Monthly Archives: September 2014

On Arnold Bennett (6): Jolly Gargoyles


‘Now the danger that dogs Mr. Bennett’s more sober achievements, built up with such Euclidean logic, tracing causes with such exquisite clarity, is that they may fail to convey the sense of the fantastic element in life, the untamed force that pounds through the fabric so incalculably, dishevelling and exalting the neat systems. Two and two make five in real life; in Clayhanger perhaps they too often add neatly up to four. It is this Gothic element in things that makes such a jolly gargoyle as The Grand Babylon Hotel a more faithful symbol of reality than some such sterner stuff; and it is this heightened irrational strain that one wants to see swaggering through the cool symmetry of Clayhanger like 0rgan-music throbbing through a church’ (Dixon Scott, review of The Card in The Manchester Guardian, 23rd February 23rd, 1911)

For more information on our upc0ming symposium (‘Arnold Bennett and His Circle’), see here (or e-mail us at for a draft programme of the day’s events).

On Arnold Bennett (5): Greatness beyond Glamour

'Man Reading' by Barnett Freedman (c.1925)

‘Man Reading’ by Barnett Freedman (c.1925)

‘The hero, Clayhanger, is merely a nice young fellow who likes to read and yearns for a more elegance and refinement than his home can offer him. Without great force or energy, he is industrious and honest; without overwhelming abilities, he has a taste for literature and art; without deep tenderness, he has kindly emotions and a fund of fairness and good-will […] There is no glamour of romance thrown about the situation; there are no adventures. No attempt at all is made to rectify reality. But it is a very great novel, none the less; so great that it throws into the shadow all the novels of the last decade. Even [H.G. Well’s] Tono-Bungay, full of meat and life as it was, seems slim and unpleasant in comparison.’ (Unsigned review of Clayhanger, North American Review, December 191o)

For more information on our upc0ming symposium (‘Arnold Bennett and His Circle’), see here (or e-mail us at for a draft programme of the day’s events)

On Arnold Bennett (4): Go On, Great Man!


‘My dear Bennett,

You know what life is. I have really wanted badly to write you at length about The Old Wives Tale and make you understand that it isn’t simply just genial mutual flattery and so forth that I want to send you this time […] I think the book a quite pre-eminent novel so that it at least doubles your size in my estimation. It is far too big, too fine and too restrained to get at first anything like the recognition it is bound in the long run to bring you. It is the best book I have seen this year – and there have been one or two very good books – and I am certain it will secure you the respect of all the distinguished critics who are now consuming gripe-water and suchlike, if you never never write another line. It is all at such a high level that one does not know where to begin commending, but I think the high light for me is the bakehouse glimpse of Sam Povey. But the knowledge, the details, the spirit! from first to last it never fails. I wish it could have gone into ‘The English Review’. Well, I go round telling everyone I meet about it – I wish Chapman & Hall would do the same. Go on great man!’

Yours ever. H. G. [Wells] (November 1908)

For more information on our upc0ming symposium (‘Arnold Bennett and His Circle’), see here (or e-mail us at for a draft programme of the day’s events).

On Arnold Bennett (3): The Most Modern Writer I Know

Electric Tram in Stoke-on-Trent

Electric Tram in Stoke-on-Trent

‘All Mr. Bennett’s stories have the one striking attribute – a lavish vitality expended, not on sentiment or on philosophy, but on sheer joy in contemporary life as a spectacle. His novels and what he calls his fantasias are equally modern in spirit. He is the most modern writer I know; for modernity with him is not not so much a matter of reflection or argument, but the air in which his temperament naturally exists. I do not deny him reflections or arguments; on the contrary, he reflects and argues, as a critic, exceedingly well. But primarily he is a poet, and I know no other absolutely modern English novelist of whom this can be said. Such things as the Bursley electric trams and Bursley corporation, London law courts, and plutocratic excesses in the Riveria, are integral and fully dissolved elements of his imaginative experience. He feels their poetic content quite spontaneously. If his medium were verse instead of prose, his work would utterly confute the Stevensonian dogma that the word “hatter” is impossible for emotional verse’ (J. E. Barton, ‘Fiction and Mr. Arnold Bennett’, New Age, 3rd December 1908)

For more information on our upc0ming symposium (‘Arnold Bennett and His Circle’), see here (or e-mail us at for a draft programme of the day’s events).

On Arnold Bennett (2): Realism and Reality


‘My dear Sir,
The reading of the Man from the North has inspired me with the greatest respect for your artistic conscience. I am profoundly impressed with the achievement of style. The root of the matter – which is expression – is there, and the sacred fire too […] Generally, however, I may say that the die has not been struck hard enough. Here’s a piece of pure metal scrupulously shaped, with a true – and more – a beautiful ring: but the die has not been struck hard enough. I admit that the outlines of the design are sharp enough. What it wants is a more emphatic modelling; more relief […] Nothing would give me greater pleasure than to have it out with you, the book there on the table, to be thumped and caressed. I would quarrel not with the truth of your conception but with the realism thereof. You stop just short of absolutely real because you are faithful to your dogmas of realism. Now realism in art will never approach reality. And your art, your gift, should be put to the service of a larger and freer faith’ (Joseph Conrad to Arnold Bennett, 10th March 1902)

For more information on our upc0ming symposium (‘Arnold Bennett and His Circle’), see here (or e-mail us at for a draft programme of the day’s events).

On Arnold Bennett (1): Sincerity, Truthfulness, and Insight


St. John’s Square, Burslem

Following our series of quotations from books by Arnold Bennett, we have decided to compile some choice comments on Arnold Bennett and his fiction, by a range of well-known and unknown writers. First up, an unsigned review from the US:

‘Unhappily named and ungainly in appearance, filling nearly six hundred pages of close typography, opening in a way that promises to tax the reader’s endurance, and concerned from beginning to end with mean or commonplace characters, not one of whom is tricked out with the attributes that are commonly thought necessary to arouse sympathy and retain interest, The Old Wives Tale, by Mr. Arnold Bennett, is nevertheless a remarkable work of fiction, a book of such sincerity, truthfulness, and insight as to make the ordinary novel seem hopelessly shallow and artificial by comparison.’ (Unsigned Review, Dial, Chicago, 1st October 1909)

For more information on our upc0ming symposium (‘Arnold Bennett and His Circle’), see here (or e-mail us at for a draft programme of the day’s events).

CFP: The Arts and Feeling in Nineteenth-Century Literature and Culture

Walter Sickert, 'The End of the Act', c.1885

Walter Sickert, ‘The End of the Act’, c.1885

The Arts and Feeling in Nineteenth-Century Literature and Culture, Birkbeck College, University of London, 16-18 July 2015

Keynote Speakers: Professor Caroline Arscott (Courtauld Institute of Art, London); Professor Tim Barringer (Yale University); Meaghan Clarke (University of Sussex); Professor Kate Flint (University of Southern California); Professor Michael Hatt (University of Warwick); Professor Jonah Siegel (Rutgers); Alison Smith (Tate Britain)

“She saw no, not saw, but felt through and through a picture; she bestowed upon it all the warmth and richness of a woman’s sympathy; not by any intellectual effort, but by this strength of heart, and this guiding light of sympathy…” (Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Marble Faun,1860)

This conference will explore the ways in which nineteenth-century authors, artists, sculptors, musicians and composers imagined and represented emotion and how writers and critics conceptualised the emotional aspects of aesthetic response. How did Victorian artists represent feeling and how were these feelings aestheticised? What rhetorical strategies did Victorian writers use to figure aesthetic response? What expressive codes and conventions were familiar to the Victorians? Which nineteenth-century scientific developments affected artistic production and what impact did these have on affective reactions? Continue reading

CFP Reminder: Enchanted Edwardians


Our third annual conference will be held at the University of Bristol next March. Please see details below, and share with interested parties! (pdf version: Enchanted Edwardians CFP)



Third Annual Conference of the Edwardian Culture Network,

University of Bristol, 30TH-31ST MARCH 2015


Confirmed Keynote Speakers:

Professor Ronald Hutton (University of Bristol) and Dr. Sarah Turner (Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art)


‘The Hills are empty now, and all the People of the Hills are gone. I’m the only one left. I’m Puck, the oldest Old Thing in England, very much at your service if—if you care to have anything to do with me’.

Rudyard Kipling, Puck of Pook’s Hill (1906)

Edwardian culture is filled with otherworldly encounters: from Rat and Mole’s meeting with Pan on the riverbank in Wind in the Willows (1908), to Lionel Wallace’s glimpse of an enchanted garden beyond the green door in H. G. Well’s short story The Door in the Wall (1911). In art, Charles Conder’s painted fans evoked an exotic arcadia, whilst the music of Edward Elgar and Frederick Delius conjured up nostalgic dreamlands. Continue reading

Review: Reading Saki


Brian Gibson, Reading Saki: The Fiction of H.H. Munro (McFarland & Company Inc., 2014)

Hector Hugh Munro, best known by his pen-name ‘Saki’, was a true “Edwardian” writer, with a literary career which spanned the period from late 1890s until his death on the Front in 1916. He was born in Burma, raised in England, and travelled throughout Europe with his family to improve his education; not an especially irregular upbringing for middle-class children during the days of the Empire. Munro’s works encapsulate the lingering nostalgic Victorian notions of Empire, not only in terms of the exotic appeal and the yet cultural un-attainability of the colonies, but also of European rivals, particularly the Russian Empire (which projected, for him, a glorious image of Romance and chivalry). He is known predominantly for short satirical stories, offering deliciously scathing commentaries and dark sketches on the superficiality he perceived in the society of his time. Continue reading

In the Words of Arnold Bennett (9): On Belief

Hornsey High Street, 1873

Hornsey High Street, 1873

‘She could never say, with joyous fervour: “I believe!” At best she could only assert that she did not disbelieve – and was she so sure even of that? No! Belief had been denied to her; and to dream of consolation from religion was sentimentally womanish; even in her indifference she preferred straightforward, honest damnation to the soft self-deceptions of feminine religiosity. Ah! If she could have been a Roman Catholic, genuine and convinced […] But she was not a Roman Catholic. She could no more become a Roman Catholic than she could become the queen of some romantic Latin country of palaces and cathedrals. She was a young provincial girl staying in a boarding-house at Hornsey, on the Great Northern line out of London, and she was suffering from a nervous breakdown. Such was the exterior common sense of the situation.’ (Hilda Lessways, 1911)

This quotation is the ninth 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.