By Athanasios Dimakis
In “VI The Future” of Paris Nights: And Other Impressions of Places and People, Arnold Bennett underscores the opulence and sparkle of Christmas festivities in grand metropolitan London hotels as sure projections of the allure of the pervasive hotel spirit that has radically undone the ideal of Victorian domesticity and, by extension, its alignment with female domestic drudgery. Decked in seasonal décor, Bennett’s Christmas hotel dining-rooms not only point to the author’s perennial fascination with hotel culture, but also constitute an imaginative relocation; a hotel resituating of Christmas, hitherto replete with the Dickensian imagery of idyllic homes as major sites of festive activity. The same line of reasoning can be found in Bennett’s 1930 hotel novel Imperial Palace where while Ceria “would have to sleep through Christmas and the New Year in his desolate home,” Violet decides that he deserved instead the hotel-sponsored “dazzling compensation of a fête in his grill-room” (382). In the same work, Monsieur Pozzi “the assistant-manager of the hotel,” acquires prominence by the very fact that “he had received permission to send out his own Christmas cards to the clientele” (227) pointing to the centrality of Christmas to the entire grand hotel enterprise. Returning to Bennett’s Paris Nights, the subversive potential of the decidedly Hollywoodian hotel Christmas that the excerpt brings forth seems to propose a new cult; a hotel Christmas fantasy that seems to have haunted literature and the arts ever since:
[T]he cry is that the institution of the home is being undermined, and that, therefore, society is in the way of perishing. It is stated that the home is insidiously attacked, at one end of the scale, by the hotel and restaurant habit, and, at the other, by such innovations as the feeding-of-school-children habit. We are asked to contemplate the crowded and glittering dining-rooms of the Midland, the Carlton, the Adelphi, on, for instance, Christmas Night, when, of all nights, people ought to be on their own hearths, and we are told: “It has come to this. This is the result of the craze for pleasure! Where is the home now?” (342)
Bennett, Arnold. 1930. Imperial Palace. Garden City, New York: Doubleday, Doran
& Company, Inc. 1931.
---. 1913. Paris Nights: And Other Impressions of Places and People. New York:
George H. Doran Company.
“Wishing you a Happy Xmas” Empire Hotel, Bath, U.K. Personal Colllection, Athanasios Dimakis.
Christmas morning: Three little girls with dolls and two women by Christmas tree, 1900-1910.
Graves, C. H. , -1943. Christmas Morning. [Philadelphia: The Universal Photo Art
Co., C.H. Graves, publisher, c1903] Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/90709344/>.