Arnold Bennett Quotes
What then? Are we only to buy the books that we read? The question has merely to be thus bluntly put, and it answers itself. All impassioned bookmen, except a few who devote their whole lives to readi...
Born into a modest but upwardly mobile family in Hanley, in the Staffordshire Potteries, Bennett was intended by his father, a solicitor, to follow him into the legal profession. Bennett worked for his father, before moving to another law firm in London as a clerk, aged 21. He became assistant editor and then editor of a women's magazine, before becoming a full-time author in 1900. Always a devotee of French culture in general and French literature in particular, he moved to Paris in 1903; there the relaxed milieu helped him overcome his intense shyness, particularly with women. He spent ten years in France, marrying a Frenchwoman in 1907. In 1912 he moved back to England. He and his wife separated in 1921 and he spent the last years of his life with a new partner, an English actress. He died in 1931 of typhoid fever, having unwisely drunk tap-water in France.
Many of Bennett's novels and short stories are set in a fictionalised version of the Staffordshire Potteries, which he called The Five Towns. He strongly believed that literature should be accessible to ordinary people, and he deplored literary cliques and élites. His books appealed to a wide public and sold in large numbers. For this reason, and for his adherence to realism, writers and supporters of the modernist school, notably Virginia Woolf, belittled him, and his fiction became neglected after his death. During his lifetime his journalistic "self-help" books sold in substantial numbers, and he was also a playwright; he did less well in the theatre than with novels, but achieved two considerable successes with Milestones (1912) and The Great Adventure (1913).
Studies by Margaret Drabble (1974), John Carey (1992) and others have led to a re-evaluation of Bennett's work. His finest novels, including Anna of the Five Towns (1902), The Old Wives' Tale (1908), Clayhanger (1910) and Riceyman Steps (1923), are now widely recognised as major works.