The Old Wives’ Tale by Arnold Bennett

The Old Wives’ Tale (1908) celebrates the romance of even the most ordinary lives in the course of tracing the passage of time over three generations.

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 and the Five Towns of the Staffordshire PotteriesĀ 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 1870-1.

This a long and involving novel which has the power to fully immerse the reader in its world. Enquire at your local library or available at

Do listen to the BBC Radio4 ‘Great Lives‘ episode (30 minutes) on Arnold Bennett. Presented by Matthew Parris with enthusiasts Gyles Brandreth and Deborah Moggach. Available at the link

752 pages in Vintage paperback edition.

First published 1908

ISBN 978-0099595359

Arnold Bennett

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