Friday, September 17, 2010

The Old Wives Tale: A Forgotten Treasure for BBAW

Sorry for the late posting, but I have a book I really want to share:  The Old Wives' Tale by Arnold Bennett.  Okay, how many of you have heard of this book?

(crickets chirping)

See, I was right.  I'd never heard of it either, and then a few years ago I decided to try and read all the Modern Library Top 100 books (which is a misleading title:  it's actually the Top 100 Books of the 20th Century. Though it was selected in 1990s.  Go figure).   Anyway, this book made the list at #87 (above Call of the Wild and Midnight's Children!) and I was poking around the library one day before a Christmas trip and, on a whim, I decided to take it along.

I was so pleasantly surprised, it was wonderful!  Published in 1908, it spans 70 years from the mid-1800s to the early 1900s in England and France.  It's the story of two sisters, Sophie and Constance, who are raised in an industrial town in the north.  (Bennett wrote other books in his fictional Five Towns, which are based on the Pottery towns near Stoke-on-Trent).  Their mother owns a draper's shop, and the story follows the very different lives of the two sisters from their youth through old age.

I expected this to be a difficult Victorian-style read, but it wasn't, not in the least.  It was quick and absorbing, with none of the flowery language or convoluted plots I was anticipating.  I suppose it would be considered an early neo-Victorian since most of it is set during that period.  It was an easy and fast read -- it's about 600 pages long and I think I read it all in two days (though I did spend a fair amount of time in airports).

Arnold Bennett wrote quite a few books, including a non-fiction work called How to Live on 24 Hours a Day, an early self-help book,  but most of them are out of print.  Well, at least this one is still available though I doubt many bookstores carry it on a regular basis -- if you wanted to buy it you'd probably have to order it online.  My library here in Texas doesn't even have this book, sigh.  However, the nearby community college has several of Bennett's other works, which I have just added to my ever-growing to-read list.  If you're interested in the Victorian period but have fear of Victorian writers, I highly recommend this book.


  1. Ooh this sounds really good Karen! I'm adding it to the list. I didn't get it on there before today's post, t hough...oh well. I'll mention it Sunday!

  2. THis really does sound like an excellent read, and you were absolutely right - I had never heard of it!

    Thanks for sharing and bon weekend!


  3. I haven't heard of this but it sounds fantastic. Thanks!

  4. Well boo to the library not having it! lol Still, it sounds like fun, and it seems like it'd be pretty easy to ILL. I love it when bloggers talk about more obscure classics authors. :D

  5. I haven't heard of this, but it sounds really good! Thanks for the recommendation!

  6. I've read it! I've read it!

    And if I'm remembering it correctly, everything that happens is the elephant's fault!

  7. Sold! I haven't heard of this one (or its author) so thank you for bringing it to light!

  8. So nice of everyone to comment!

    Amanda -- you might like this one. Not as flowery as Dickens, a little more political than Jane Austen.

    Hannah -- I was wondering if anyone else had heard of it. I hope you have a good weekend and happy reading.

    Brenna -- it's really worth reading. I would never have heard of it except for the ML List, there are some hidden treasures.

    Eva -- the library has some of his other books, including a book called Clayhanger which is also set in the 5 Towns. I'm hoping to read it soon.

    S. Krishna -- I hope you like it.

    SPF -- I'm hoping this is a reference to Water for Elephants, otherwise I'm utterly confused.

    Suey -- is your TBR pile as big as mine?

    Kristen -- I'm definitely looking for more of his works.

  9. No, not a reference to Water for Elephants, which I've not read, but to The Old Wives' Tale.

    Remember how everyone has to go see the carcass of the elephant that'd gone crazy and killed a couple people? And Sophia is left alone in the shop, where she meets her future husband and then goes upstairs to find her father's asphyxiated himself falling partially out of the bed.

    I always maintain that the elephant is the root of all the troubles everyone goes through after that. ;)

  10. I have not heard of this book. Will seek it out.

  11. I have heard of this too! Yes, a very interesting book indeed. I found the free audiobook from the website below and have listened to a sample of it. You can download or listened to it online.

    I have listened to his other book "Literary Taste : How To Form It", which is really worth checking out too. :)

  12. Came here via Katrina's CPR book group. I'd always pigeon-holed this one with the Canterbury Tales for some reason, and am glad to find I'm so wrong. Thanks for this review; you seem to have anticipated all my fears about unfathomable plots and over-ornate prose. I have no excuses now!


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