Introductory Note to Marie Carmichael Stopes, Wise Parenthood, 12th edn
This item reveals Bennett’s willingness to endorse a cause – family planning – in the face of inimical commentary. He was given an apoplectic dressing-down by the editor of New Age (1919): ‘Mr. Arnold Bennett should at once dissociate himself from Dr Marie Stopes and her rubber goods. The introduction he has written to her filthy book is a disgrace to him and to his (and our) profession.’ [quoted in William Garrett, Marie Stopes: Feminist, Eroticist, Eugenicist (San Francisco, CA: Kenon Books, 2007), p. viii] (The eugenicist aspect of Stopes’ work did not provoke such opprobrium.)
Bennett’s involvement with Stopes and her mission was, furthermore, quite extensive. He had signed a petition in support of Stopes’ US equivalent Margaret Sanger in 1915, was a member of the Malthusian League and sponsor of Stopes’ Society for Constructive Birth Control and Racial Progress.
Bennett’s published Letters and Journal may be instructive. In the Spring of 1907 he writes that an ‘accident’ has occurred during a casual sexual encounter and worries about the ‘consequences’. His marriage (not long after) with Marguerite was childless, apparently at his behest. Later in life, however, a happier accident occurred when his mistress, the younger actress Dorothy Cheston, became pregnant. Theirs was a serious relationship but they were unable to marry as Marguerite would not contemplate divorce and Bennett was unable to face an antagonistic public court battle. On hearing Dorothy’s news by telegram (he was yachting), his in return expresses joy and trepidation mixed. There is little doubt that this was unexpected – he wrote to nephew Richard of a ‘slip’ and to H.G. Wells that ‘the only flaw in the situation is that it was not deliberately brought about.’ [Letters IV, ed. James Hepburn (Oxford University Press, 1986), p. 480] Bennett proved a fond father, though sadly died when daughter Virginia was only five.