Breaking the Mould. Stoke.

Arnold Bennett

C19th. Painted brick under slate roof. House and shop of John Baines and the Baines family in The Old Wives' Tale. Interesting juxtaposition of fireplace with stone mantel in basement and newer supporting pillar to first floor. Premises unused at present.

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Arnold Bennett was born on 27th May 1867 the son of a solicitor. He was a writer who drew on his own experiences and those of ordinary people around him to feed into his work. The novelist was first employed by his father and the work included collecting rents; the main character of The Card began building his fortune by rent collecting. Parental miserliness also recurs as a theme in his work and indeed Bennett became dissatisfied working for his father for little financial gain, and at the age of 21 he moved to London taking a job as a solicitor's clerk.

Bennett had already written some journalism in his spare time and when in 1889 he won a literary competition he was encouraged to take up journalism full time. In 1894 he became assistant editor of Woman. Not impressed by the quality of the serials published in the magazine he began to write his own. Success followed quickly and by 1900 has was able to give up editing and he turned full time to writing.

His output was prodigious: novels, short stories, plays, criticism, theatre journalism, dairies and even a self help book. It was well received in America and across the English-speaking world. However his work was not always critically lauded and Bennett himself admitted:

"Am I to sit still and see other fellows pocketing two guineas apiece for stories which I can do better myself? Not me. If anyone imagines my sole aim is art for art's sake, they are cruelly deceived."

Criticism of Bennett's financial success has been countered by a letter from Osbert Sitwell to James Agate which mentions a quote from Bennett:

"I find I am richer this year than last; so I enclose a cheque for 500 pounds for you to distribute among young writers and artists and musicians who may need the money. You will know, better than I do, who they are. But I must make one condition, that you do not reveal that the money has come from me. Or tell anyone about it."

In 1903 Bennett moved to Paris where many great artists of the time had gathered. He spent eight years there writing, among other works, The Old Wives Tales.

During the First World War, and on Lord Beaverbrook's recommendation, Bennett was made Director of Propaganda for France at the Ministry of Information. Also at Beaverbrook's suggestion he later wrote a regular column on books for the Evening Standard.

Bennett died of typhoid in London on 27 March 1931 and his ashes are buried in Burslem cemetery.

He believed that the stories of ordinary people had the potential to make good books. His work continues to be popular and widely available.

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