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 edwardianculture@hotmail.co.uk for a draft programme of the day’s events).

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