Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

Riceyman Steps

Riceyman Steps. Public staircase leading from London’s Kings Cross Road to Riceyman Square, directly over the Underground Railway, which throbs with the passage of trains, in the middle of Clerkenwell, a shabby neighborhood. Adjacent to the steps is a small open space, lined with a mixture of private housing, two business yards, a confectioner’s shop, an abandoned mission hall, and a bookseller’s. Clerkenwell is a real London neighborhood; the Riceyman Steps are fictional but based on a genuine location, known to English children as Plum Pudding Steps and to adults as Gwynne Place, formerly Granville Place. Arnold Bennett, although best known for his novels about England’s Potteries region, thoroughly explored the Clerkenwell area of London. He was attracted by the area’s Victorian domestic architecture, which remained beautiful even under the soot from coal smoke and untidiness that then blighted the district. The novel places great emphasis on the decaying nature of the area: a “hell of noise and dust and dirt.”

The neighborhood is much loved by old T. T. Riceyman, who never tires of reciting how the original tunnel near Clerkenwell Green collapsed, in the spring of 1862. The three opening chapters that sketch this history set the stage for the drama that ensues.

Riceyman’s bookshop

Riceyman’s bookshop. Business currently owned by Henry Earlforward, whose uncle is the Riceyman of the title. The shop is small, with its entrance on Riceyman Steps and a window overlooking King’s Cross Road. Although seemingly...

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(Great Characters in Literature)

Broomfield, Olga R. R. Arnold Bennett. Boston: Twayne, 1984. A good overview of the life and works, a reliable bibliography of Bennett’s publications, and a judicious selection and annotation of secondary sources. An excellent starting place.

Drabble, Margaret. Arnold Bennett. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1974. Admires Bennett’s work in general and praises Riceyman Steps for its use of London setting. Identifies F. Sommer Merryweather’s Lives and Anecdotes of Misers (1850) as an important source for Riceyman Steps.

Hepburn, James G. The Art of Arnold Bennett. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1963. Close analysis of Bennett’s technique, symbols, images, and allegories. Praises Riceyman Steps as a “complex study of love and death.”

Lucas, John. Arnold Bennett: A Study of His Fiction. New York: Methuen, 1974. Admires Bennett’s development of character in Riceyman Steps and his symbolism. Speculates on the possible psychosomatic origins of Henry Earlforward’s cancer. One of the best analyses of the novel.

Woolf, Virginia. Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown. London: The Hogarth Press, 1924. A notorious attack on Bennett and his style by the most famous of the Bloomsbury group. Argues that Bennett relies too much on external facts and physical descriptions in trying to create characters.