Arnold Bennett. I have heard his name on several occasions, guessed from the context that he was an author, but I didn’t know anything about him really. It didn’t help that when I heard the name my brain produced a mashup of one of Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads, and the song Arnold Lane by an early Pink Floyd.
Anyway, I came across Mr Bennett again recently. He had written a series of essays called Things That Have Interested Me. A small firework went off in my head and I whipped over to Wikipedia to check him out.
A potted history from said source goes like this: “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.”
He grew up in Henley in the Potteries, Staffordshire, where he worked for his solicitor father. Poor pay and lack of opportunity sent him to London, and later France. He wrote prolifically and successfully: novels, journalism and non-fiction, essays, propaganda for the French during WW1, short stories, plays, an opera, and had several works turned into films, even during his lifetime.
He’s been a bit of out fashion for a while; the Bloomsbury set said he was old fashioned, a traditional, dusty, fusty writer compared to their bright modernism, but he never really went away. Margaret Drabble, author of Bennett’s biography, is not alone in thinking upper middle class snobbery was at work here; not knowing your place and upward social mobility were not agreeable to the middle classes at the beginning of the last century (are they now?).
His work is in the public domain now, so you can check him out at Project Gutenberg or LibriVox, or Faded Page. Obviously, much of the content is dated – it’s over 100 years old – but the stories are still relevant. How to Live on Twenty-Four Hours a Day is a particular gem, and has had me thinking about all manner of things.
Arnold Bennett died in London, from typhoid, in 1931.