'[Arnold Bennett's] superb Old Wives' Tale, wandering from person to person and from scene to scene, is by far the finest 'long novel' that has been written in English and in the English fashion, in this generation.'
--H. G. Wells
First published in 1908, The Old Wives' Tale affirms the integrity of ordinary lives as it tells the story of the Baines sisters--shy, retiring Constance and defiant, romantic Sophia--over the course of nearly half a century. Bennett traces the sisters' lives from childhood in their father's drapery shop in provincial Bursley, England, during the mid-Victorian era, through their married lives, to the modern industrial age, when they are reunited as old women. The setting moves from the Five Towns of Staffordshire to exotic and cosmopolitan Paris, while the action moves from the subdued domestic routine of the Baines household to the siege of Paris during the Franco-Prussian War.
'Like Wordsworth, [Arnold Bennett] has triumphed over the habitual; he has not let it disguise the particle of beauty from him.'--Rebecca West
You might find it hard to imagine that those stout ageing spinsters living quietly in small English towns ever led lives of passion or hardship, that they ever possessed beauty or romantic ideals. In The Old Wives' Tale, Arnold Bennett tells the story of two such old wives, sisters Constance and Sophia, from youth, through marriage, heartbreak, triumphs and disasters, to old age. In doing so, he reveals with careful compassion the intense inner lives that throb beneath every seemingly insignificant exterior.
Contemporary critics — Virginia Woolf in particular — perceived weaknesses in his work. To her and other Bloomsbury authors, Bennett represented the "old guard" in literary terms. His style was traditional rather than modern, which made him an obvious target for those challenging literary conventions. For much of the 20th Century, Bennett's work was tainted by this perception; it was not until the 1990s that a more positive view of his work became widely accepted. The noted English critic John Carey praises him, declaring Bennett to be his "hero" because his writings "represent a systematic dismemberment of the intellectuals' case against the masses".
THE KINDLING OF LOVE
THE MISER'S DAUGHTER
THE SEWING MEETING
ON THE BANK
AT THE PRIORY
END OF A SIMPLE SOUL
'I closed the book at seven in the morning after the shortest sleepless night of my experience ... there I had "Bennett triumphant" without any doubt whatsoever' - Joseph Conrad