Arnold Bennett in The Author's Craft (a long essay first published in 1913) wrestles with a variety of important issues. He begins with questions of seeing, thinking, and motivation:

Arnold Bennett goes on to discuss the differences between plays and novels. He finds plays much easier to write than novels --- plays are shorter, more limited, less subtle vehicles. A dramatic production also has a unique advantage of immediacy: the audience sees events happen, and does not need to be persuaded that the improbable is probable. But the fundamental distinction between the novel and the play, Bennett contends, is the fact that the dramatist only "... begins the work of creation, which is finished either by creative interpreters on the stage, or by the creative imagination of the reader in the study. It is as if he carried an immense weight to the landing at the turn of a flight of stairs, and that then upward the lifting had to be done by other people." Bennett sketches out the collaborative process, involving theatrical manager, producer, director, actors, and audience. (Along the way, he notes that "... a rehearsal is like a battle --- certain persons are theoretically in control, but in fact the thing principally fights itself.")

Bennett continues his essay with a discussion of the tension between art and popularity. He counsels compromise: "The truth is that an artist who demands appreciation from the public on his own terms, and on none but his own terms, is either a god or a conceited and impractical fool. And he is somewhat more likely to be the latter than the former." Bennett feels that a real artist, in order to succeed in creating, communicating, and making a living, must respect the limitations and prejudices of the audience. "You can only go a very little further than is quite safe. You can only do one man's modest share in the education of the public." Quoting from Valery Larbaud's novel A. O. Barnabooth Bennett cites "... a phrase of deep wisdom about women: La femme est une grande réalité, comme la guerre. It might be applied to the public. The public is a great actuality, like war. If you are a creative and creating artist, you cannot ignore it, though it can ignore you. There it is! You can do something with it, but not much. And what you do not do with it, it must do with you, if there is to be the contact which is essential to the artistic function." A successful artist with something important to say, in Bennett's judgment, will manage to get the message across even within the constraints of a "potboiler" novel written merely to pay the rent.

And speaking of which, Arnold Bennett (himself a financially successful author) argues next that a great writer must attend to the selling of a work once it is completed. "In other words, when he lays down the pen he ought to become a merchant, for the mere reason that he has an article to sell, and the more skilfully he sells it the better will be the result, not only for the public appreciation of his message, but for himself as a private individual and as an artist with further activities in front of him." Bennett tells horror stories of the exploitation of naïve authors by publishers: "The ordinary merchant deals with other merchants --- his equals in business skill. The publisher and the theatrical manager deal with what amounts to a race of children, of whom even archangels could not refrain from taking advantage." Hence, the need for literary agents.

Finally, Arnold Bennett concludes The Author's Craft with a call for the artist to live within the world --- not to repudiate life or to have contempt for reality. "Nobody has any right to be ashamed of human nature. Is one ashamed of one's mother? Is one ashamed of the cosmic process of evolution? Human nature is. And the more deeply the creative artist, by frank contacts, absorbs that supreme fact into his brain, the better for his work."

"The Author's Craft" (1913) is reprinted in "The Author's Craft and Other Critical Writings of Arnold Bennett", edited by Samuel Hynes, University of Nebraska Press, 1968.

Tuesday, November 28, 2000 at 05:50:44 (EST) = 2000-11-28

TopicBennett - TopicWriting

(correlates: SelfAbsorption, EmersonianTechnoOptimism, CardThatPoet, ...)