October 13, 2002
Literary taste as vision of life
by Arnold Bennett. Rupa, New Delhi, Pages 172. Rs 95.
Bennett, often referred to as a "a man of Potteries", was
a man whose area of expertise was amazingly wide. He was an English
novelist, critic, playwright, essayist, and journalist and also an
outstanding book reviewer. His prolific work brought him all the
accomplishment and commendation he ever desired. Quite intriguingly,
among his possessions was a splendidly lavish yacht, the Valsa. To
add to this, the Savoy Hotel serves a special dish known as the
"omelette Arnold Bennett".
Often regarded as a
man of contradictions, Bennett was cosmopolitan with regard to his
ideas and his outlook. Yet he did not completely break free from his
local roots. His novels, especially the sequence known as Five Towns’
novels, are realistic portraits of the ordinary life that Bennett
was so familiar with in his youth. It was with The Old Wives’
Tale, a double biography of middle class sisters, that Bennett
became an established novelist. However, he could not escape the
assault by Virginia Woolf that his fiction was deficient in
characterisation. Apart from novels, his work comprises letters,
autobiographical writings and non-fictional books and essays.
Indeed, in his varied works his intention had always been to
investigate the reality of life, and streaks of his own experience
and imagination can be traced in them.
begins with a critique of man’s perception of literature and his
preconceived notions about literary taste being an accomplishment.
Bennett says that "literary taste thus serves two purposes: as
a certificate of correct culture and as a private pastime". An
individual lacking in "literary knowledge is not welcomed in
classy gatherings". Literature becomes a kind of trump card
that one can carry in his pocket and presents as and when the need
arises. It becomes a sort of ‘entrance test’ that must be
qualified in order to cross over from being merely an educated
person to being an ‘enlightened’ being. It is this attitude of
the general public that Bennett ridicules. In his book he attempts
to correct the misconceptions that are liberally entertained by
majority of the people.