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, Marguerite Soulié. Later, the couple separated, and Bennett was married to Dorothy Cheston. This union...
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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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