Literary Taste: How to Form It

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A magnificent e-text from the author of one of the 100 best books of the twentieth century. This excerpt:

from Literary Taste: How to Form It
Arnold Bennett

Chapter IX Verse

There is a word, a “name of fear,” which rouses terror in the heart of the vast educated majority of the English-speaking race. The most valiant will fly at the mere utterance of that word. The most broad-minded will put their backs up against it. The most rash will not dare to affront it. I myself have seen it empty buildings that had been full; and I know that it will scatter a crowd more quickly than a hose-pipe, hornets, or the rumour of plague. Even to murmur it is to incur solitude, probably disdain, and possibly starvation, as historical examples show. That word is “poetry.”. . .

The formation of literary taste cannot be completed until that prejudice has been conquered. My very difficult task is to suggest a method of conquering it. I address myself exclusively to the large class of people who, if they are honest, will declare that, while they enjoy novels, essays, and history, they cannot “stand” verse. The case is extremely delicate, like all nervous cases. It is useless to employ the arts of reasoning, for the matter has got beyond logic; it is instinctive. Perfectly futile to assure you that verse will yield a higher percentage of pleasure than prose! You will reply: “We believe you, but that doesn't help us.” Therefore I shall not argue. I shall venture to prescribe a curative treatment (doctors do not argue); and I beg you to follow it exactly, keeping your nerve and your calm. Loss of self-control might lead to panic, and panic would be fatal.

So, for those of you who suffer metrophobia run, don't walk to this text and find out what Bennett's advice might be. The life you change could be your own!

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How funny you should mention Arnold Bennett. I am in the midst of Anna of the Five Towns by Mr. Bennett.

I must admit, I do not read as much poetry as I should--so perhaps I should check out his plan!


Dear MamaT,

I haven't read much of Bennett, but The Old Wive's Tale made a controversial list of the 100 Best Books of the 20th Century. And he has a delightful short piece the title of which eludes me but has something to do with living in 24 hours a day.

Let me know how the book is.





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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on November 8, 2004 4:00 PM.

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