The literary 'Inheritance' of Dr Phyllis Bentley
"Two strong passions have always ruled my life: The first is literature; the second is the West Riding."
Phyllis Bentley was born on the 19th November 1894. She was the youngest child of Mr J E Bentley, who was a mill owner. She spent most of her life at Heath Villas, Free School Lane, Halifax. Phyllis was educated at Halifax High School for Girls and Cheltenham Ladies College where she undertook an external degree from London University. A munitions worker in London during the First World War, Phyllis returned to her native Halifax where she taught English and Latin at Heath Grammar School. She also did cataloguing work for the Halifax Literary and Philosophical Society.
From an early age, Phyllis Bentley had stated her ambition was to be a novelist. After several rejections from publishers, in 1928 Phyllis commenced her long association with the Gollancz publishing house, who agreed to publish her novel, appropriately entitled,"The Partnership".
Her masterpiece, "Inheritance" was published in 1932. Telling the story of the Oldroyd family, set against the background of the development of the textile industry, the book received widespread critical acclaim. Two further novels continued the saga of the Oldroyd family, "The Rise of Henry Morcar" and "A Man of His Time".
In 1967 Granada Television began the serialisation of the trilogy. Filming began in both Calderdale and Huddersfield. The ten-part series featured John Thaw and James Bolam in leading roles.
The success of her novels resulted in Miss Bentley being much in demand as a public speaker. She regularly gave lectures, both in this country and abroad and was an expert on the Bronte family.
Phyllis Bentley was an active member of the Halifax community. She had strong connections with the Halifax Authors Circle, the Womens Luncheon Club and for a time was president of the Halifax Thespians. Voluntary work at the Halifax Child Welfare Clinic brought her into contact with children and parents from poorer families. This contributed to her sympathetic treatment of poverty in her writings.
In 1963 she moved into Grange House at Warley, a 17th century yeoman clothier's house. Visitors to the house would remark on the orderly nature of the rooms. She had a daily housekeeper stating that she "always hated housework". Always a supporter of young writers, she would spend many hours answering correspondence -giving advice to those just beginning their literary careers.
In recognition of her talent, Phyllis received several awards. In 1949 she was awarded a honorary Doctor of Literature ( DLitt) from Leeds University. In 1958 she became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and in 1970 was awarded an OBE.
Phyllis Bentley was a regular user of the Library in Halifax. As part of her 80th birthday celebrations, the Library held an exhibition of her work. Original manuscripts were on display, together with items from her desk, including a calendar and pencil case.
On the 27th of June 1977 at Ing Royde Home, Phyllis Bentley died. Her desk and chair were amongst items bequeathed to the Library and these are now on display in the Reference and Local Studies library. The diaries and correspondence are available to view (by appointment) in the Calderdale Archives Department.
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