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The Manuscript Synopsis of Lord Raingo: A Picture of Bennett the Writer ROBERT F. SHEARD The Pennsylvania State University THE CREATIVE PROCESSES of fiction writers are as varied as are their fictions. They range from the prolific output of an Anthony Trollope, mechanically writing a set number of words each day, often starting a new novel the same day as completing one to fulfill his quota of words, to a Virginia Woolf, who agonized over each word she wrote and who felt that writing fifty successful words in a day was a triumph. Somewhere along that continuum, much closer to Trollope than to Woolf, lies Arnold Bennett. Known as a machine-like planner, Bennett's writing process is often the subject of his letters to friends and colleagues, and his predictions about the course of his own projects were uncanny. His comments in his letters about the seven months he spent writing Lord Raingo are no exception and through them we see a good example of his clear vision of his writing process. On 12 September 1925, he wrote to Eric Pinker, his literary agent: "I have written about 45,000 words of this novel, but I do not want to send you any of it yet. I think that this is only about a third of it. I hope to finish it in April at the latest."1 On 17 October: "By the end of this month I shall be sending you half or perhaps a little more than half of my novel Lord Raingo. . . . The book will be finished in February."2 And on 18 November: "Part I contains 83,000 words. I think that the whole book will contain about 135,000 words. It will be finished in February."3 This precision in planning is similar to the precision with which Bennett wrote his manuscripts. With minimal revision, Bennett wrote roughly 1,000 words a day, nearly every day. "Written in his neat, meticulous hand, the penned lines [of the bound manuscript] run on page after page with scarcely a crossed-out word. Margins are scrupulously 311 ELT: Volume 34:3, 1991 observed and every letter of every word is strongly and precisely formed as though it had been copied."4 With Lord Raingo, however, we have more than the author's letters to demonstrate his writing process; also extant for this work are a manuscript synopsis in Bennett's hand of most of Part II of Lord Raingo, some manuscript notes (also in Bennett's hand) outlining the medical situation treated in the novel, a typescript presumably from Bennett's physician, Dr. E. H. Griffen, also pertaining to the medical details in the novel, and the complete, three-volume, bound holograph manuscript of the novel.5 The synopsis covers approximately the final quarter of the novel, summarizing chapters 69 through 74 individually, and then developing the plan for the remaining fourteen chapters—which at the time of the synopsis were still to be written. The synopsis gives us an insight into two aspects of Bennett's process for Lord Raingo: his concern for a potentially negative reaction to the content, and his meticulous planning and execution of his projected work. When Lord Raingo was published on 7 October 1926, it was released with some reservations on the part of the author as to its probable reception. In a letter to Pinker on 23 June 1925, Bennett expressed doubts about its likelihood to be serialized in the U.S.A., "as there is a 'mistress' in it. I explained this in the synopsis, and there will be nothing at all crude in the novel itself on this part of the story, but it is a different thing reading about a mistress in a synopsis and reading the actual tale in full."6 But the most important benefit in having the synopsis is its value when analyzing Bennett's writing process. A note inserted after the summary of Chapter 74 suggests (as do his letters and his journal entries) that Bennett knew precisely the scope of the project and the length of time required to complete it. Compare this foresight with a contemporary of Bennett's—Joseph Conrad...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 311-321
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
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