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The Old Wives’ Tale – Arnold Bennett



Posted May 7, 2016 by

The Old Wives’ Tale – Arnold Bennett – 1908


Posted by guillermo maynez on 2/6/2015, 13:27:21

Continuing with my work towards becoming an expert in British literature 1850-1950 , I just read Arnold Bennett’s “The Old Wives’ Tale”. I enjoyed it immensely, deploring the moment it ended. The idea came to Bennett as he watched a lady who supped in the same restaurant as he in Paris. Grumpy, obese and strange, Bennett tried to imagine her life up to that point, and then decided to write the story of two sisters with diametrically opposed fates, from the same region in England where he grew up. The result is a fascinating tale which contrasts the ordinary with the extraordinary, showing how human joy and suffering are comparable no matter how strange or commonplace your life is.

He manages to both display a great capacity for irony and sarcasm without ever disrespecting his characters. He also shows an uncanny ability to portray the female point of view with empathy and depth. Much recommended in case you haven’t read it.


Posted by Steven on 2/6/2015, 18:55:06, in reply to “The Old Wives’ Tale”

I read The Old Wives’ Tale about a decade ago. I remember liking it very much, but I can’t recall much of the story.

Your comment about British literature 1850-1950 reminded me that I ran across a list a few weeks ago of the someone’s selections for the 50 greatest British novels of the 19th century:

The 50 Greatest British Novels of the 19th Century

I’ve read 38 of them, but there are some authors here that I’d never heard of.


Posted by Steven on 3/6/2015, 8:23:47, in reply to “Re: The Old Wives’ Tale”

I woke up in the middle of the night realizing that there was nothing by Anthony Trollope on the list I had linked. How can this be? Surely Benjamin Disraeli didn’t write three books that are better than Barchester Towers.


Posted by Sterling on 3/6/2015, 9:39:54, in reply to “Re: The Old Wives’ Tale”

You’re right, Steven. And I posted a comment to tell him so!  😀


Posted by Steven on 3/6/2015, 12:38:25, in reply to “Re: The Old Wives’ Tale”

I hope you get a response. It wouldn’t have occurred to me to leave a comment. I’m typically just a voyeur on these sorts of things.

The 1001 Books list has 80 British novels from the 19th century. They have four by Trollope (though I don’t agree with all the choices), but nothing by Benjamin Disraeli. (Nothing by Bede, Ainsworth, or Bulwer-Lytton either.)

Harold Bloom’s Western Canon has about 90 British novels of the period (I say “about” because he doesn’t use precise time frames), and he doesn’t have Disraeli or those other three guys either. He does, however, include 14 novels by Trollope (all of Barsetshire and Palliser plus two more), more than any other author.

You could put these three lists together and have a pretty comprehensive reading list of 100+ 19th century British novels.


Posted by guillermo maynez on 4/6/2015, 12:11:26, in reply to “19th Century British Novels”

Thanks! Now you’ve made my task nearly impossible to fulfill!


Posted by guillermo maynez on 4/6/2015, 12:47:53, in reply to “Re: 19th Century British Novels”

I’ve read 27 of these 50.

ReadLit Team


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