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A NOTE ON BENNETT AND EARTH SCIENCE By Brian J. Hudson (University of West Indies) Bennett and Hardy are among the novelists whose works have received attention from geographers.1 The geological knowledge which Hardy reveals in his novels, as Patricia Ingham has shown, was probably at least partly derived from a science book written by a minor but reputable geologist.2 From his reading, Hardy was able to diversify his vocabulary to include a number of geological terms and introduce scientific insights into some of the landscape descriptions which characterize much of his work. Ingham notes that many of Hardy's early critics charged that his use of scientific terminology was a blot on his novels, but many of his readers who are earth scientists have the satisfaction of being able to read a literary treatment of their subject illuminated by at least a little scientific knowledge and unmarred by irritating inaccuracies. Not all novelists have been as careful, and at least one geologist has remarked on the error made by Charlotte Bronte when in Jane Eyre she describes as granite the millstone grit of the Pennine moors . Bennett's novels, like those of Hardy, reflect the author's interest in earth science, not only in their concern with the physical landscape, but in the occasional use of scientific terms. The factual material which Bennett uses in creating the settings of his novels is soundly based on wide reading and keen observation. Bennett retained a life-long enthusiasm for geography, and he was also interested in related sciences, including geology and astronomy. In The Author's Craft, Bennett reveals the importance he attached to know!edge about the earth: "Now, the main factor in life on this planet is the planet itself. Any logically conceived survey of existence must begin with geographical and climatic phenomena."4 In his novels and short stories Bennett describes the settings in great detail, but most of his characters are remarkably unaware of the landscape in which they live. The author is probably describing his own youthful ignorance, when, in the opening chapter of CI ay hanger, he says of the young hero, Edwin: "Uf geology he was perfectly ignorant, though he lived in a district whose whole livelihood depended on the scientific use of geological knowledge, and though the existence of Oldcastle itself was due to a freak on the earth's crust which geologists call a fault."5 That Bennett made a deliberate effort to improve his knowledge of the local geology is clearly evidenced in Whom God Hath Joined. The first chapter contains a specific reference to geological maps of the district, and it is apparent that the author had studied these, presumably as part of his research on the Potteries setting of his Five Towns novels and short stories. Voracious reader though he was, Bennett clearly found it difficult to read all that he thought was necessary for a 242 243 proper understanding of the landscape. After moving from London to Bedfordshire he wrote in a letter to his friend, John Rickard, "I perceive that you know something about the geology of this district. I want to get hold of that (in a compressed tabloid form), because until I do, I cannot grasp the scenery."6 Only a few of the sources of Bennett's scientific knowledge about the earth can be identified with certainty. We know that he was aware of the writings of Elisée Reclus,7 and being fluent in French he would have had no difficulty in reading the work of this eminent nineteenth-century geographer. One of the books which Bennett mentioned as being a great influence on him, of course, was Herbert Spencer's First Pri nci pies ,8 and doubtless he obtained some of his geological, astronomical and meteorological knowledge from that source. It was from one of the elementary books on astronomy by the prolific popular science writer R. A. Proctor (183 7-1888) that Bennett in October 1907 first learned to understand "how not only the varying lengths of days, but the seasons are caused by the plane of the equator not being the same as the plane of the ecliptic...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 242-245
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Will Be Archived 2021
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