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The Old Wives’ Tale
A story stretched over 70 years, presenting the lives of two sisters, The Old Wives’ Tale is considered one of the most exceptional works Bennett has ever written. The author mentions in his journal the source of inspiration for the novel: an old lady he saw in a café in Paris.
The novel consists of four sections that cover two sisters’ lives, from adolescence to old age. The first one, Mrs. Baines, portrays the two young girls, Sophia and Constance. One of them is happy with the life in their father’s shop and is very obedient of her mother. The other one dreams of becoming a teacher, as she finds working in the shop dreadful. As their names suggest, Constance is the first one and Sophia the latter.
The following parts, entitled Constance and Sophia, deal with the separate lives of the two sisters. Constance has married the chief assistant of the shop, Samuel Povey, with whom she has a son. Although her life seems ordinary at a first glance, Constance has to deal with many problems: the death of her parents, the management of the shop, the death of her husband, her son’s behavior.
Sophia has eloped with traveling salesman Gerald Scales at the end of the first part. The third section shows her in Paris, abandoned by her husband and owning a prosperous pension. What Life Is, the last part of the novel, reunites the two sisters in England, in their parents’ house.
Arnold Bennett was born in May 1867 in Hanley, England. He gained his notoriety as a novelist, but he activated in other fields as well, such as journalism, theatre, film and propaganda. He is also famous for writing Anna of the Five Towns, Clayhanger, These Twain, and The Clayhanger Family.