by Arnold Bennett
John Potter, Chairman of the Arnold Bennett Society, has written this introduction especially for the website:
It is often said that a short story is more difficult to write than a novel. This remains a matter for debate, but it has the ring of truth for miniaturisation is never easy; to set a scene, delineate character, develop a story and move to a satisfactory ending, all within a few pages, is certainly an art form in itself. There are many varieties of this--plain narrative, simple isolated events, stories told entirely in dialogue, stories with no real story line at all, description by third party, emotional introspection and so on and so on, and Arnold Bennett used most of them in the hundred and more short stories which he wrote over a period of some forty years. With such a diversity of possibility it is not easy to weed out good from bad. Although criticism depends a great deal on personal views there is a basic quality of story-telling which shines through like a beacon and stands out against any applied criteria. The seven stories included in this compilation form an attempt to collect together examples of this illuminating quality. Not everybody will agree with the choice, but this hopefully will encourage more reading and re-reading of this particular section of Bennett's work. Because much of the best of AB is to be found in his tales of the Five Towns, there is a preponderance of these. Perhaps this is as it should be, because although he was an all-round craftsman in novels, stories, plays, essays and journalism he is best-known for bringing to the notice of the rest of the world the fact that beauty and romance can be found in the lives of poor and frequently exploited workpeople who live in the smoky, dusty atmosphere of an industrial heartland. These were his own folk--the people of the Potteries.
Five of the stories, each one different in its own way, illustrate this strange mixture of hardness, endurance and human understanding; many others are worthy of inclusion and these would all be different again. Thus, From One Generation to Another deals with the difficulties sometimes experienced by young married people blessed with more material fortune than is good for them, who are brought down to earth and saved from a potentially ruinous situation by the commonsense of a wily old uncle. The family is still a powerful unit in the Potteries, and this theme recurs frequently in Bennett's stories. In The Limits of Dominion a Five Towns man who has achieved phenomenal success from humble beginnings is pulled back from the brink of a life to which he is temperamentally unsuited by a cousin from his childhood days to whom all the money in the world is of little importance compared to the ties of family and friendship. The story of The Tiger and the Baby reflects the lessons of the two previous tales, but turns the concept on its head by showing that the older generation, too, can have faults and even a false sense of values. His Worship the Goosedriver is a delightful, whimsical tale about the dangers of even a small misplaced pride, told in superb style and in scintillating dialect. But it is Death, Fire and Life in which the essential Potteries are seen to best advantage in a simple story of classic realism which has most of the elements of the other four but also lays bare the very soul of the ordinary people of the area. Phantom extends normal human relationships a little way over the boundaries of the supernatural, and also contains one of Bennett's finest prose descriptions of the Potteries night-landscape as seen from the top of a bill overlooking Bursley. Shortest, definitely not sweetest, but completely illustrative of the quirky, irreverent, almost bad-tasting Potteries humour which Bennett inherited with his upbringing is In a New Bottle--not an original story-line but adapted and narrated exactly as it might have been told in the cobbled streets and potbank yards of the region. Hopefully this little aperitif will whet a few literary appetites and encourage readers to delve more deeply into the world of the Five Towns.
© John Potter, 2002
A sample short story, In a new bottle, is available on this website.
The full selection of short stories can also be read online or downloaded free of charge. It is in XHTML format, like this page. Please note the file size is 240kb and it may take some time to open-up if you choose to read it online. Downloading for reading later may be the preferred option and this can be typically achieved by calling up an option box. If you have a mouse and it is configured for left click to select, right clicking the link may give you this option. Link to the full text of Selected short stories.
Page created 12 March 2002 and last updated
12 March 2002
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