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You are in: Stoke & Staffordshire > History > Local Heroes > Arnold Bennett

Bennett's house

Bennett's former house in Cobridge

Arnold Bennett

Arnold Bennett - the Potteries author, who wrote about Stoke on Trent extensively, especially in Anna Of The Five Towns.

Q. What do we know about him?

He was born above a pawnbrokers in Hope Street in Hanley in 1867. His father wanted him to be a solicitor and enter the family firm.

Now if there was one thing Arnold Bennett knew, it was that he didn't want to be a solicitor. He hadn't aimed to be a journalist, although he did enjoy writing - in fact he wrote articles for the Sentinel newspaper on a part time basis.

Another thing he knew for sure, was that he wanted to escape his father's strict Victorian regime, so, at the age of 22 he applied for, and was successful in getting a clerk's job at a firm of London solicitors.

While there he was introduced to a circle of writers who encouraged him to pursue that side of his artistic nature. As a result, he quickly rose up the ladder to become a respected London journalist and novelist.

Q. So what was his first novel?

It was Anna of the Five Towns. The draft version was called Anna Tellwright, after the main character, but altered when it was published in 1901. It was that book that set him on the road to worldwide fame.

Q. What about this claim that he was the greatest realist writer of the 20th century?

When Anna of the Five Towns was published, literary critics were so taken by his descriptive powers of the smoky and industrial scenes of the potteries, they compared him to Charles Dickens.

Having said that though, Bernard Hollowood (another Potteries-bred writer, and the editor of Punch Magazine) is reputed to have said that, without the Potteries, Bennett was nothing! - the implication being he needed the atmosphere of the Potteries to awaken his artistic writing talents.

Q. What happened after that book was released?

He went on to write, among many others, The Old Wives' Tale - a story about two sisters in Burslem, which was inspired by watching one old lady eating alone in a Paris restaurant.

As a result of these books - and in a world where they wasn't any television - he became the world's most famous author - and in today's terms, a superstar. He became the most sought after celebrity in Britain - and one of the most sought after in the world. In social circles, he was the one person everyone wanted to be seen with.

He was the highest paid journalist in Britain and during the first world war, was offered the job of heading up British propaganda in Europe. Even when he went to America, he was met with ticker-tape welcome scenes everywhere he went. He was even offered a knighthood, but turned it down!

It's hard to appreciate today, but he really was, in his day, a superstar - even more so than Robbie Williams!

Stills from The Card

Q. So what about his legacy?

Well, 100 years after his first book was published, he's still considered to be one of the world's all-time realist writers. His books have been converted into films - the most famous being The Card with Alec Guinness (pictured right), all about a famous Potteries character.

He put Stoke-on-Trent (well the Potteries area - because of course, it wasn't a city then) on the world map. Now Bennett admirers, including Professor Ray Johnson of Staffordshire University, can easily attract many visitors to Bennett conferences. One admirer is Lord (Roy) Hattersley, vice president of the Arnold Bennett society, which is based in Burslem.

Q. What about your radio series - is it available anywhere?

The Arnold Bennett series was available on CD from BBC Radio Stoke's reception, unfortunately we have currently sold out.  We are hoping that more copies will be available very soon.  For more information Call Terry Walsh at BBC Radio Stoke on 01782 208080.

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last updated: 04/08/2009 at 10:41
created: 04/04/2006

You are in: Stoke & Staffordshire > History > Local Heroes > Arnold Bennett

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