[i] Photograph of Bennett in the Bystander (July 3 1929);
Bennett was often caricatured; his appearance, mannerisms, accent, class, lingering provinciality, even his hair made him an easy target. Item [i] mocks Bennett’s pronounced stammer and the cartoon [ii] highlights his middle-aged ‘embonpoint’, ostentatious dress, and protruding tooth. Although Bennett attracted fulsome praise from serious publications and diverse other quarters [iii], he was all too often and too easy a target. The Archive also contains a first edition of Rebecca West’s pamphlet Arnold Bennett Himself (New York: Rider Press, 1931). Following a very back-handed compliment, West launches into a vicious mockery of Bennett’s physical characteristics: ‘Consider to begin with, his astounding appearance. Though he was not actually obese, his outlines had the swelling quality of a balloon. He moved his limbs with a curious stiffness, as if they were thick like a pachyderm’s. […] Among the stammerers who have cashed in on their disability he ranked very high, his trick of closing his eyes and holding his mouth open for a moment before he said the important word in the sentence had been developed to the pitch of perfection.’ And so on. Woolf’s account in a published letter of 1927 is remarkably similar; T.S. Eliot couldn’t stand him and Bennett was lampooned by luminaries such as Wyndham Lewis, Aldous Huxley and Ezra Pound. The fact remains that Bennett, though indubitably flawed, was not short of friends (some of them in high places), admirers and acolytes – testament both to the qualities of the man and to his work.