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Arnold Bennett was a true man of the Potteries. He was born in Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent. The eldest of nine children, his father was a practising solicitor and his mother came from a Derbyshire farming family. By the standards of the day, the family were comfortably off, all the children attended school, and the young Arnold was expected to follow in his fathers foot-steps in becoming a solicitor. However, he failed his London University exams and settled down to life as a solicitors clerk.
By 1893 Arnold had become increasingly dissatisfied with his daily toil, as a child he had entered and won a literature competition. Over the years he continued with his writing, occasionally submitting articles to periodicals and magazines. In a bold move he switched careers to become assistant editor of "Woman" magazine, and so began a career that was to span forty years and put him on the map as a foremost English novelist, playwright, essayist, journalist and celebrated critic. He was a man of contradictions, he never forgot his roots (his first novel was called A Man from the North) yet he enjoyed to the full the fruits of his labours, especially his yacht, the Valsa. He travelled widely, spent eight years living and working in Paris, and when he returned to England it was with a French wife. Arnold Bennett married actress Marguerite Soulie in 1907, the marriage was not to last and the couple divorced in 1921. Whilst in France he mixed with the great and the good, including Stravinsky, Ravel and Ivan Turgenev. In London, he numbered amongst his friends - J.M.Barrie, Thomas Hardy, Bernard Shaw, John Galsworthy and Joseph Conrad. He was immortalised with his dog in a cartoon by Sir William Nicholson (1872-1949). Arnold was a prolific writer, in his lifetime he turned out 30 novels, over 3,000 articles, 10 plays and numerous other writings.
Bennett's first-hand knowledge of working and middle class life in the Potteries is vividly portrayed in his novels known as the Five Town's sequence. The novels begin with Anna of the Five Towns, these works took almost twelve years to complete and perfectly depict life as it was when Bennett was young. His famous "Old Wives Tale" is set around Burslem, London and Paris, it is the story of middle-class sisters in biographic form and was his initial success. Other successes include Buried Alive which was made into a film and the Clayhanger trilogy.
Arnold Bennett was a kindly, humorous man, he was tolerant of others, and had immense compassion and realism, all of which is said to show through in his works. To his many friends, it was not surprising when in 1918 he turned down the offer of a Knighthood.
When he died of Typhoid in London in 1931, he was taken back to Burslem where his ashes lie buried in a peaceful churchyard.
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