Just in

Great Lives/Arnold Bennett

Much as I criticise the BBC, I do consider that their arts broadcasting on Radio 4 are of high quality and worth the licence fee alone. Saturday Review presented by Tom Sutcliffe and Front Row are consistent in their critiques. Another programme I enjoy is Great Lives, presented by former Tory politician Matthew Parris.

Yesterday his Great Life was the writer Arnold Bennett, a novelist I have always enjoyed and admired in equal measure. So do writer Deborah Moggach (Heartbreak Hotel ) and Gyles Brandreth, an expert on his life and works. That Bennett is undervalued reflects less the quality of his books and more petty snobbery and jealousy. His humble origins as the son of a solicitor from the Potteries were derided by the Bloomsbury set, who largely had independent means and more (in their own eyes) “class”. His enormous success as a writer attracted jealousy as he made great deal of money and attracted great popularity here and in the States, equal to  Dickens. Even today no novelist rates a writer who has financial success because few can make any living, let alone a bountiful one, from writing.

Bennett, though prolific, did not churn out novels. His best The Old Wives Tale is a beautifully crafted tale of two sisters, the head strong, passionate, Sophia who flees the Potteries with her lover and the more domesticated and limited Constance. As Deborah Moggach observed,  it showed a sensitivity to women that is a rare amongst male novelists.

Parris added that he gave £500 to aspirant writers, no mean sum in Edwardian England, and was generous to his French wife Marguerite when their marriage broke down. His novels merit a modern readership. He deserves a finer legacy than having an omelette named after him.

Avatar photo
About Melanie Gay

A former literary agent with three published novels of her own, Melanie retains her life-long love of the written word and recently mastered the Kindle. She is currently writing a historical novel set in 17th Century Britain and Holland. More Posts