Enoch Arnold Bennett was born on 27 May 1867 in a modest house in Hanley, one of a conurbation of 6 towns which joined together at the beginning of the 20th century as Stoke-on-Trent, in the Potteries district of Staffordshire. Enoch Bennett died on 27 March 1931 of typhoid at his home in Baker Street, London, England, UK. Enoch Bennett’s ashes are buried in Burslem cemetery. Their daughter Virginia Eldin lived in France and was president of the Arnold Bennett Society.
Enoch Bennett was an English novelist.
Enoch Bennett’s father, qualified as a solicitor in 1876, and the family were able to move to a larger house between Hanley and Burslem. The younger Enoch Bennett was educated locally in Newcastle-under-Lyme.
Enoch Bennett was employed by his father – his duties included rent collecting. Enoch Bennett was unhappy working for his father for little financial reward, and the theme of parental miserliness is important in his novels. In his spare time he was able to do a little journalism, but his breakthrough as a writer was to come after he had moved from his native Potteries. At the age of 21, he left his father’s practice and went to London as a solicitor’s clerk.
Enoch Bennett won a literary competition in Tit-Bits magazine in 1889 and was encouraged to take up journalism full time. In 1894, he became assistant editor of the periodical Woman. Enoch Bennett noticed that the material offered by a syndicate to the magazine was not very good, so he wrote a serial which was bought by the syndicate for £75.00. Enoch Bennett then wrote another. This became The Grand Babylon Hotel. Just over 4 years later, his 1st novel A Man from the North was published to critical acclaim and he became editor to the magazine.
From 1900 he devoted himself full time to writing, giving up the editorship and writing much serious criticism, and also theatre journalism, one of his special interests. Enoch Bennett moved to Trinity Hall Farm, Hockliffe, Bedfordshire, on Watling Street, which was the inspiration for his novel Teresa of Watling Street, which came out in 1904. Enoch Bennett’s father Enoch Bennett died there in 1902, and is buried in Chalgrove churchyard. In 1902, Anna of the 5 Towns, the 1st of a succession of stories which detailed life in the Potteries, appeared.
In 1903, he moved to Paris, where other great artists from around the world had converged on Montmartre and Montparnasse. Enoch Bennett spent the next 8 years writing novels and plays. In 1908 The Old Wives’ Tale was published, and was an immediate success throughout the English-speaking world. After a visit to America in 1911, where he had been publicised and acclaimed as no other visiting writer since Dickens, he returned to England where Old Wives’ Tale was reappraised and hailed as a masterpiece. During the First World War, he became Director of Propaganda at the War Ministry. Enoch Bennett refused a knighthood in 1918. Enoch Bennett won the 1923 James Tait Black Memorial Prize for his novel Riceyman Steps and in 1926, at the suggestion of Lord Beaverbrook, he began writing an influential weekly article on books for the Evening Standard newspaper.
Osbert Sitwell, in a letter to James Agate, notes that Enoch Bennett was not, despite current views, “the typical businessman, with his mean and narrow outlook”. Osbert Sitwell cited a letter from Enoch Bennett to a friend of James Agate, who remains anonymous, in Ego 5:
I find I am richer this year than last; so I enclose a cheque for £500.00 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.
Enoch Bennett separated from his French wife in 1922, and fell in love with the actress Dorothy Cheston, with whom he stayed for the rest of his life.
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