Arlen, Michael (1895–1956) By Girling, Anna
Michael Arlen, although now largely forgotten, was one of the most successful novelists of the 1920s. Born Dikran Kouyoumdjian in Ruse, Bulgaria, to Armenian parents, Arlen’s family came to Britain in the early 1900s, and he attended Malvern College. He briefly studied at the University of Edinburgh before moving to London in the mid 1910s to embark on a career as a writer, initially working for A. R. Orage’s magazine, The New Age. His first publication was a collection of his pieces from the magazine, published as The London Venture in 1920. It was at this point that he began writing as Michael Arlen.
Arlen produced a steady stream of short stories and novels throughout the early 1920s, all offering a similar whimsical, romantic glimpse of young London socialites, culminating in 1924 with the publication of The Green Hat. It was an immediate success (selling 150,000 copies that year alone), and went on to become one of the bestselling novels of the 1920s, enabling Arlen to fund Noel Coward’s play, The Vortex. Arlen and his novel quickly became short hand for a popular conception of the 1920s; both are referred to in a slew of novels from the time (Michaelis, for instance, in D. H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover, is thought to be based on him). Arlen moved to the USA in 1941 and continued to write until his death, experimenting with a range of genres, including science fiction, but he never again wrote anything as successful as The Green Hat.