BENNETT, Arnold (1867-1931). Autograph manuscript (unsigned) of an untitled play ['The Bright Island'], in three acts, dated on the first page, '16.1.20' and on the last '18 4.20', approximately 166 pages, 4to, written in ink on recto, including cancellations and emendations, blank leaves; green morocco gilt, by Bagguley.
A comedy in which Susan Maddox, 'a Red Cross nurse ... a pretty rather flighty society maiden' and her brother, James, 'a naval officer ... Good looking, gruff. Ruthless', with progressive ideas from Cambridge, are shipwrecked on the imaginary island of Caspo, peopled with figures from the Commedia dell'Arte such as Harlequin, Pantaloon and Columbine, King Pierrot and the 'subtle, serpentine and unscrupulous' Doctor. The scene is set in the grounds of the royal palace. Bennett uses the play to juggle with certain political and social ideas, and includes jokes about bribery, British justice and especially the British ruling class.
At the end of the First World War Bennett was much in demand in the theatre. In 1919 and 1920 he concerned himself particularly with the affairs of the Lyric Theatre at Hammersmith, which he persuaded Lord Beaverbrook to support and where some of the best works of the period were performed. The Bright Island, at first accepted but then declined by the Lyric, was not performed until February 1925, when it was directed by Theodore Komisarjevsky for the Stage Society.
Bernard Shaw who in 1924 had called it 'not a play but a libretto' and advised Bennett to put music and dancing into it ('humanity cannot stand 150 minutes unrelieved scoffing, no matter how witty it is') wrote on February 27, 'When I saw the Right Little Bright Little Island on the stage, I found that I was only half right about it. I said that it had the makings of an Offenbachian opera bouffe in it; and I was right. What I did not see was that it had the makings of a powerful serious political play in it', going on to accuse Bennett 'like all inveterate novelists' of not taking the theatre seriously enough.
The manuscript was one of fifteen plays included in Sotheby's sale of Arnold Bennett's manuscripts on 25 May 1936 (lot 67), sold by order of Dorothy Cheston with whom he lived from 1923 until his death, and to whom he had bequeathed 47 volumes of his manuscripts, together with his journals and the rights in some of his plays.