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Title: The craft of Arnold Bennett
Author: Howarth, Barry
ISNI:       0000 0004 6059 1009
Awarding Body: University of Liverpool
Current Institution: University of Liverpool
Date of Award: 2016
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For the first thirty years of the twentieth century, Arnold Bennett (1867-1931) was one of most famous writers in Great Britain and the United States of America. His stock began to wane after the end of the First World War, and since his death his work has been neglected. What remains of his reputation today rests largely on his achievements in his Five Towns fiction. During his lifetime and posthumously, Bennett was accused of operating as a literary profiteer and vulgar self-promoter. Some of his contemporaries alleged that, as a literary reviewer, he exercised a capricious and excessive influence on the middlebrow reading public. His detractors also suggested that his penchant for writing potboiling serials revealed that he was little more than a commercial servant of magazine and newspaper editors, and of the mass consumerist ideology which they blandly sustained. Most damagingly, his critics came to believe that the quality of his fiction had so declined by the end of the war that he was artistically incapable of embracing the radical challenges of Modernist experimentation. The thesis shows that, as a prolific journalist and perceptive literary critic, his catholic appeal to the reading public was extensive. It also shows that his articles are important for contemporary readers because they sketch out a relief map pointing to the most significant contours of the literary landscape between 1900 and 1930. In addition, the thesis demonstrates that his serials have been injudiciously undervalued. Whilst they were never conceived as high Art, they were important because they helped him to develop as a writer. They provide cogent proof that he always travelled freely along a continuum linking the artist to the craftsman and tradesman. Furthermore, the cultural codes, social values and moral shibboleths which they presciently evoke still resonate in the digital age of the twenty-first century. In his presentation of the enclosed Five Towns communities, the thesis argues that Bennett combined mimetic topography and local culture with deft and complex interpretations of social and private identity. This sophisticated construct allowed him to combine his fidelity to realism with subtle explorations of self-definition. Bennett was not just an accomplished regionalist, and the thesis concludes that he never became stranded as a beached reactionary after the war. His metropolitan novels draw freely upon the interest which he took in the work of Freud and W.H.R. Rivers. They shaped the emergence of his new manner fiction and several of his short stories, allowing him to demonstrate the invalidity of Virginia Woolf's claim that he could not write convincingly and powerfully about human psychology and its susceptibilities to the refracted and sublimated impressions of daily life.
Supervisor: Regan, L. ; Davis, N. Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral