Arnold Bennett (1867-1931)

Biography

Arnold Bennett was born on 27th May 1867 in Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent, England. Arnold was the eldest son and his father (Enoch Bennett) worked as a pawnbroker until he qualified as a solicitor in 1876. Following his father's career change, the family were able to move to a larger house between Hanley and Burslem. Arnold completed his schooling at the Middle School, Newcastle-under-Lyme.

On leaving school, Arnold worked for his father doing jobs like rent collecting while he studied for his solicitor's exams. Arnold didn't want to follow his father's career and tried his hand at journalism in his spare time. In 1888, Arnold left his father's practice and took a job in London as a solicitor's clerk. In 1889, Arnold won a literary competition in Tit Bits magazine and was encouraged to take up journalism full time. In 1894 he became assistant editor of the magazine Woman. He was disappointed by the quality of the material offered by a syndicate to the magazine and he wrote a serial which was bought by the syndicate for 75 pounds. He then wrote another. This became The Grand Babylon Hotel. Just over four years later his first novel A Man from the North was published to critical acclaim and he became editor of the magazine.

In 1900 Arnold began his career as a fulltime writer. He moved to Trinity Hall Farm, Hockliffe, Bedfordshire on Watling Street which was the inspiration for his novel Teresa of Watling Street which came out in 1904. His father Enoch Bennett died there in 1902, and he is buried in Chalgrove churchyard. In 1902 Anna of the Five Towns, the first of a succession of stories which detailed life in the Potteries, was published.

In 1903 Arnold moved to Paris to join other artists and authors who had converged on Montmartre and Montparnasse. Bennett spent the next eight years writing novels and plays. In 1908 The Old Wives' Tale was published, and was an immediate worldwide success. After a successful visit to America in 1911 he returned to England where the Old Wives' Tale was reappraised and hailed as a masterpiece.

During the First World War, Bennett became Director of Propaganda at the War Ministry. He refused a knighthood in 1918. He won the 1923 James Tait Black Memorial Prize for his novel Riceyman Steps and in 1926 at the suggestion of Lord Beaverbrook, he began writing an influential weekly article on books for the Evening Standard newspaper.

He separated from his French wife in 1922 but fell in love with the actress Dorothy Cheston, with whom he remained until his death from typhoid fever in London on 27th March 1931. His ashes are buried in Burslem cemetery.

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