18 JUNE 1927, Page 38


Mn. ARNOLD BENNETT knows that his first business as a novelist is to amuse and not to instruct. That is a thing we must be very thankful for, because when he clioo:-es to write of high polities or of how to live on twenty-fOur ham a day, he still continues to be very entertaining. Only it ir waste of time to deal with dull facts if one has the wit and power to spin the web of fancy—and all the greatest minds of the world have known and acted on this principle.

We need not, in discussing these new short stories, consider either politics or religion, or, indeed, anything but their merit as stories. Our verdict is that some of them are masterly examples of the mature and kindly latter-day Bennett. Sonic are certainly not masterpieces, however, but tours de force, achieved one would think not so much to keep the pot boiling (for the modern best-selling author with his half-crown-a-word fees knows no such need) as a leviathan-like frisking among the waters of fantasy, merely to amuse himself and astound the lesser fry, Of this kind is " What I have said, I have said," and even Mr. Bennett with all his knowledge of the world can hardly mate the adventure of the captain of commerce, .marooned on an island in Piccadilly, because lie had told his wife he would not stir until a 99 'bus came, and the 99 'buses had been taken off that route, sound even faintly possible.

It is in his knowledge of women that Mr. Bennett is pre- eminent.. The long short-story of " The Woman Who Stole Everything " is a model of its kind, written with dash and vent and a really gripping plot, through which runs a vein of philosophy that only Mr. Bennett could so neatly weave into the texture of the narrative. Cora is a cad and charlatan of a fairly common type who keeps losing her vanity case and at her belongings. She borrows her uncle's handkerchief into which to cry and then delivers herself :- " ` My life's been hell,' she murmured and muttered, gazing curiously at the pattern of Henry's handkerchief. ' What a sporting hankey. I'm not one to complain. I never complain. Nobody ever went into marriage with higiva ideals than 1 did. I wanted marriage to be everything. 1 must have affection. tenderness. Yes, tenderness. If I don't have it, I am like a flower without water.' " It is a ruthless story that is unfolded of how Cora (no flower, but a weed) " vamps " husband and uncle and lover, deceiving them all and in a queer way despising them all while living on them, and the triumphant strength that this kind of woman displays in emotional situations which would daunt anyone

less hardened.

Mr. Bennett is always clever and human. In this book lie

is also kindly and we are grateful to him for telling us some really exciting and amusing stories, with his own special turns of phrase and flashes of insight.

F. Y.-B.