Riceyman steps : a novel by Arnold Bennett Free PDF book (1923)

Riceyman steps: a novel by Arnold Bennett Free PDF book (1923)

Riceyman steps

Published in 1923, this richly layered novel is set in Clerkenwell. Riceyman steps "lead from King's Cross Road up to Riceyman Square". Telling details evoke time, place and atmosphere. The vividly realized central characters are second-hand bookshop proprietor, Henry Earlforward, Violet Arb, neighboring shop owner, and their servant, the magnificent Elsie.

Earlforward inherited the bookshop from his uncle, who died suddenly after giving Henry an excitable account of Clerkenwell's history. The key episode in this history is the arrival of the underground railway. At first, the railway was greatly desired. As perilous construction work shook foundations and endangered lives, it became feared and loathed. "All Clerkenwell was mad for the line. But when the construction began all Clerkenwell trembled. The earth opened in the most unexpected and undesirable places."

Bennett sets up the idea that something as powerful and deep as the railway will shake his characters' lives. The evocation of Clerkenwell, its architecture, history, and the shop itself, induces feelings of claustrophobia. Miser Henry is as securely locked into his world as his coins and notes are locked in his safe. Deeply attracted, Henry and Violet marry. The couple spends their 'honeymoon' visiting Madame Tussaud's and its Chamber of Horrors. They economize on the return tram fare. This strikes a warning note!
Review by Frances Brody

On an autumn afternoon of 1919, a hatless man with a slight limp might have been observed ascending the gentle, broad acclivity of Riceyman Steps, which lead from King’s Cross Road up to Riceyman Square, in the great metropolitan industrial district of Clerkenwell.

He was rather less than stout and rather more than slim. His thin hair had begun to turn from black to grey, but his complexion was still fairly good, and the rich, very red lips, under a small greyish mous¬ tache and over a short, pointed beard, were quite remark¬ able in their suggestion of vitality. The brown eyes seemed a little small; they peered at near objects.

As to his age, an experienced and cautious observer of mankind, without previous knowledge of this man, would have said no more than that he must be past forty. The man him¬ self was certainly entitled to say that he was in the prime of life. He wore a neat dark-grey suit, which must have been carefully folded at nights, a low, white, starched collar, and a “ made ” black tie that completely hid the shirt-front; the shirt-cuffs could not be seen. He was shod in old, black leather slippers, well polished. He gave an appearance of quiet, intelligent, refined and kindly prosperity; and in his little eyes shone the varying lights of emotional sensitiveness.

Author: Arnold Bennett  Publication Date: 1923

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