The South China Morning Post has marked the 150th anniversary of novelist and critic Arnold Bennett’s birth. This appears in the paper’s travel column by Adam Nebbs which seems odd until he explains that Bennett wrote two books that took place in London’s Savoy Hotel, one of which (The Grand Babylon Hotel) is still in print. In addition, an omelette was named for him that is still on offer at the Savoy Grill.
Bennett’s book reviews in the Evening Standard were influential in the 1920s and actually helped sell books. He was an early admirer of Waugh’s writing because it made him laugh out loud. He described Decline and Fall as “an uncompromising and brilliantly malicious satire…near to being quite first-rate.” He especially liked the prison scenes but recalled overall that it made him laugh about once a page. He thought Vile Bodies less successful because it lacked a plot but described some of the satire as “extremely, wildly farcical…” Both reviews are collected in Martin Stannard’s Evelyn Waugh: The Critical Heritage. Waugh also reviewed one of Bennett’s books. This was included in a multi-book review in the Graphic for 18 October 1930. That uncollected review is about the novel Imperial Palace which is Bennett’s other novel relating to the Savoy Hotel, also mentioned in the SCMP article. It is still in print as well, according to amazon.com.
Bennett died in 1931 before being able to review Waugh’s more mature work. He would surely have enjoyed the other comic novels had he lived to read them. The SCMP article characterizes Bennett’s own writing style as “a dry blend of Evelyn Waugh and Agatha Christie – both humorous and compelling.” Although the SCMP describes Bennett as largely forgotten, many of his novels, in addition to those about the Savoy Hotel, remain available in print or in electronic format or print on demand. Several were made into TV series, including Clayhanger and Anna Of the Five Towns. Collections of his articles and reviews are also available.