5 thoughts on “Arnold Bennett builds a theatre: The Regent

  1. Just read this and your earlier review of The Card. My first encounter with Bennett was when I was ploughing my way through Leavis’s book on D H Lawrence. The reference to Bennett went something like:”It strikes one as what Arnold Bennett would have wished to have done, though, being the work of a great creative genius, it is utterly beyond Bennett’s achievements.” As a Derbyshire lad with Nottinghamshire relations, I was the only one on my degree course who could understand D H Lawrence’s dialect speech. Didn’t mean that I liked him, though. I carefully filed away in my brain – read Arnold Bennett, It was some twenty years later that I finally got round to reading him and I have loved everything I have come across. He is a writer who understands the world of work – something Virginia Woolf and D H Lawrence shied away from. He could write about the factory workers and the factory owners of the Potteries, as well as the lawyers, printers, journalists. The Machin novels are a cross between his serious work and his potboilers. He wrote a lot just for the money and was good at it. But when he was serious, he could be absolutely compelling. Riceyman Steps is a masterpiece. It is not fun – actually, it is quite miserable but it is bloody good As an antidote to the machinations of Machin, it takes some beating. As for the charge that he was “stiff necked”, a glance through his journals will show what a sympathetic and acute observer of people he was and how widely read and intelligent.

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    1. Hve not yet read Riceyman Steps, so will endeavour to do so. But am still blown away by The Old Wives’ Tale and Hilda Lessways, which are magnificent. I think by ‘stiff-necked’ that I meant that once he decided on his opinions, he stuck to them. But am very willing to be corrected on this.

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      1. Sorry, I get carried away. However, I think it would be quite hard to pin down Bennett’s opinions, some times, What always comes across to me, in the serious novels, as how practical he was and how his characters had to deal with practical issues such as earning money, feeding the family, going through the pains of divorce and so on. Hilda Lessways has to go out to work at a time when middle class women were expected to be home makers and very little else. She works as a clerk in a solicitors and I always remember her looking down at her fingers and seeing them ink stained. Working class women worked at the pottery factories. The delights of the Machin novels are that he turns this on its head – Denry goes out to work, all right but he does so through genial scams, confidence schemes and the like. Yet no one gets hurt, people make money and lives are enabled by labour saving schemes and devices. Your final comments about Machin having his feet on the ground are spot on!

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