Scragg, Hannah Louise (2020) Beyond the Five Towns: a re-evaluation of Arnold Bennett. Doctoral thesis, Keele University.

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Abstract

‘I have a great deal to say, and I mean to say it. As for my work being taken seriously, we shall see about that’.
Arnold Bennett, 1909
(Bennett, letter to Pinker dated 17 May 1909, in Letters, Vol. I, p. 123.)

Arnold Bennett occupies a somewhat anomalous position as an Edwardian realist in a century dominated by modernist aesthetics. Pigeonholed by critics who have tended to adopt an overly formalist approach when considering his fiction, Bennett’s critical acclaim has predominantly been restricted to his Five Towns novels and has been advocated through readings which arrogate to him a slavish homage to nineteenth-century French naturalism and a quasi-documentary representation of particular locales. This dissertation aims to challenge Bennett’s categorisation as a merely provincial author, and as an Edwardian deserving of the canonical segregation initially proposed by Virginia Woolf, which separates his work from – and subordinates it to – that of his early twentieth-century or early Modernist contemporaries. To this end, I will demonstrate that Bennett was in fact, readily incorporating early twentieth-century themes and techniques, and actively engaging with various aspects of individual, social and national politics in comparable ways to other Modernists. I will also contend – contrary to critics who have regarded the war as having killed Bennett’s creativity – that the war occasioned a shift in Bennett’s agenda that, though not appreciated in his time or in the years after his death, is now in need of re-evaluation.
With respect to methodology, this dissertation contextualises Bennett’s artistic strategies in light of early twentieth-century aesthetic concerns, and it demonstrates that his prose techniques serve social and/or political purposes. The thesis is divided into three chapters, each of which explores a stage of Bennett’s literary career. Chapter I covers 1898, the year of publication for Bennett’s first novel, The Man from the North, to 1913, also analysing A Great Man (1904) and Buried Alive (1908). Chapter II attends to Bennett’s fictional and non-fictional writings of the War years, including The Roll-Call (1919) – which begins in 1901 and culminates in 1914 – Liberty (1914), and Over There (1915). Chapter III examines Bennett’s writing from 1919 onwards, focusing on three novels: Riceyman Steps (1923), Lord Raingo (1926), and Accident (1929).

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PE English
Divisions: Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences > School of Humanities
Depositing User: Lisa Bailey
Date Deposited: 14 May 2020 13:48
Last Modified: 14 May 2020 13:48
URI: https://eprints.keele.ac.uk/id/eprint/7977

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