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About the book
  • Published: 3 July 2014
  • ISBN: 9781448192540
  • Imprint: Vintage Digital
  • Format: EBook
  • Pages: 752

The Old Wives' Tale

A long-neglected twentieth century masterpiece about the lives of two sisters, spanning seventy years of the nineteenth century from Northern England to Paris


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.

  • Pub date: 3 July 2014
  • ISBN: 9781448192540
  • Imprint: Vintage Digital
  • Format: EBook
  • Pages: 752

About the Author

Arnold Bennett

Arnold Bennett was born in Hanley, Staffordshire, in 1867. After a secondary school education, he worked first for his father, a self-taught solicitor, and then moved to London as a shorthand clerk with a firm of solicitors. He began to write to make extra money and in 1893 became assistant editor and subsequently editor of the weekly magazine, Woman, reviewing books and writing articles on general subjects, something he continued to do all his life. His first novel, A Man From the North, appeared in 1898 and in 1900 he finished The Grand Babylon Hotel, published in 1902, and began Anna of the Five Towns (1902), in which he first started to use the Potteries of his boyhood as a setting for his novels. In these contrasting works, he also reveals his lifelong fascination for, on the one hand, the world's luxury and opulence, and on the other, puritanism and people who can endure hard work.

In 1903 Bennett moved to Paris and in 1907 he married a Frenchwoman (from whom he separated in 1921). The Old Wives' Tale (1908) was written in France and shows Bennet's main influences, the first being that of his own background and the second that of the French realists such as Flaubert, Maupassant and Balzac. In it, Bennett also reveals his own preoccupations with the effects of time and history on the lives of ordinary people.

This was followed by the Clayhanger trilogy: Clayhanger (1910), Hilda Lessways (1911) and These Twain (1916). His works also include several plays, two volumes of short stories and several other novels. He died in 1931.

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Praise for The Old Wives' Tale

“Bennett's masterpiece... There are few more moving accounts of the effects of time, the passage of history and the slow encroachment of age than this remarkable, epic novel”


“It's not just a wonderful story; it's also an expressionist masterpiece, almost surreal at times. It's also an amazing feat of empathy... It's also very intimate, and highly emotional. In fact, it's the perfect novel”

Deborah Moggach, Independent

“Arguably the finest novel written by an Englishman in the 20th century”

Daily Telegraph

“Arnold Bennett did write one indisputable masterpiece, The Old Wives' Tale, and that is where I recommend you start... Each time I'm in the midst of reading it, I think it the best novel ever written”

Wendy Lesser, New York Times

“For Bennett...compassion is not soggy. It involves understanding. The core of his writing is psychological truth, clinically observed, crisply reported”

Sunday Times

“Wonderfully touching”

Daily Mail

“The Old Wives Tale is the shining example of realism - the novel which...neither idealises nor caricatures”

Roy Hattersley, Guardian

“This novel...established Arnold Bennett's reputation as one of the great English novelists of the early 20th century”

Washington Post

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