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On this day in history in 1867, was born Arnold Bennett.
Bennett was a rent collector turned journalist and author, who wrote novels depicting the quirks and realities of five of his six home towns.
Enoch Arnold Bennett was born on 27th May 1867, at Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent, one of the six towns collectively known at The Potteries on account of the local ceramic industry. He was educated at Middle School, Newcastle-under-Lyne, where he became well versed in the intricacies of Latin, English and French grammar. Bennett’s father was a pot-maker who had become a law clerk and then a solicitor, and had ambitions for the young Bennett to enter the legal profession. Bennett duly matriculated at London University, to read law, but felt unable to complete the course and left without a degree.
Bennett was employed as a rent collector at his father’s business, for a brief time, until his ambitious father exhorted him to take a job as a law clerk at a London firm. He soon got tired of law work and, during the time when he should have been writing indentures, scribbled out literary pieces which he submitted to various London journals. In 1894, he landed a job at the magazine Woman, a journal of some repute, catering to the gender suggested by its title. Here he wrote popular serial fiction for the masses, while secretly working on his sideline of serious literary fiction.
In 1898, his furtive writing bore fruit when he published A Man from the North, and in 1902 he brought out Anna of the Five Towns, the first of a series of stories of life in the Potteries. Bennett’s work reflected the mores and traditions of life in his home town of Stoke-on-Trent. He wrote like Dickens, except that his characters were commonplace individuals, whereas Dickens’ creations were outrageous. His style was somewhat like the French author, Maupassant, as he wrote about ordinary people, whose lives rise from the mundane when extraordinary events overtake them. His work was similar to the work of Thomas Hardy, in that he created fictitious places out of real locations. He wrote mainly about the Potteries which, at that time, consisted of 6 small towns, which have now merged into the city of Stoke-on-Trent, but changed the names so that Tunstall became Turnhill, Hanley became Hanbridge, and Stoke, for some reason, became Knype. He omitted one of towns because, he said, the expression ‘Five Towns’ sounds more euphonious.
In 1903, he moved to Montmartre, Paris, where he spent 8 years writing novels and plays. In 1908, he published The Old Wives' Tale, which was a moderate success, followed by Clayhanger in 1910, and The Card in 1911.
During the First World War, he was appointed Director of Propaganda at the War Ministry. In 1922, he left his French wife for the actress, Dorothy Cheston. In 1931, on a visit to Paris, he drank a glass of the local water, in order to prove to sceptics that the water supply was safe. Unfortunately, the water was contaminated with typhoid and he contracted typhoid fever and died on 27th March 1931. His funeral was held at Golders Green Crematorium, and his ashes are buried at Burslem Cemetery. [Hanley Road, Burslem, Stoke on Trent, ST6 1RD.]
Bennett, Arnold. The Old Wives' Tale. Twentieth Century Classics.
Bennett, Arnold. Anna of the Five Towns. Penguin Modern Classics.
Bennett, Arnold. The Card. Paperback.
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