-Américaine. III (3): 193–205.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Drabble, Margaret (1974). Arnold Bennett: A Biography. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Follett, Helen Thomas & Follett, Wilson (1919). Some Modern Novelists. New York: Henry Holt and Company.
  • Hackett, Francis (1918). Horizons; a Book of Criticism. New York: B.W. Huebsch.
  • Hall, James (1959). Arnold Bennett: Primitivism and Taste. Seattle: University of Washington Press.
  • Hepburn, James (1963). The Art of Arnold Bennett. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
  • Hepburn, James, ed. (1981). Arnold Bennett: The Critical Heritage. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
  • Howells, William Dean (1911). "Editor's Easy Chair," Harper's Monthly Magazine, Vol. CXXII, pp. 633–36.
  • Johnson, L.G. (1924). Arnold Bennett. London: C.W. Daniel.
  • Lafourcade, Georges (1939). Arnold Bennett: A Study. London: Frederick Muller.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Lucas, John (1974). Arnold Bennett: A Study in His Fiction. London: Methuen.
  • Maugham, W. Somerset (1931). "Arnold Bennett". Life and Letters. X (37): 413–22.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Mencken, H.L. (1920). Prejudices, first series. New York: A.A. Knopf.
  • Mix, Katherine Lyon (1960). A Study in Yellow; the Yellow Book and its Contributors. Lawrence: University of Kansas Press.
  • Murry, John Middleton (1913). "Mr. Bennett, Stendhal and the Modern Novel." The Blue Review, Vol. I, No. 3, pp. 164–74.
  • Mylett, Andrew, ed. (1974). Arnold Bennett: The 'Evening Standard' Years. London: Chatto & Windus.
  • Overton, Grant M. (1922). "Audacious Mr. Bennett." In: When Winter Comes to Main Street. New York: George H. Doran Company, pp. 133–51.
  • Pound, Reginald (1952). Arnold Bennett: A Biography. London: Heinemann.
  • Priestley, J. B. (1924). "Arnold Bennett". Figures in Modern Literature. London: Bodley Head. pp. 3–30.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Richards, Grant (1934). Author Hunting by an Old Literary Sportsman. New York: Coward-McCann.
  • Rinsler, Norma (1988). "Arnold Bennett and the Desire for France." In: Ceri Crossley, ed., Studies in Anglo-French Cultural Relations. London: Macmillan Press, pp. 84–101.
  • Roberts, R. Ellis (1931). "Arnold Bennett," The Nineteenth Century and After, Vol. CIX, No. 651, pp. 613–24.
  • Scott-James, R. A. (1913). "Arnold Bennett". Personality in Literature. London: Martin Secker. pp. 170–86.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Sherman, Stuart P. (1917). On Contemporary Literature. New York: Henry Holt & Company.
  • Simons, J.B. (1936). Arnold Bennett and His Novels. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.
  • Squillace, Robert (1997). Modernism, Modernity, and Arnold Bennett. Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press.
  • Swinnerton, Frank (1969). The Georgian Literary Scene, 1910-1935. London: Hutchinson.
  • Swinnerton, Frank (1978). Arnold Bennett: A Last Word. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday & Company.
  • Tillier, Louis (1934). "Arnold Bennett ou la Mutilation Volontaire". Revue Anglo-Américaine. XI (4): 313–21.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Tillier, Louis (1949). Studies in the Sources of Arnold Bennett's Novels. Paris: Didier.
  • Wain, John (1957). "The Quality of Arnold Bennett." In: Preliminary Essays. London: Macmillan & Co., 121–56.
  • Wain, John (1965). "Arnold Bennett." Six Modern British Novelists. New York: Columbia University Press.
  • Warrilow, E.J.D. (1966). Arnold Bennett and Stoke-on-Trent. Stoke-on-Trent: Etruscan Publications.
  • West, Geoffrey (1933). The Problem of Arnold Bennett. London: Joiner and Steele.
  • West, Rebecca (1931). Arnold Bennett Himself. New York: John Day.
  • Wilson, Harris (1960). Arnold Bennett and H.G. Wells: a Record of a Personal and a Literary Friendship. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.
  • Woolf, Virginia (1928). Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown. London: The Hogarth Press.
  • Wright, W.F. (1971). Arnold Bennett: Romantic Realist. Lincoln, Nebr.: University of Nebraska Press.

External links