Book Reviews

The Old Wives' Tale by Arnold Bennett

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List Price: £8.25


Paperback: 378 Pages.

Published: 09 February 2009 by CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform

ISBN: 1438279841

EAN: 9781438279848

The Old Wives' Tale deals with the lives of two very different sisters, Constance and Sophia Baines, following their stories from their youth, working in their mother's draper's shop, into old age. It is generally regarded as one of Bennett's finest works.

Bennett claimed he was inspired to write the novel upon seeing a particular older woman: "This woman was once young, slim, perhaps beautiful; certainly free from ridiculous mannerisms. Very probably she is unconscious of her singularities. Her case is a tragedy. One ought to be able to make a heartrending novel out of the history of a woman such as she. Every stout, ageing woman is not grotesque--far from it!--but there is an extreme pathos in the mere fact that every stout ageing woman was once a young girl with the unique charm of youth in her form and movements and in her mind."


5.0 Stars5.0 Stars5.0 Stars5.0 Stars5.0 Stars  by Anne

A tale of two sisters

Set firmly in the nineteenth century and in a small provincial town two sisters grow up in the local general store and have very different destinies - Constance remains in the store and lives her life in the place that she was born and Sophia travels to France with a feckless husband and finds her own way in the world. In later life the women are reunited.

I had never read anything by this author before but I really enjoyed this book. The author grounds it well in the small town and inhabits it with a variety of characters who live their lives in the same locality. Local elections, birth and death, and changing lives form the pattern for the story while a counterpoint is added with Sophia's adventures in France which include becoming involved with courtesans, running a boarding house, watching an execution and being abandoned. The contrast between the two stories is marked except that both sisters approach life in the same practical way based on their upbringing.

I do enjoy a story which follows people/families through a generation and this is an excellent example of that. It is also a great work of social history as we watch the changes in attitude and culture as the book progresses. None of the plot or background would have any effect, however, were it not for the excellent portrayal of the two sisters and the abundance of other characters they meet. This is a book with real heart and you come to care considerably for the family as you experience their ups and downs. It is not an overly dramatic book and it does rather proceed at a leisurely pace but I enjoyed it immensely.

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