The study and appreciation of the life, works and times of Arnold Bennett

Spring Newsletter 2016

Article Published:

Volume 5, No.11 – Issue 96

Editorial

Anna of the Five Towns, Bennett’s first acclaimed Five Towns novel, is an intensely, if not claustrophobically provincial novel. Chapter X, ‘The Isle’, provides the reader and the heroine the only escape from that oppressive atmosphere, while paradoxically also sealing Anna’s ill-chosen marital fate. The Isle of Man is thus both a turning point and a key symbol: perhaps for the central character of the novel as well as for the author. Nicholas Redman examines the significance of that island in both Bennett’s life and literary output in our opening article.

 

Bennett’s reputation has unjustifiably declined since the 1920s. His main detractors have been Virginia Woolf (‘Mr Bennett & Mrs Brown’), DH Lawrence, FR Leavis and perhaps EM Forster, who damned AB with his faint praise of The Old Wives’ Tale in his 1927 study Aspects of the Novel (‘though TOWT is strong, sincere, sad, it misses greatness’). But Bennett has been fighting back over the past three or four decades, thanks to Margaret Drabble’s acclaimed 1974 biography of AB, John Carey’s 1992 seminal work The Intellectual & the Masses (‘Arnold Bennett is the hero of this book. His writings represent a systematic dismemberment of the intellectuals’ case against the masses’) and to the impassioned defence of AB in the face of criticism from the Bloomsbury/Lawrence faction by author-journalists such as Philip Hensher and Simon Heffer. We reprint the latter’s latest broadside in this issue.

 

There is an eerie link between a short story AB wrote in 1929, ‘The Dream’, his last, unfinished novel Dream of Destiny, published posthumously in 1932, a presentiment experienced by Tertia, AB’s sister and her fiancé Willie Boulton in August 1897, a tragic drowning which occurred at Barmouth (Mid Wales) later in the same month and a presentiment experienced by Dorothy, AB’s partner, in August 1930. In ‘The Dream’ and Dream of Destiny (written in 1930) a young woman has a dream predicting she would get married and then die in childbirth.   AB himself died in March 1931 without completing his novel, so we don’t know what happened. ‘We both always knew that something like this [Willie’s drowning] would happen’, Tertia Bennett told Arnold, according to Reginald Pound (AB, pp107-8). ‘We sometimes referred to it. We knew we should never be married.’ Before W[illie] went away he said […]: ‘I’m going to die’ […]. He had parted from his mother with the words: ‘Goodbye, Mother – see you in heaven’. As for Dorothy’s presentiment, she was convinced that ‘something was going to happen to Arnold’ in an imminent yachting trip off the coast of Cornwall in August 1930. It didn’t, of course, but it did seven months later in Baker Street, London. The story of Willie’s drowning is vividly told by Nicholas Redman.

 

Posterity has not been kind to novelist and short-story writer Robert Murray Gilchrist. Nicholas Redman examines the relationship between Bennett and this much-admired and much-neglected author. Nicholas’s two final contributions cover Bennett’s 1925 trip to Salzburg and, to commemorate the hundredth anniversary of the Easter Rising, Bennett’s visits to Ireland. And our Spring Number also includes reports on the Society’s Annual Dinner, our February talk in which Morag Jones  shared her passion for the World War One poets and our usual features, Katey Goodwin’s Objects from the Bennett Collection and finally Bennettiana..

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