Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

Five Towns

Five Towns. Chief setting of the novel, modeled closely on the Potteries, the pottery-manufacturing area of central England where Bennett grew up. Much of Bennett’s fiction is set here. The Five Towns—Turnhill, Bursley, Hanbridge, Knype, and Longshaw—are based on the actual Midlands towns of Turnstall, Burslem, Hanley, Stoke-upon-Trent, and Longton, which were administratively merged in 1910 to form the present-day city of Stoke-on-Trent.

Bennett portrays the Five Towns as a dark, dreary place, devoted unabashedly to the business of getting and spending. The towns are mean, somber, hard-featured, and uncouth, and the poison vapors emitted by their ovens and chimneys have shrivelled the surrounding country. In Bursley, where Anna Tellwright lives with her father and sister, residents have created a park, but even it is “unlovely”; it is a sign, says the narrator, of the first faint longings for beauty in a district resigned to unredeemed ugliness. With their ever-present factories and cramped red-brown streets, the Five Towns provide a broad context for the lives of Bennett’s characters. While other settings offer residents respite, even beauty, the bleak industrial setting is never far away, a reminder of the narrow, oppressive quality of life in the Five Towns.

Manor Terrace

Manor Terrace. Home of the miser Ephraim Tellwright’s family in Bursley. Many of the domestic scenes in the novel take place in this unimpressive yellow brick house with a long narrow garden behind it. Although Anna Tellwright’s father is one of the wealthiest men in the Five Towns, he insists on living an austere existence, devoid of even the smallest luxuries. His house and its daily routines mirror his tyrannical, miserly nature. The house’s rooms are stark and gloomy, the family’s plain meals—eaten mostly in silence—are served with dreary precision and sameness. For Anna and her sister Agnes, the house is a cheerless place where they live in constant fear of their father’s seething anger.

Anna’s kitchen

Anna’s kitchen. Room in Manor Terrace that stands out from the rest of the house as Anna’s place—the only satisfactory space in the house. Bennett describes this room in loving detail, making it a key location in the novel, the place where Henry Mynors first expresses his admiration for Anna. Everything in the room is bright and spotless and in perfect order, giving it the air of human use and occupation. Mynors tells Anna that it is nicest room he knows. For both Henry and Bennett, the kitchen—clean,...

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Anna of the Five Towns Bibliography

(Great Characters in Literature)

Anderson, Linda R. Bennett, Wells, and Conrad: Narrative in Transition. London: Macmillan, 1988. Concentrates on the period 1890-1919 and concludes that each novelist was responding to a major redefining of the idea of the novel and of its relationship to reality. Also explores Bennett’s refusal to distinguish between serious and popular literature. Analyzes Anna of the Five Towns in detail. Selected bibliography and index.

Bauer, H. P. “Spiritual Maternity and Self-Fulfillment in Arnold Bennett’s Anna of the Five Towns.” In The Anna Book: Searching for Anna in Literary History, edited by Mickey Pearlman. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1992. A historical, critical discussion of Anna of the Five Towns in a collection of essays that constitutes volume 46 of the series Contributions to the Study of World Literature.

Drabble, Margaret. Arnold Bennett. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1974. The most readable of the biographies on Bennett. Helps relate the complicated nexus that held him to the Five Towns, even when physically and culturally far removed. Bibliography and index, including a full list of Bennett’s published works.

Lucas, John. Arnold Bennett: A Study of His Fiction. London: Methuen, 1974. A general overview of his fiction that includes a substantial section on Anna of the Five Towns. Praises Bennett’s handling of Anna’s relationship with Willie Price. Index.

Stone, Donald. “The Art of Arnold Bennett: Transmutation and Empathy in Anna of the Five Towns and Riceyman Steps.” In Modernism Reconsidered, edited by Robert Kiely. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1983. A comparative study of Bennett’s two novels in the context of twentieth century English literature. Includes bibliographic references.