In the Words of Arnold Bennett (6): On Beauty

Samuel Peploe, 'Interior with a Japanese Print' c.1915 (University of Hull)

Samuel Peploe, ‘Interior with a Japanese Print’ c.1915 (University of Hull)

‘Edwin had never heard the word “beautiful” uttered in quite that tone, except by women, such as Auntie Hamps, about a baby or a valentine or a sermon. But Mr. Orgreave was not a woman; he was a man of the world, he was almost the man of the world; and the subject of his adjective was a window!’ (Clayhanger, 1910)

‘When the smock was finished he examined it intently; then exclaimed with an air of surprise: “By Jove! That’s beautiful! Where did you get this pattern?” He continued to stare at it, smiling in pleasure. He turned over the tattered leaves of the embroidery book with the same naïve, charmed astonishment, and carried the book away to the studio. “I must show it to Swynnerton,” he said. As for her, the epithet “beautiful” seemed a strange epithet to apply to a mere piece of honest stitchery done in a pattern, and a stitch with which she had been familiar all her life. The fact was she understood his “art” less and less. The sole wall decoration of his studio was a Japanese print, which struck her as being entirely preposterous, considered as a picture. She much preferred his own early drawings of moss-roses and picturesque castles – things that he now mercilessly condemned.’ (The Old Wives Tale, 1908)

This quotation is the sixth part of a series dedicated to the work of the great Edwardian writer Arnold Bennett (1867-1931), on whom we will be co-hosting a symposium (‘Arnold Bennett and His Circle’) at Keele University on 17th-18th October. More details here.

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