ARNOLD BENNETT by Margaret Drabble


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Bennett is known by younger Americans only through Virginia Woolf's severe essay and Max Beerbohm's loving satire. Bennett's provincial origins and his marked solidity and goodness brought forth this ""act of appreciation"" from Drabble, who describes her own roots among the slag heaps and Sunday Schools of the Northern pottery-works region; she digs at the petty snobbishness of Bloomsbury and extracts the merits even of Bennett's least, and least locally colored, novels. Recognizing his emotional and sexual constrictions, the biography foregoes psychoanalysis in favor of a dense, warm account of Bennett's ascent to the lionhood of The OM Wives' Tale which rather dully persisted through yachts, a Beaverbrook propaganda ministry post during World War I, and full, vulnerable Grand Old Man status. Bennett shows a happy streak of self-irony, as when, late in life, with a sly reference to Trollope, he tells a condescending young man that he has to go home and write 1000 words in the morning. Drabble herself makes a Zola comparison, defending A.B.'s honesty despite his inferiority as a writer -- and then we remember that all the virtues in the Empire cannot substitute for great art or great social passion. Yet Drabble comes as close as anyone ever will to making Bennett shine.

Pub Date: June 21st, 1974
Publisher: Knopf