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Phyllis Bentley in Batley

By Erica
Phyllis Bentley in BatleyPhyllis Bentley, in the ‘Famous Writers’ cigarette cards collection.

From Sue Roe: Recently I have been helping my husband out with his research on the former players for Batley Rugby League Club. This has involved checking through the Batley News for details of games. In course of this research I came across two articles on Phyllis Bentley, describing her involvement with the Dewsbury and Batley branch of the Yorkshire Association of Yorkshire Bookmen of which she was the President.

The first occasion was the inaugural meeting of the Association on September 21 1946 with the headline:


“She treated a large audience at Batley Public Library to what she described as a brief excursion into the novelist’s mind.”

Her subject was Character and the Novelist. She addressed various issues: what is necessary to create good characters? How far are her characters drawn from real life and experience? How are characters created? How are characters introduced?

With regard to finding names for her characters, she compiled lists from the tombstones in country church yards! She insisted that names had to be historically accurate and regionally suitable. This was particularly important in the West Riding, where names were chiefly derived from occupations or from the land. Like many writers she kept careful records of her observations, including “…the storms and tribulations of her youth with the thought that one day they would come in useful.”

She illustrated her talk with many diverting literary anecdotes and allusions.

The second occasion was in December 1949


The Association marked the centenary of the publication of Charlotte Bronte’s Shirley by holding a dinner in Oakwell Hall,Birstall, the “Fieldhead “ of the book; Dr Bentley was the guest of honor. She described the book as a magnificent novel but felt, with two girls in the story, it had no single focus and so lacked the artistic unity of her other books. However she admired what she described as the superb presentation of Yorkshire history at a great moment of crisis, when England was at war with Napoleon, and the textile trade was suffering. (Dr Bentley had written something similar in her work Take Courage, a story set in the English Civil War.) She described it as the first great regional novel in English literature. Arnold Bennett had said that classics were classic because a few people recognised the fact and carried it on from one generation to another. She thought that was what the Association of Yorkshire Bookmen was doing, possibly even helping some present day books to become classics.

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