Arnold Bennett and the Desire for France



It is common knowledge that Arnold Bennett was profoundly influenced in his development as a novelist by his acquaintance with French literature, and that he consciously or unconsciously imitated French models.1 This generalisation, like most common knowledge, calls for some qualification. One might expect that Bennett’s known familiarity with all things French, and his long residence in France, would lend authority to the images of France that appear in his fictional works; and, of course, vice versa. It is probable also that his immense success as a novelist and as a critic served in some measure to enhance the reputation of the French realists and naturalists who were his cheerfully acknowledged models and whose names recur so frequently in his critical writings; they in turn acted as guarantors of his status as a serious writer. There are the makings of a pair of neat critical tautologies here. I hope, however, to avoid the vicious circle in the present context, where I shall be primarily concerned not with Bennett’s use of French sources and the general influence on his work of French models, but with the view of French literature, art and civilisation that he projected for an English audience in his critical writings, and with the (not always congruent) presentation of French life and manners in his fictional works.


Evening Standard English Public English Writer French Literature French Model 
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  1. 1.
    One example only: ‘Arnold Bennett, as is well known, was deeply influenced by the French Naturalists …’ — Arnold Kettle, Introduction to the English Novel (1953; London: Arrow Books, 1962) II, 88. See alsoGoogle Scholar
  2. Louis Tillier, Studies in the Sources of Arnold Bennett’s Novels (Paris: Didier, 1969).Google Scholar
  3. 2.
    Echo de Paris, 10 Aug 1928. Cited in Tillier, Arnold Bennett et ses romans réalistes (Paris: Didier, 1968) p. 154.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    See F. W. Hemmings, The Russian Novel in France, 1884–1914 (London: Oxford University Press, 1950)esp. chs 2 and 3. Bennett refers to Vogüé in his essay ‘Ivan Turgenev’ in Fame and Fiction: An Enquiry into Certain Popularities (London: Grant Richards, 1901).Google Scholar
  5. 13.
    D. Fanger, Dostoevsky and Romantic Realism: A Study of Dostoevsky in Relation to Balzac, Dickens and Gogol (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1967);Google Scholar
  6. W. F. Wright, Arnold Bennett: Romantic Realist (Lincoln, Nebr.: University of Nebraska Press, 1971).Google Scholar
  7. 16.
    John Lucas, Arnold Bennett: A Study of his Fiction (London: Methuen, 1974) p. 27. Cf.Google Scholar
  8. V. S. Pritchett, The Living Novel (London: Chatto and Windus, 1946) p. 136.Google Scholar
  9. 22.
    James Hall, Arnold Bennett: Primitivism and Taste (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1959) p. 70ff.Google Scholar
  10. 25.
    Walter Allen, Arnold Bennett (London: Home and Van Thal, 1948) pp. 17 and 25. Cf.Google Scholar
  11. Georges Lafourcade, Arnold Bennett: A Study (1939; New York: Haskell House, 1971) p. 28 on ‘the provincial let loose’; but Lafourcade sees ‘flashes of genuine admiration and pride’ in Bennett’s satire of the Five Towns. See also Gilbert Cannan: ‘errors of taste … bred out of the influence of the French novel on the Nonconformist mind’ — Manchester Guardian, 11 Nov 1908, cited in Arnold Bennett: The Critical Heritage, ed. James Hepburn (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1981) pp. 208–9.Google Scholar
  12. 28.
    Cited in Reginald Pound, Arnold Bennett: A Biography (London: Heinemann, 1952) p. 180.Google Scholar

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© Ceri Crossley and Ian Small 1988

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