It’s a graph-based Bennett-themed frenzy!

If you’re like me (and I hope to God you’re not) then there’s nothing you like better than looking at data presented in the form of graphs. There is the insightful. For example, what better way to illuminate the impact and immensity of the Great Depression in the US than the drop in job adverts:

Or there is the whimsical, as in French steam power of the twentieth century:

Although it would be easy to dismiss all this as ironic, the leitmotif of this blog, I am quite serious. This graph makes me smile, in a whimsical way.

Then there is the nitty-gritty, that shale of economic data which has to be blasted with high pressure analysis to release its precious gassy conclusions. Or, to simplify the process, make it up as you go along, something which has always paid dividends for me. For example there is this:

Or, if the fancy takes you there is this:

Not forgetting:

Or:

All, I hope, to be self-explanatory when it comes to Arnold Bennett, life and works. But to summarise: our man Bennett liked money. He liked making it and spending it, making him suspect in the eyes of those for whom making money, having money and spending money had historically not been a problem. Wyndham Lewis, in a letter to Time and Tide, wrote that Bennett had

capitulated so thoroughly to those conditions of his new Big Business employment, that he would…praise any book put under his nose.

Worse, and this perhaps his gravest financial offence, was his lack of shame when it came to money, the making of and the spending of. His clothes were colourful, his homes comfortable, his taste in art modern, his stays in the best hotels long and he had an omellete named after him. The Woolf Banana Fritter anyone? Or a slice of Eliot Pecan Pie? I thought not.

His childhood poverty has been put forward as an explanation for this delight in wealth and comfort. Although as a son of solicitor I’m not sure if poverty is the apt word. By hard work his father, Enoch Bennett, had qualified as a solicitor in the 1870s. Although not a generous man towards Arnold, he did dismiss the spectre of hunger, the poor house and early death from the family’s front door. Bennett, however, liked to note in his journals his income for each year, and the number of words written. In 1912 he recorded an income of £16,000 (worth £1,240,000 in purchasing power in 2012). Over the weekend of March 5th, 1918 he earned  £300 (worth  £11,400 in 2012), through, as he wrote, “hard work.”

And the graphs? Our man was lucky enough to be wealthy at a time of increasing access to consumer goods, apart from the war years when industrial production naturally had to be switched from gramophones to heavy artillery shells and machine guns; and apart from the leap in inflation following peace in 1918, he benefited from a decade of falling prices. Wages fell also and unemployment in the last years of his life rose, but neither of these would have affected our man, unless he had to employ a servant or two: there was a large pool to draw from and wages would not make a dent in his income. But towards the end of his life economic worries did affect his life. Not because of the international economic depression. It was all because of this:

Taken from “Olympic Britain. Social and economic change since the 1908 and 1948 London Games.” Published by the House of Commons Library.

His marriage to Marguerite Soulié in 1907 ended in separation in 1921. Apart from declaring himself or Marguerite an adulterer, admitting to acts of cruelty or abandoning Marguerite there was little he could do given her refusal to consider a divorce. He supported her financially and also Dorothy Cheston with whom he had fallen in love and who, despite changing her name by deed poll to Bennett and bearing him a daughter, would, legally, have been considered his mistress. With two households to support, he found himself in the unaccustomed position of being financially hard-pressed. When he died in 1931 he left £36,000, £7,000 in securities, £4,225 in royalties and £7,500 in manuscripts. That £36,000 in cash, reduced to £31,000 after willing £5,000 to Marguerite, would have been equal in purchasing power to £1,910,000 in 2012. If you remember his earnings for 1911 had amounted to the equivalent of £1,240,000. That was for one year’s work. His will was the testament of a lifetime’s work. There is a moral in all this. Unfortunately, as it is not available in the form of a graph, I am at a loss to say what it is.

Today, a surfeit of graphs and economic data. We shall return nostalgically to a simpler form when I write of Stella Benson’s The Little World.

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2 Comments

  1. Thank you for this post. A great sidelight on the man. I hadn’t known any of it. Like you I like graphs too.

    Reply
  2. It’s odd, no matter how flippant I am I can’t help but admire Bennett. He came from a humble background and decided he wanted a different life than what was expected of him. He was also too honest to hide from himself that not all his work was of the best. On the other hand he was not so humble as not to feel proud when he knew he’d achieved something special, such as The Old Wives’ Tale.

    Reply

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