The Old Wives' Tale

The Old Wives' Tale The Old Wives Tale Celebrates The Romance Of Even The Most Ordinary Lives As It Tells The Story Of The Two Baines Sisters, Placid Stay At Home Constance And Rebellious Sophia, From Their Girlhood To Their Last Days They Move From The Family Drapery Shop In Provincial Bursley During The Repressive Mid Victorian Period To Old Age In The Modern Era Of Mass Marketing And The Internal Combustion Engine The Setting Ranges From The Wesleyan Methodist Chapel In Bursley To A Paris Brothel, The Action From The Controlled Domestic Routine Of The Baines Household To Wife Murder And The Siege Of Paris During The Franco Prussian War Of This Edition Of The Old Wives Tale Gives Fascinating Critical Insights Into Bennett S Most Wide Ranging Novel, Considered By Many To Be His Masterpiece

Enoch Arnold Bennett always known as Arnold Bennett was one of the most remarkable literary figures of his time, a product of the English Potteries that he made famous as the Five Towns Yet he could hardly wait to escape his home town, and he did so by the sheer force of his ambition to succeed as an author In his time he turned his hand to every kind of writing, but he will be remembered for

➤ [Epub] ➞ The Old Wives' Tale By Arnold Bennett ➮ –
  • Paperback
  • 644 pages
  • The Old Wives' Tale
  • Arnold Bennett
  • English
  • 04 July 2019
  • 9780192829665

10 thoughts on “The Old Wives' Tale

  1. says:

    A simple concept of parallels and contrasts in the lives of sisters, carefully told with gentle irony It starts in 1864 when Constance and Sophia are 16 and 15 respectively and follows them to the end of their lives Book 1 covers their teenage years together above and in a draper s shop in a small town in the Staffordshire Potteries central England Book 2 is in the same location, but focuses on Constance Book 3 is set in Paris during great political upheaval and war, and is about Sophia In book 4, the two threads come together again Bennett modelled it on the great realistic French novels of the time Balzac, Flaubert et al in some ways it is very mundane, and yet the attention to detail is extraordinary and compelling As an elderly Sophia muses, My life has been so queer and yet every part of it separately seemed ordinary enough. Image French caf scene by Jean B raud ContrastsIt opens with a description of the bucolic countryside, observing But though Constance and Sophia were in it they were not of it because no person who lives in the district ever thinks about the county , even though it s so much pleasanter than the busy, dirty town They are the only children of a bedridden but successful and respected draper whose hatred of puffing meant he refused to replace the fallen shop sign lest he condone, yea, to participate in, the modern craze for unscrupulous self advertisement The draper s shop and home is their world, and yet their lives end up taking very different paths Sometimes the contrasts are parallel than they first seem, and I think this is an aspect that bears further thought and eventual rereading Constance spends her whole life in the town, living a traditional life as dutiful daughter, wife, mother and widow, whereas Sophia spends many years in France, surviving the Siege of Paris and building independent success Their lives seem so different, and for Sophia, there is an aspect of missing England when she s in France and vice versa However, despite the apparent exoticism of her life, she comes to realise that her life, in its way, had been as narrow as Constance s Though her experience of humanity was wide she had been utterly absorbed in doing one single thing. I think the only weak point was some aspects of the ending, but in such a long and wonderful book, it s only a minor issue.SisterhoodThe sisters are deliberately treated equally by their parents their workboxes were different but one was not magnificent than the other Indeed, a rigid equality was the rule and yet in some subtle way, Constance had a standing with her parents which was confidential than Sofia s This is clear when Mrs Baines confides in Constance about her problems with Sophia her tone was peculiar, charged with import, confidential, and therefore very flattering to Constance They are close, though they have very different temperaments, with Sophia being the mischievous and a prey ripe for the evil one She is clever, proud, shrewd with money, independent and obstinate she would rather suffer than beg or ask for forgiveness Constance is suited to her name, like the continuity and familiarity in her life She is dutiful and happy to assume she will go into the shop, but Sophia had always hated the shop She did not understand how her mother and Constance could bring themselves to be deferential and flattering to every customer that entered.Their teenage banter, mild naughtiness trying on mother s new dress , and sneering at a servant from afar could easily be transplanted to teenage sisters anywhere or when Curiously, their adult relationship seems like something from a historical novel than their childhood one Is Blindness the Price of Love A recurring theme is the wilful blindness of love, be that of a parent, spouse or even another relative All the main characters suffer for it in different ways, though one finally acknowledges the truth to herself, if not to others, and her affection was unimpaired For a extreme analysis of this idea, that I rated only 2 , see Ford Madox Ford s The Good Soldier, which I reviewed HERE.Can a child of less than five be bad Is it hidden sullenness or mere callous indifference, or a perfect unconsciousness of sin And is it misguided to say If we can be happy only when I give way to him, I must give way to him However, that is hard to maintain She lived for nothing but to please him he was, however, exceedingly difficult to please, not in the least because he was hypocritical and exacting, but because he was indifferent whereas he was the whole of her universe, she was merely a dim figure in the background of his. Modernity and Feminine Insight The book has a curiously modern feeling in some ways In particular, Sophia s teenage rebellion doesn t feel like something from a Victorian novel though this was written in Edwardian times , either in terms of what she says, or what she does When defiant, she is sullen and evasive, exhibits a diffident boldness , plays the fairness card Oh, of course Constance is always right , answers back with excessive logic You tell me not to answer back, and then you say you re waiting and declares You all want to make me miserable Put me in prison if you like I know you d be glad if I was dead One confrontation ends when, with a brusque precipitation of herself, vanished upstairs I m sure most modern readers have been involved in such conversations Although written by a man, all the main characters are women, but they are convincingly and insightfully rendered For example, Constance s feelings after her honeymoon are delicately but touchingly described She sat there full of new knowledge and new importance, brimming with experience and strange, unexpected aspirations, purposes, yes and cunnings You could see the timid thing old, virginal Constance peeping wistfully out of the eyes of the married woman. And the all encompassing love of a new mother for her baby, she dived into the recesses of the perambulator and extricated from its cocoon the centre of the universe, and scrutinised him with quiet passion The awkwardness of breastfeeding in front of others, and the stresses of controlled crying not that it s called that are also discussed At a trivial level, problems with builders promises, timescales and workmanship are timeless, and the etiquette of all you can eat fare troubled even Edwardians, apparently the delicate dilemma of fixed price per day for as much as they can consume while observing the rules of the game in an instant decided how much they could decently take, and to what extent they could practise the theoretical liberty of choice they had the right to seize all that was present under their noses, like genteel tigers and they had the right to refuse that was all In contrast, it is very Victorian in the way that women can be laid low by severe shock or a bit of a chill SympathyIn the Preface, Bennett says it is an absolute rule that the principal characters of a novel must not be unsympathetic I don t necessarily agree, but he stuck to his principle in this, and the others of his that I have read, which is not to say that his characters are flat or saccharine And he has no such qualms where some of the minor male characters are concerned Quotes It is to be remembered that in those days Providence was still busying himself yes, him with everybody s affairs The wakes regional festival were an orgiastic carnival, gross in all its manifestations of joy The whole centre of the town was given over to the furious pleasures of the people displaying all the delights of the horrible She was athirst for sympathy in the task of scorning everything local Typical Bennett One of Maggie s deepest instincts, always held in check by the dominance of Mrs Baines, was to leave pails prominent on the main routes of the house and now, divining what was at hand, it flamed into insurrection Dr Harrop was common sense in breeches When Mr Scales mentioned his fox terrier bitch, he had no suspicion that he was transgressing a convention by virtue of which dogs have no sex and I wonder if any Edwardian readers would have balked at Bennett s use of the word sex Be careful what may be overheard by servants, A clumsy question might enlighten a member of the class which ought ever be enlightened about one s private affairs The era of good old fashioned Christmases, so agreeably picturesque for the poor, was not yet at an end The remarkable notion that twelve thousand pounds represents the infinity of wealth, that this sum possessed special magical properties which rendered it insensible to the process of subtraction Good clothes, when put to the test, survive a change in fortune, as a Roman arch survives the luxury of departed empire The irrational obstinacy of a physically weak man who sticks to it that he can defy the laws of nature Bennett loves writing about hotels, and says critically examining newcomers was one of the amusements of the occupants of the lounge The patched and senile drabness of the hotel bedroom You can tell respectable hotel guests because their clothes did not flatter the lust of the eye The respectability of a luxury private hotel makes proper every act that passes within its walls Modern British Asian Retelling Hugely disappointing, and I suggest avoiding it My review is here Marriage Material

  2. says:

    I recall intensely that The Old Wives Tale had me weeping silently into my mug of tea on than one occasion as I followed raptly the ordinary tedious lives of two than a little irritating women from youth to addled toothlessness, whence are we all doomed, although, one hopes, these days, with humane dentistry and superior bridgework Ah, humanity Is it ever thus Yes, thus it was, thus it is, and thus is to be Here is a symphony of domesticity, panopticon of disappointment, spouting jugular of forgiveness and now, this novel sits on my shelf, long untouched but never to be donated to oxfam It glows faintly and casts a golden deliquescent shimmer on the surrounding brattier volumes.

  3. says:

    BLURB Every stout, ageing woman is not grotesque far from it but there is an extreme pathos in the mere fact that that every stout ageing woman was once a young girl with the unique charm of youth in her form and her movements and in her mind And the fact that the change from the young girl to the stout ageing woman is made up of an infinite number of infinitesimal changes, each unperceived by her, only intensifies the pathos It was at the instant of this observation that I was visited by the idea of writing the book which ultimately became The Old Wives Tale So writes Arnold Bennett in the preface to his masterpiece of realistic fiction, a book that follows the lives of two sisters, Constance and Sophia, from simple days in mid Victorian England through the chaos and tumult of the modern age Along the way, a novel is built, detail by rich detail, that rivals the great realistic works of Balzac, Flaubert, Zola, and Maupassant.I don t really know what I feel after the reading this book, apart from exhausted and sad But digging deeper into the reason behind my feelings, I can only conclude that the realities of the two sisters were nothing really different than what is happening to everyone in life Scars are just another kind of memory M.L Stedman, The Light Between OceansInstead of hiding behind social etiquette and good manners, the story, published in 1908, is told with blatant honesty, coupled with a subtle dry sense of humor and a profound knowledge of humanity The historical aspects of events which were either unknown or peculiar, added a deeper nuance to the book I really enjoyed it.I found a great audiobook version on Youtube and decided to finish the story that way since I probably would have put it down It was really too slow and too boring But the deeper I progressed into the narrative, the I began to enjoy this saga about two sisters who made different choices in their lives and had to do the best they could They took responsibility with the tools available to them pride, a sense of honor, resilience and endurance I think it is the story of life as we know it, than it is about the two sisters alone It is like asking a few people to write down their life stories and then choose two mundane, probably boring lives, to highlight our own journeys for us all Or it can also be the gossip stories about neighbors from the cradle to the grave, and how we react to it.Picturesque, detailed, touching For me the value lies in the time period it was written and the reminder it is of lives that was lived differently from our own and what we could learn from the experience I loved it A great classic.

  4. says:

    A testament to the power and influence of Goodreads is the discovery of this gem which otherwise would have escaped my notice.Bennett grabbed me with the second sentence of his preface and never let go for a moment In many ways this 5 page preface is compelling than the actual novel Here he relates an anecdote of sitting in a favorite cafe when an old woman comes in talking to herself and dropping her parcels She is the subject of immediate ridicule by the two waitresses, one old enough to know better and one young enough to be charitable He muses that this fat, ugly, old woman was once young, slim, perhaps beautiful but most certainly free of her ridiculous mannerisms He continues that thought with the realization that the change from the young girl to the stout aging woman is made up of an infinite number of infinitesimal changes, each unperceived by her This is the story he writes but with two sisters, Sophia and Constance, whose lives he chronicles from girlhood through old age across a canvas that stretches from a provincial English town to Paris and back Initially published in 1908, the story is set in the mid 19th century.This is a book of small moments the petty disappointments, jealousies, power struggles and vanities that are woven into every life There are no grand gestures here Joselito in his review absolutely nailed it when he wrote, It s an exciting, unputdownable reading frenzy of non events The lasso Bennett s deft observations and characterizations I can t think of another writer who has captured youth and aging better than he On youth As for them, they marveled at the phenomena presented in Sophia s person they admired they admitted the style of her gown but they envied neither her innocence nor her beauty they envied nothing but her youth and the fresh tint of her cheeks On aging Nothing could destroy the structure of her beauty, but she looked worn and appreciably older On acceptance The truth was that, though her bereavement had been the cause of a most genuine and durable sorrow, it had been a relief to her When Constance was over fifty, the energetic and masterful Sophia had burst in upon her lethargic tranquility and very seriously disturbed the flow of old habits Certainly Constance had fought Sophia on the main point, and won but on a hundred minor points she had either lost or had not fought Sophia had been too much for Constance, and it had been only by a wearying expenditure of nervous force that Constance had succeeded in holding a small part of her own against the unconscious domination of Sophia The death of Mrs Scales had put an end to all the strain, and Constance had been once again mistress in Constance s house Constance would never have admitted these facts, even to herself and no one would ever have dared to suggest them to her For with all her temperamental mildness she had her formidable side Bennett underscores that no life is ever small to the person living it Think about that for a moment no life is ever small to the person living it Annie Lamott once wrote, I may not be much but I m all I think about Bennett s sentiments exactly A pitch perfect novel recommended without reservation.Note I read the Modern Library edition which shows a date of 1911 but I don t think that s right The preface was written by Bennett which may not be included in the edition with the introduction by Francine Prose.

  5. says:

    I listened to this over a very long car ride Both my husband and I thought it was a very good choice It is easy to follow and keeps your attention.The book is about two very different sisters Constance and Sophia Their names clue you in to their respective personalities Constance is constant, good natured, kind and loving She is a home body who wants to stay put She will be married to a dedicated employee in the family s drapery store in Bursley Bursley is modeled on Burslem, Staffordshire, England Sophia is sophisticated, curious, adventurous and romantic Her dream is to travel the world She is one year younger than Constance She falls in love and marries too, to a rogue, a scoundrel, a philanderer who ups and view spoiler deserts her hide spoiler

  6. says:

    He saw a fat, old, ridiculous, shapeless woman in a restaurant Then he imagined her once as a vivacious young girl, perhaps pretty when she was a young woman, had some love affairs, married, brought forth children, and now she s like that, most likely alone and forgotten For a long while he thought of writing a story about an old woman like her When he finally got himself into writing it, he thought it would be challenging to write about two of them, so Arnold Bennett made them sisters Constance and Sophia Baines.Life, aging and death We follow the story of the sisters two penny lives spoiler alert read on They live in a small English provincial town above their father s draper s shop We see them when they were small girls, grow up to be young women Constance marrying a local guy and later inheriting her father s business , while the spirited Sophia steals money from her aunt and elopes with a playboy traveling businessman to Paris She remains childless, abandoned by her husband, but by stroke of luck was able to put up a business and prospered Constance, on the other hand, stays in their town, has a son, sees her loved ones grow old and die one by one her parents, friends, her husband Her son leaves to seek his fortune elsewhere.In old age the sisters are briefly reunited They shared problems with househelps, their dogs, and Constance s son s apparent neglect of her Then they, too, die one by one.You yawn and ask inwardly why then is this a 5 star Because this is a masterpiece of realistic writing, Bennett s description of the everyday, humdrum happenings of ordinary 19th century people sucks you inside the book and makes you feel the characters like they re real flesh and blood It s an exciting, unputdownable reading frenzy of non events A remarkable example of the old fashioned way of telling a story, utilizing no attention getting, sophisticated sounding modern tricks Something you ll miss when you get back again to the great, unreadable novels of the current times where you have to pretend understanding them, or deceive yourself into believing that you somehow got the point of your 3 week reading labor, to give them a decent rating.

  7. says:

    This book was a joy to read The characters of Sophia and Constance were excellent There lives chalk and cheese I was not sure what to expect, and aside for some incredibly long sentences it was a great novel of the day to day lives of the two sisters.The contrast between the two sisters is incredible The first part describes the two sisters growing up in their fathers drapers shop Constance is constant while Sophia has a wild streak and elopes with a traveling salesman In contrast, Constance marries Mr Povey who works at the shop The story covers her life at the drapers shop and the death of her husband and the spoiling of her son Sophia in contrast is abandoned by her husband in Paris where she goes in to establish a successful pensione Later the two now elderly sisters are reunited The story is a masterpiece covering 1840 1905 and the technology and political changes Bennett captures the poignancy of two different lives in a time of change with strong woman characters.

  8. says:

    Arnold Bennett is one of the great under read authors ever His prose is shining carved out of marble each word beautiful resonating off the surrounding ones But really his craft is so pure and every word counts Of course, it s good his writing is so unsentimental because it keeps his stories from being unbearable sad instead of just barely bearably painful This is the book I would recommend people begin with if they don t know Bennett I found it the most accessible with even a little humor irony, actually Bennett s not really one for funny or fun I wish I could enter his written universe for the first time again Whatever the subject, the people or the plot, his writing like Bach s music, which for some reason it reminds me of and like Trollope s writing only always bleaker is eminently sane.

  9. says:

    2 sisters, 2 separate lives I have been through too much, I cannot stand it Yes, we re only concerned with our paltry selves, so why do some whine, Why did this novel not mention this or that war or crisis Why Cos outside events never matter In his preface Bennett notes that ordinary people are never aware of history s dramatic events And talented Cyril, the child of one sis so cute, so spoiled At 33, his habits were industrious as ever He seldom spoke of his plans and never of his hopes He was unexceptionable He imagined that industry was sufficient justification for a life A classic tale covering 60 years by the underrated Arnold Bennett I refer GRs to the fine review by Cecily for dets Bennett s decades long novel influenced authors like the plodding and, for me, unreadable Edna Ferber It will put a lump in your throat, if you have a throat.

  10. says:

    I consider Arnold Bennett to be the most underrated of all English novelists, and The Old Wives Tale to be one of the great undiscovered or underdiscovered masterpieces of twentieth century literature Bennett was despised by the Bloomsbury group, particularly Virginia Woolf, who thought him conservative and vulgar his popularity made him a figure of envy and ridicule amongst the Modernists Obviously he s got much in common with Trollope, Thackeray and Dickens than he does with Joyce or Woolf herself but he was also very much influenced by French writers, particularly Maupassant, and this is the Frenchest of all his books, with some of the most powerful sections set in Paris The Old Wives Tale is the story of two sisters, Sophia and Constance Baines, their contrasting characters and destinies, their estrangement and final reunion in old age In the course of the book they run the whole gamut of experiences open to women of that period, and the final section is deeply moving The prose is breathtakingly good, the characterisation powerful and the subject matter particularly in the Paris sections unflinching Bennett will never be fashionable he represents a type of prosperous, worldly wise English gentleman, and obviously that s just not very cool But only a fool would dismiss him for that and it s worth pointing out that Bennett, unlike the pampered denizens of Bloomsbury, actually wrote to make a living.

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