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Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Bennett on growing old...

...but first Doris Day

The really frightening thing about middle age is the knowledge that you'll grow out of it. 
Doris Day

Frightening? During his late thirties, after his move to Paris, Arnold Bennett used his fictional characters to make a number of somewhat gloomy references to human mortality. Maybe he feared the onset of old age. However he died of typhoid aged 63, which certainly adds a poignant footnote to this :-

Yes,’ he sighed; ‘she contracted typhoid fever in Paris. It’s always more or less endemic there. And what with this hot summer and their water-supply and their drainage, it’s been more rife than usual lately.
Arnold Bennett – Hugo (1906)

Yet he moved to Paris. Maybe he was trying to escape the stifling atmosphere of middle class life. Or maybe it was in other people where he saw a need to escape the tick of the clock.

Poor tragic figure! Aged thirty-eight! An unromantic age, an age not calculated to attract sympathy from an unreflective world. But how in need of sympathy! Youth gone, innocence gone, enthusiasms gone, illusions gone, bodily powers waning! Only the tail-end of existence to look forward to!
Arnold Bennett – Whom God Hath Joined (1906)

‘How old are you, Diaz?’ ‘Thirty-six,’ he answered. ‘Why,’ I said, ‘you have thirty years to live.’
Arnold Bennett - Sacred and Profane Love (1905)

You may ask what right a man aged fifty odd has to talk of a life’s happiness — a man who probably has not more than ten years to live.
Arnold Bennett - Teresa of Watling Street (1904)

Sometimes Bennett also seemed to fear the wisdom of old age, as if disheartened by the prospect of understanding too much too late. I’m beginning to understand this one.

At seventy, men begin to be separated from their fellow-creatures. At eighty, they are like islets sticking out of a sea. At eighty-five, with their trembling and deliberate speech, they are the abstract voice of human wisdom. They gather wisdom with amazing rapidity in the latter years, and even their folly is wise then.
Arnold Bennett - Sacred and Profane Love (1905)

5 comments:

Roger said...

Apropos the funeral of one of our cohort an agricultural friend declared 'they're drawing them from our pen now'. The idea that one way or another we all inhabit 'pens' until we are led away is a particularly unpleasant one, which is why I share it, have a nice day.

Demetrius said...

And what about the feet I ask?

A K Haart said...

Roger - my pen has lost a few already. It's a shock at the time - "it's no age" we say to those of us left in the pen.

Demetrius - in my experience they begin to make hints about retiring from active service round about sixty.

James Higham said...

I've found that the years after 50 have been vastly more interesting and fulfilling. Health is the issue to be watched.

A K Haart said...

James - I tend to agree. Even if we take care of ourselves, health can be a lottery though.