Biography (Critical Survey of Mystery & Detective Fiction, Revised Edition)
Arnold Bennett was born Enoch Arnold Bennett in the Potteries, a section of England that was to provide many of the scenes for his writing. He worked at a variety of jobs and eventually became editor in the 1890’s of Woman, a magazine produced for middle-class English women. He began to write reviews and short stories both for this journal and other, similar publications. Eventually, his success led to a novel and a full-time writing career. He formed a close relationship with James B. Pinker, one of the most significant early literary agents. From 1900 until his death, Bennett was one of the leading figures in the English literary world and, along with H. G. Wells and John Galsworthy, can be considered to be a founder of the Edwardian school of realistic fiction. His novels of the Five Towns area in England—including Anna of the Five Towns (1902), The Grim Smile of the Five Towns (1907), The Old Wives’ Tale (1908), Clayhanger (1910), Hilda Lessways (1911), and These Twain (1915)—are especially noteworthy. Many of his other novels, in particular The Grand Babylon Hotel (1902) and Riceyman Steps (1923), are still widely read. During World War I, Bennett wrote on wartime life and worked as a publicist for the English government.
Bennett was married to a French poet,...
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Biography (Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition)
Enoch Arnold Bennett was born on May 27, 1867, in Shelton, Staffordshire County, England, near the six towns that constitute the Potteries region in central England, the scene of much of Bennett’s early work. His father, Enoch Bennett, was successively a potter, a draper, a pawnbroker, and, eventually, through hard work and study, a solicitor. Bennett attended the local schools, where he passed the examination for Cambridge University. He did not attend college, however, because his autocratic father kept him at home as clerk in the solicitor’s office.
As a means of escape from the grime and provincialism of the Potteries district, Bennett began writing for the Staffordshire Sentinel and studying shorthand. The latter skill enabled him to become a clerk with a London law firm in 1888. In London, he set about seriously to learn to write. He moved to Chelsea in 1891 to live with the Frederick Marriott family, in whose household he was introduced to the larger world of the arts. His first work published in London was a prizewinning parody for a competition in Tit-Bits in 1893; this work was followed by a short story in The Yellow Book and, in 1898, his first novel, A Man from the North. He became the assistant editor and later the editor of the magazine Woman, writing reviews pseudonymously as “Barbara,” a gossip and advice column as “Marjorie,” and short stories as “Sal Volatile.” It is generally thought that this experience provided Bennett with good background for female characterization.
As he became better known as a journalist, Bennett began writing reviews for The Academy and giving private lessons in journalism. In 1900, his journalistic income allowed him to establish a home at Trinity Hall Farm, Hockliffe, in Bedfordshire. He brought his family to Hockliffe after his father had been disabled by softening of the brain, the condition that eventually killed him. Bennett wrote prodigiously there, producing not only his admired Anna of the Five Towns but also popular potboilers and journalism, including the anonymous “Savoir-Faire Papers” and “Novelist’s Log-Book” series for T. P.’s Weekly. This production financed some long-desired travel and a move to Paris in 1903.
Bennett lived in France for eight years, some of the busiest and happiest of his life. Shortly after his arrival, he observed a fat, fussy woman who inspired the thought that “she has been young and slim once,” a thought that lingered in his mind for five...
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Biography (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Enoch Arnold Bennett was born in Shelton, near Hanley, Staffordshire, on May 27, 1867, the son of Enoch and Sarah Ann Longson Bennett. The eldest of nine children, Bennett descended from a long line of Methodists whom he portrayed in his novels Anna of the Five Towns (1902) and Clayhanger (1910). His father, after working long days as a master potter, draper, and pawnbroker and spending his nights studying the law, qualified as a solicitor at the age of thirty-four, when Arnold was nine. The wealth of precise notation about such occupations in Bennett’s novels seems to stem from his early years. He was also fortunate enough to observe the interaction of different social classes as his family’s status steadily improved under the sway of his father’s autocratic direction (depicted in Clayhanger) and his mother’s pliable consent.
Bennett attended local schools, but his father determined that his son should be a clerk, and thus he had to forgo the opportunity of a college education. Almost immediately, Bennett resolved to get out of this clerkship, chafing at the life of the “Pottery towns,” the filth and provincialism he delineates in The Old Wives’ Tale (1908) and in other novels.
Bennett’s first literary efforts were gossipy notes that appeared in the Staffordshire Sentinel while he was educating himself by reading English, French, and Russian authors. He eventually began a job as a clerk with a firm of lawyers in London, where he escaped forever the towns of his youth.
The sometimes gloomy and temperamental Bennett did not like the law, and to supplement his poor pay he turned to secondhand bookselling, which he put to good use in his evocation of Henry Earlforward in Riceyman Steps (1923). Soon he established a circle of friends, organizing musical evenings in which he would sing without a trace of the stammer he could not otherwise control. Honing his schoolboy French, he began to consort with artists, musicians, and writers and to publish stories in prestigious London literary magazines. He found his first novel, A Man from the North (1898), an agony to write and a commercial failure....
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Biography (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
For all of his criticism of the provincial character, Arnold Bennett’s fondness for figures such as Constance Baines and Henry Earlforward is apparent, for they are presented in loving detail and often exhibit a stalwart, dependable integrity that he much admires. They also represent the power of the past, of the status quo, and of the masses of people who content themselves with life as it is. Though Bennett himself did not choose to live a conventional life, he understood and sympathized with those who made such decisions, because he realized that there were certain compensations for them—chiefly, a sense of comfort and security that his more flamboyant and romantic characters could not achieve.
Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
To become an artist dedicated unselfishly to his art was not the goal that Arnold Bennett established for himself. He was a merchant of words who wrote to earn his living, but he wrote with extraordinary facility and keen observation. That he should have become a writer at all was surprising; that he should be remembered as a notable one is almost as strange. Yet out of a welter of potboilers and hack-work, Bennett’s writing now and again rose to a level that is comparable to that of the best of his Edwardian contemporaries, among them Joseph Conrad, John Galsworthy, and H. G. Wells. The Old Wives’ Tale alone supplies reason enough for gratitude that Bennett lived and wrote.
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