Calculations in search of an explanation.

I am reading the books recommended by Arnold Bennett in his self-help guide Literary Taste: How To Form It, first published in 1909 and reissued in 1938. Can following a prescribed reading list from over a hundred years ago lead to forming a literary taste? A graph is normally included. This week, just how much literary taste do I have? 

Time for a time out and ask the question, how much literary taste have I accumulated so far from reading the books recommended by Arnold Bennett?  Below in the first chart is the raw data:

The graph!

This can be broadly understood as:

When I'm good I'm very, very good.

Turn it into a pie chart and it looks like this (ignoring any points that have fallen on the dotted line, giving them a value of zero):

Fancy some pie?

Thus giving me a literary taste rating of 59%. However, and I’m sure you saw that coming, what does Not Literary Taste mean? In this calculation it all seems very passive whereas you would think it should be taking a much more active role in determining my literary taste. It is not an absence of literary taste, rather it is a collection of data in its own right which demands to be considered.

So, if 100 equals an average literary taste then the books I read will provide variations, plus and minus, from that mean. This can be expressed as 100 + Literary Taste – Not Literary Taste, in this case (100+59)-41, giving me a result of 118. Thus, according to this calculation, my literary taste is 18 points above the mean. Which, to me at least, sounds better than a literary taste reading of 59%.

All of the above assumes every coordinate is of equal value, i.e. 1. But, and I’m sure you saw that coming too, the position of the coordinate in relation to the dotted line is an indication of the strength, or otherwise, of the literary taste given to me through the reading of a book. Should that not be reflected in any calculation? For example, good coordinates nearer the dotted line should have lesser value than those further away, i.e. the closer to Not Literary Taste the less impact the book has had on me, and the reverse for bad coordinates, as in:

Now for the big sums.

Weighted like this, the coordinates now give a pie chart which looks like this:

Damn, that's good!Using the same weighted data, I come out with a literary taste 84 points above the mean. All of which seems to point out previously unknown depths to my literary taste, and which would doubtless come as a surprise to anyone who knows me. I know what you are going to say. Literary taste is composed of a huge range of ideas, beliefs, prejudices, all of which in turn draw on historical contexts, class backgrounds, that it is pointless to quantify such a nebulous and subjective concept. To that objection I say that we live in a age of wonder and change, where technology strides across the world like a behemoth. It is only a matter of time before someone develops an app for the iPhone.

Meanwhile, I will take refuge in the bucolic idyll of Mary Russell Mitford’s Village Walks and plant a coordinate in the graph once I have read it.


Putting the text into Textals.

I am reading the books recommended by Arnold Bennett in his self-help guide Literary Taste: How To Form It, first published in 1909 and reissued in 1938. Can following a prescribed reading list from over a hundred years ago lead to forming a literary taste? A graph is normally included. This week, what the Textal app can do for you. Oh, and for you too.

After Google Ngrams and Google Trends  comes the wonderful iPhone App Textal. As the developer’s introduction puts it:

Textal is a free smartphone app that allows you to analyze websites, tweet streams, and documents, as you explore the relationships between words in the text via an intuitive word cloud interface. You can generate graphs and statics, as well as share the data and visualizations in any way you like.

It’s easy to use and gives you words clouds that look like this:

How to Live on 24 Hours a DayThis was generated using Arnold Bennett’s self-help book How to Live on 24 Hours a Day, first published in 1910, and it is very intuitive, as you can see. You can build a more detailed picture by selecting a word from the cloud, for example, focusing on the word literature we can see that:

Statistics Or what about those collocations:


Word pairings? Why, the work of a moment:


And, of course, my own favourite – the graph:


I wrote a piece about How to Live on 24 Hours a Day. Running that through Textal produced the following cloud:

How to Live on 24 Hours a Day blog post

I’m not sure why the colours but it was after an update and I imagine they show correspondence in the use of words in the text. Now the fun begins. Looking back at the word cloud for Bennett’s book, and passing over the core comprising of words such as one, will and time, it is words such as business and programme that stand out. Not surprising, given that Bennett was writing the book for the growing class of white-collar workers. Looking at the word cloud for my post, it is literary, family, Virginia (Woolf) and servant that stand out. Not surprising, given that I was using Bennett’s book to point out the part played by servants in British society in the opening decades of the twentieth century. And having a go at Virginia Woolf, of course. Do the Textal word clouds point to a wilful misunderstanding on my part of Bennett’s book? Speaking for myself, I would be surprised if it was otherwise.

Should an application such as Textal be used with care, keeping in mind the need at all times for context and the widest perspective possible? Of course it should. But if experience shows us anything, it is that genies do tend to jump out of bottles at the earliest opportunity.

Next time, graphs to show the state of my literary taste.

The doctor will see you now.

I am reading the books recommended by Arnold Bennett in his self-help guide Literary Taste: How To Form It, first published in 1909 and reissued in 1938. Can following a prescribed reading list from over a hundred years ago lead to forming a literary taste? A graph is normally included. This week, H. G. Wells’ Tono Bungay, published in 1909.

After a luncheon party at the Carlton Hotel in 1918, Hugh Walpole noted a remark made by Joseph Conrad to H.G.Wells:

The difference between us Wells, is fundamental. You don’t care for humanity but think they are to be improved. I love humanity but know they are not!

Having read Tono-Bungay I know what he means. However, you do not have to read it to know what he means. It would help if you had read Conrad’s Lord Jim, however. We are, we learn from it, condemned to make the same mistakes, time and time again. But that does not mean we are bad people. The best we can get from Tono-Bungay is that one is born every minute and the future seems to lie in the building of fast ships. I’m afraid you will have to read it to know what that means. Be that as it may, and it is quite a lot of being and maying, the point I wish to make is that using the tried and tested Which-Early-Twentieth-Century-Author-Would-I-Want-At-My-Deathbed technique, it is Conrad whom I would wish to see (Disraeli on his deathbed declined a visit from Queen Victoria, saying that she would merely ask him to take a message to Albert).

Tono Bungay - first edition published 1909.

Tono Bungay – first edition published 1909.

Ward Clark, writing in The Bookman, noted of the author of Tono-Bungay:

As a socialist, Mr. Wells knows the centralising tendency of of modern industry; is he trying to crush the small dealer by establishing a mammoth department store novel in which everyone can find everything he needs? Victorian romance, near the entrance, tragedy – take the elevator, top floor; comedy, in the basement, science and sociology, on the bargain counter; a tempting display of realism in the drug department.

The North American Review added:

This is not merely something written to exploit theories or politics; it is not even a mere transcript of life; it is a Book.

All of which begs the question, at least it does for me, as to why no one writes reviews like this anymore? If they did, I might read more of them.

At the centre of the book, if indeed, as the above review suggests, it can be said to have a centre, is the invention by the narrator’s uncle of the patent medicine Tono-Bungay. The 1868 Pharmaceutical Act had extended the legal controls that had been developing since the 1850s to prohibit the over-the-counter sale of cyanide, arsenic and strychnine. Prudent social legislation or political correctness gone made, depending on your point of view. The 1868 Act extended those controls to opium and morphine. Doctors supported such a ban. Pharmacists, while glad to stop the public drinking arsenic willy-nilly, demurred when thinking of the loss in sales. The Poor panicked, wondering how they would get through each day without their opium and morphine (panicking also were middle-class women trapped in loveless, unfulfilling marriages).

You can see their point of view. If you could afford to go to the doctor, the best he could do for you would be to amputate a limb, strap up a broken limb or stitch a wound (probably on a limb). When it came to limbs you were, if you’ll pardon the phrase, in good hands. Anything else was in the lap of the gods. Doctors didn’t even wash their hands between examinations until Louis Pasteur told them to. Opium and morphine at least masked symptoms and dulled pain, hence their place in any recipe for patent medicines. But years do follow years, stealing something every day until at last they steal us from ourselves. At the turn of the century more than likely from a bad chest, as the graph shows:

Graph showing most common causes of death in England and Wales - 1908, 1949, 2010. Source: 'Olympic Britain' House of Commons Library.

Graph showing most common causes of death in England and Wales – 1908, 1949, 2010. Source: ‘Olympic Britain’ House of Commons Library.

Pneumonia, bronchitis, tuberculosis were the killers then, followed closely by measles and whooping cough. We, on the other hand, with Progress firing on all cylinders, will die of cancer and heart disease.

However, literary taste there was and a surprising amount of it in the novel. Wells, like Conrad, could write. He does not bore even though he cannot help but preach. A healthy (5,4) is prescribed along with a bracing tonic wine.

Health and beauty.

Next, the essays of Thomas Babington Macaulay, who when scalded with hot coffee as a young boy answered the anxious hostess’ question as to the pain answered “Thank you madam, the agony is abated.”

Eight graphs in search of an answer

Have I got a real graphathon in store for you graphateers! Eight, that’s right – eight, graphs! I may even have a conclusion too. Just who the heck bought all those books in the nineteenth century?

William Gladstone (1809-19898), prime minister on four occasions, had he looked back on his century would have wondered how there was space for everyone to fit on the country. In his lifetime the population of Great Britain almost doubled:

Population growth 1830-1900. Source: measuring

Population growth 1830-1900. Source: measuring

It was also a much wealthier country, as measured by GDP, and not by our Dickensian images of urban poverty:

Nominal GDP growth 1830-1900. Source: measuring

Nominal GDP growth 1830-1900. Source: measuring

Wages, after a rocky start at the beginning of the century and following the victory over Napoleon, either kept inline with prices or, after 1850, often ahead of them:

Changes in prices and wages 1790-1914. Source: 'A History of the Cost of Living' John Burnett

Changes in prices and wages 1790-1914. Source: ‘A History of the Cost of Living’ John Burnett

Railways covered the country. The bursting of the railway bubble in the 1840s was followed by a second burst of railway building in the 1860s and every decade until the First World War, more line was laid:

Construction of railway lines  1827-1910. Source: National Bureau of Economic Research.

Construction of railway lines 1827-1910. Source: National Bureau of Economic Research.

As a result transport costs dropped by 97% (and all the clocks marked noon at the same time throughout the country):

Freight costs shillings per ton mile 1800 - 1865. Source:  'The Transport Revolution in Industrializing Britain: A Survey' Dan Bogart-

Freight costs shillings per ton mile 1800 – 1865. Source: ‘The Transport Revolution in Industrializing Britain: A Survey’ Dan Bogart-

At the same time literacy rates, as measured as bridegrooms and brides who could sign their own names, rose. In the case of women, almost doubling:

Literacy rates among bridegrooms and brides 1841-1900. Source:

Literacy rates among bridegrooms and brides 1841-1900. Source:

More people, more wealth, a national railway network, falling transport costs, rising wages and more people who could read all had their impact on the world of books. From being the preserve of the rich, they became available to, well, almost everyone:

Price Structure of Books Published 1811-1895. Source:

Price Structure of Books Published 1811-1895. Source:

With more to choose from:

Published Titles Listed in 'Publishers' Circular' 1840-1901. Source:

Published Titles Listed in ‘Publishers’ Circular’ 1840-1901. Source:

People chose novels. As the graph shows, although they may have attended church every Sunday, unlike their grand parents at the beginning of the century, they did not want to read about it:

Market share by genre 1814-1899. Source:

Market share by genre 1814-1899. Source:

So, these are the statistics behind the publishing successes of Dickens, Trollope, Oliphant, Hardy, Gissing, Butler and Eliot; and the even greater, but largely forgotten, successes of Annie S. Swan, Florence Marryat and Frederick William Robinson. A cultural revolution in which the people decided they wanted, above all, to be entertained by what they read.

Are the any flies in that particular ointment? I certainly hope so. If memory serves me right (and it never has up to now) Arthur Marwick in his study of the changes wrought to British society in the First World War, The Deluge, calculated the size of the middle class prior to 1914 as 10 or 11%, approximately 4,600,000 people. That comes to less than the population of Madrid in 2013 and expressed thus, seems too small a statistic with which to factor in to explain the publishing revolution of the previous century. Go further back and it seems even less certain as a cause for the rise of the moderately priced novel. In The History of the Cost Living, John Burnett numbers as 300,000 the new professional class who in the 1850s

constituted the risk-takers and innovators who made the major economic decisions on which Victorian prosperity rested.

Are 300,000 businessmen, industrialists, scientists, metallurgists, bankers and accountants enough to kickstart a middle class literary revolution? Simon Elliot in Some Patterns and Trends in British Publishing 1800-1919 argued that:

[this] simple fact ising population and increasing literacy] alone cannot account for the size and nature of the increase recorded [of book sales in the United Kingdom]

So, probably not.

Possibly it was all to do with purchasing power. The young married couple mentioned by Burnett, living in London, no children, had £200 a year left out of an income of £700 (worth in 2013 £16,200 and  £59,000 respectively) allowing them to not only buy whatever book they wanted but also enjoy a dozen oysters at 1/- and a bottle of champagne at 6/- 6d. An urban workman in 1902-3, weekly wage 29/- 10d (£125 in 2013), after spending 22/- 6d on the weekly food budget still had 7/- 4d (£30.70). Enough perhaps to buy an occasional 1/- Yellowback from a W.H.Smith bookstall in a railway station. Our man Arnold Bennett, on the other hand, grew up in a middle class household (by virtue of his father qualifying as a solicitor when Arnold was nine) with few books. Had he grown up in a working class household, as a previous post showed, there would equally have been no guarantee that he would have grown up surrounded by, at least, the best sellers of the day. The English common reader: a social history of the mass reading public, 1800-1900 has been on my Alibris wishlist for a while. Perhaps it is time to buy it.

Next time. H.G.Wells’ Tono Bungay has been read and a graph will be plotted.

Middlebrow goes West

I am reading the books recommended by Arnold Bennett in his self-help guide Literary Taste: How To Form It, first published in 1909 and reissued in 1938. Can following a prescribed reading list from over a hundred years ago lead to forming a literary taste? A graph is normally included. Graphs abound in this post, plus a chart and a 1949 advert for a television. 

The Lowbrow/Middlebrow/Highbrow debate is not a uniquely British one. Arguments in favour of one or the other have also been voiced by American commentators. In 1950, as part of its centennial celebrations Harper’s Magazine included a survey of the changes in taste that had taken place over the lifetime of the magazine. Written by Russell Lynes, The Age of Taste went on to form the basis for his famous book The Tastemakers, published in 1955. One chapter Highbrow, Lowbrow, Middlebrow had not appeared in the original article. It had already been published in the previous year, 1949, and had caused, as they say in Glasgow, a bit of a stooshie. His thesis that in the post-war world traditional social norms were redundant and that position in American society would now be determined by taste caught the attention of  Life Magazine. In April of 1949 it published High-Brow, Low-Brow, Middle-Brow. The strapline left the reader in no doubt as to the form this new America would take:

These are the three basic categories of a new U.S. social structure, and the highbrows have the whip hand.

To help you find out where you fitted into this new world, a chart was provided:

Martini or bourbon? When it came to reading, the different tastes went from “Little Magazines” and solid non-fiction at the top to book club selections in the middle, and pulp books and comics at the bottom.

America was to change but in a way that Russell Lynes hadn’t anticipated. Under Entertainment he had listed ballet (highbrow), theatre, musical extravaganza films and western movies (lowbrow). He didn’t include what was lurking on one of the pages in the same issue of the magazine:

At last!

The US, like Britain, had suspended television broadcasts for the duration of the war. With the war won General Electric switched from making engines for American war planes to making televisions. The $399 price tag, which would buy close on to $4,000 today, barely delayed its millionth sale. The impact on American society was as rapid as it was dramatic

My oh my. Would the whip hand end up in the hands of the middle and lowbrows after all? 70,000,000 television sets and 83% of all households owning more than one set are impressive statistics. Add to them the top ten US television shows from 1955-56 and the highbrows’ days seemed numbered:

The Phil Silvers' Show didn't even get in the top twenty!But, and as much as this pains me, that would be too quick and easy a conclusion to draw. If we look at book sales in that same period, and particularly what the American Census Department called “General Literature and Criticism,” a different picture emerges:

Here comes the cavalry!In a period of rising book sales (religious books helping drive the surge) and despite the recently achieved dominant position of television in American society, books from the category General Literature and Criticism managed to maintain a yearly average of 5% of the total of new titles published in the US. Not, perhaps, evidence of a flourishing democratic intellect but neither a society feeling the lash of the middle and lowbrow whips. If there was a loser in all this, it was probably radio. By 1950, 95% of American families owned a radio. However, when you look at revenues (in millions of dollars) it’s clear that having a radio set in nearly every American home was not a guarantee of year-on-year rising profits:

So it was video after all.

As profound a change as it was (and those figures quoted above, taken from data in the American Censuses for the 1950s, are in millions) it would seem that its nature can still escape us. Television undoubtedly did affect the balance of power between the ‘brows. But just as it is capable of plumbing the depths, American television can equally be innovative, intelligent and funny. Radio, on the other hand, could be argued to be inherently conservative, given its limitations and that this too can be a strength. Our man Bennett was witness to a period of cultural change when, as he said, the large villas of English novelists made rich from American royalties, would be replaced by semi-detached cottages in the London suburbs; while in America “literary palazzos” would spring up beside the Hudson, homes for the new generation of American novelists, who unlike Henry James, would live and work in America and be read around the world. Writing in The North American Review in January, 1912 he commented: 

…the great argument in favor of the future of the American novel…lies in the strenuousness, the variety, and the essential romance of American life.

A return to the norm is due. So, I am reading H.G.Wells’ novel Tono-Bungay as recommended by Arnold Bennett. In the next post, has it added to my literary taste?

It’s graphtastic, Mr. Bennett!

I am reading the books recommended by Arnold Bennett in his self-help guide Literary Taste: How To Form It, first published in 1909 and reissued in 1938. Can following a prescribed reading list from over a hundred years ago lead to forming a literary taste? A graph is normally included. This week, what can we learn from Google Trends? 

You may have noticed that I have an interest in graphs. You may even remember a couple of posts that drew on the wonderful Google Ngram. But you were probably asking yourself: “Okay. Ngram is all very well for looking into changes in the zeitgeist. But what about short term changes? What about trends? Isn’t there something that would show that?” Well, damn my eyes, there is! Google Trends. Do a search for Middlebrow and we end up with this:






The letters refer to newspaper or magazine articles that led to a spike in that trend. For example D on the Middlebrow graph is an article in The New Yorker; F on the Highbrow graph is a Times Of India article on the highbrow prejudice against Enid Blyton and G on the Lowbrow graph is a San Diego Union Tribune article, Lauding the Lowbrow.

To get the full detail, including predictions, regional interest and related items here are the web pages:




When we combine all three we end up with this:

HIghbrow, Middlebrow, Lowbrow.

Middlebrow is that far below the other two, the peaks have flattened out and the media references have vanished. You can get the full results here (given that I wrote this post over the period of five days, the graphs may differ in detail but not in substance):


When we compare authors from each, Henry Green (high), Arnold Bennett (middle) and Zane Grey (low), we end up with this:

Three Musketeers

Check it out here:


Or in the case of Elizabeth Von Arnim (middle), Barbara Cartland (low) and Viriginia Woolf (high) we get this:

More Musketeers

Full results here:


Whichever way we cut the cake, the result is the same. It may be a highbrow cake with a lowbrow filling, but someone forgot to sprinkle it with middlebrow icing sugar. Middlebrow is not trending.

All is not lost. If we look at the results for Henry Green there is, I believe, a clue as to how to lift the middlebrow into a trending topic. New editions of Henry Green’s novels were published by Vintage in 2005, the year that saw his maximum trending peak of 100. In September The Guardian published an article by Sebastian Faulks on Henry Green. Sebastian Faulks had also written the introduction to the Vintage single-volume edition of Living, Loving and Party Going. Coincidence? Well, graphs based on a solid statistical base don’t lie. Also, have a look Virginia Woolf’s trending graph. It’s not as strong as it appears. It’s hit a bit of a plateau in the last couple of years. With that kind of vulnerability, it would almost be impolite not to launch an Elizabeth Von Arnim cultural counter attack.

So, here, in broad brushstrokes, is the middlebrow trending plan.

1. Reissue the works of a middlebrow author and include an introduction by a celebrity author. What happened with Elizabeth Taylor’s centenary this year? Were her works reissued by the Folio Society? Did Emily Griffin write the introduction? Exactly. A golden opportunity lost. What about Elizabeth Smart? She was born in 1913. Is she middlebrow? Would Marina Warner write an introduction?

2. Get the BBC on board. Given the academic interest in the middlebrow, is a programme on In Our Time too much to hope for? Has someone got Melvyn Bragg’s phone number? How about Book at Bedtime? If there’s anything suited to its format, surely its a work from the golden age of the middlebrow.

3. Design an app for the iPhone. The one that springs to mind is one based on Arnold Bennett’s fictional Five Towns. It could guide you though Stoke-on-Trent and highlight the principal settings for his novels. But there must be other middlebrow authors that lend themselves to an app.

Naturally, I have no idea how to go about any of this.

Next time, we return to the secure world of Britain in World War Two.

It’s a fair cop gov but I blame that Bentley geezer…

I am reading the books recommended by Arnold Bennett in his self-help guide Literary Taste: How To Form It, first published in 1909 and reissued in 1938. Can following a prescribed reading list from over a hundred years ago lead to forming a literary taste? A graph is normally included. This week, E. C. Bentley’s Trent’s Last Case, published in 1913.

Trent's Last Case

Writing in the The Saturday Review of August the 3rd, 1929, Dorothy L.Sayers, commenting on the few times that love has featured in the detective novel, wrote:

E. C. Bentley in “Trent’ s Last Case,” has dealt finely with the still harder problem of the detective in love. Trent’s love for Mrs. Manderson is a legitimate part of the plot; while it does not prevent him from drawing the proper conclusion from the evidence before him, it does prevent him from acting upon his conclusions, and so prepares the way for the real explanation. Incidentally, the love story is handled artistically and with persuasive emotion.

Under the heading of THE PLANTATION MURDER, the Derby Daily Telegraph of Tuesday the 24th, 1913, was this report:

William Burton, who was sentenced to death for the murder of Winifred Mary Mitchell in a plantation at Gussage St.Michael was executed at Dorchester Prison this morning.

Burton walked firmly to the scaffold and maintained an indifferent demeanour. He made a full confession to the vicar of Gussage.

Local English newspapers were filled with these brief accounts of murder, trial and execution. 1913, the year in which Trent’s Last Case was published, was as marked as any other year by the repetition of these three sentences of human experience at its most bleak: John Vickers Amos, guilty of the murder of two policemen and a woman, hung by Pierrepoint, at Newcastle Gaol; Jeannie Baxter accused of murdering the aviator Julian Bernard Hall by shooting him and, in Allalabad in India, Lieutenant Clark confessed that it was he, and not Mrs. Fulham, who murdered Mr. Fulham by giving him antipyrine, a toxic analgesic, (the jury found them both guilty: he was hung, she died in prison a year later). True, the Derby Daily Telegraph, three years earlier, had reported in detail the arrest, trial and execution of Dr.Crippen. But he was, well, Dr.Crippen. Unlike the execution of William Burton the report of Crippen’s execution included the fact that he was given a seven foot drop, a detail that my dad always mentioned when talking about reports of executions he had read as a child.

The homicide rate per 100,000 in England and Wales in 1913 was 0.91 (the current U.K. homicide rate is 1.2; in 1913 in the U.S.A. it was 6.1/100,000). Which in a graph looks like this:

Homicide Rate England and Wales

So, Bentley was writing at a time when, overall, the homicide rate was dropping. If we turn to the country he lived in:

Buy phonographs!

We can see it is a country of growing prosperity (as measured by the purchase of phonographs, cameras and bicycles and so on). Perhaps that is why the run-of-the-mill murders merited only a paragraph in the English provincial press (even exotic murderers, such as Lieutenant Clark – the press felt obliged to describe him as “Eurasian” – were only given this space). England was secure enough to look on murder as something that happened to other people, and very often not the best sort of people at that.

But despite this prosperity and security Bentley did write Trent’s Last Case and it was a success. It is possible, of course, that Edwardian stability could easily lend itself to a delight in the sordid, just as in the 1920s, which saw a further fall in the homicide rate, instability could just as easily lend itself to the sordid as long as someone came along to set it all right again. On the other hand, the Victorians loved being scared silly by stories in the press of murder, violence and plots to take over the world, or least as laid out in The Battle of Dorking (1871), the invasion of England. As the poor continued to traipse through the courts (women forming a disproportionately large group, normally for repeated offences of petty theft and prostitution) there was added that extra frisson of social unrest that arose from this newly defined criminal class. Trent’s Last Case, published twelve years after the death of Queen Victoria,  in which the poor, the working classes, the middle classes, journalists (apart from Trent), the police, the judiciary and the penal system appear only briefly or not at all, would have allowed a reader a literary account of violent death, madness and a metaphor of a jigsaw set badly put together.

From the letters written by Lieutenant Clark and Mrs. Fulham they were, if not in love, in a passionate, and ultimately, murderous relationship. This did not stop Mrs. Fulham from offering to turn King’s Evidence and testify against her lover (the offer was rejected). The case was infamous in its day (an account of it was written by Sir Cecil Walsh, King’s Counsel) but it seemed to play more in the metropolitan and colonial press than in the provinces. In the case of the murder of Winifred Mary Mitchell by William Burton we can be certain that no one, as Trent was want to do, quoted from Keats or Shelley. It was fragments from her false teeth that led police to her grave (Burton had shot her in the face with a shotgun when she threatened to speak publicly about their relationship – one of many he had pursued with women in the village). What would be the appropriate line of poetry to quote when a decomposing and faceless corpse is being dug up?

Am I missing the point here? Am I forgetting Bentley’s friendship with G. K. Chesterton, writer of the Father Brown stories, and his challenge to Bentley to write of a flawed detective? Have I misunderstood the literary themes underpinning Dorothy L. Sayers’ comments quoted above? No. Am I willfully missing all of these points? Ah, that is a horse of a different colour.

Our man Bennett was an admirer of the thrillers written by Edgar Wallace, not least because they featured policemen who knew what they were doing. One of his complaints of the many crime novels he reviewed in the 1920s was that the detectives that featured in them were:

…lacking in all human characteristics save the minor and comparatively rare characteristics of self conceit, blindness to the obvious, and perfect idiocy.

In an article published in The Saturday Review on the 26th of September, 1931 Christopher Morley questioned if Trent’s Last Case, along with The Lady in White, was one of the best crime novels ever written. He suggested that A Study in Scarlet, The Red House Mystery or the wonderfully titled Seven Keys to Baldpate were perhaps its equals. He also included Dashiell Hammett in that list. Along with Georges Simeon he is my favourite crime writer. Their detectives, private and professional, have right on their side, you might say righteousness. Sam Spade’s righteousness, I would argue, is Old Testament in nature while Inspector Maigret’s is much more New Testament. Perhaps that is why, given the chance, I would invite Trent into the Library, point to the loaded revolver on the table, remind him that as a gentleman he would know what is expected of him, close the door behind me and wait for a single gunshot.

No literary taste here then, instead I cast him over into Virginia Woolf territory. (3,9) seems a suitable punishment.

Firm but fair.

Next time, I ask Elizabeth Bowen what she did in the (Second World) War (she wrote English Novelists in the Britain in Pictures series)?

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:


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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