Places Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Places)
Bursley. English town in which the Baines sisters live and die. Arnold Bennett adapted the name “Bursley” from that of the real town of Burslem, which is located in Staffordshire in the English Midlands, between Liverpool and London—the region in which he was born. The area around Bennett’s Stoke-on-Trent birthplace was known as the Potteries because its towns were famous for producing the clay and craft associated with the production of fine Wedgewood and Staffordshire china and earthenware. Such other Bennett novels as Anna of the Five Towns (1902) and The Clayhanger (1910) also use Bursley as their primary locations. Known collectively as the “Five Towns” novels, these books gave Bennett’s London readers a sense that they were being exposed to life in a place and a town that they would never visit. This gives the novel a documentary quality as well as a strong sense of regional realism.
In The Old Wives’ Tale, the central goal of the Baines sisters, who are teenagers when the novel opens, is to leave Bursley. Constance, however, does not leave; instead, she marries Samuel Povey, becomes a mother of sons and inherits and manages the family dry goods store. Sophia elopes with a traveling salesman, Gerald Scales, who abandons her in Paris. At the end of their lives, they reunite in Bursley, live together in their family’s home, and die there within a brief time.
(The entire section is 819 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of this article. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!
Bibliography (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Broomfield, Olga R. Q. Arnold Bennett. Boston: Twayne, 1984. Bennett considered The Old Wives’ Tale a masterpiece. The book demonstrates that in the emotional lives of individuals, the degrees of comedy and tragedy are relative to the characters’ perceptions of their experience.
Fromm, Gloria G. “Remythologizing Arnold Bennett.” Novel: A Forum on Fiction 16, no. 1 (Fall, 1982): 19-34. Discusses Virginia Woolf’s criticism, which had a devastating effect on Bennett’s reputation. Argues that Woolf missed his assertion that there is no escaping expression of the self, no matter how skillful a writer may be.
Lucas, John. Arnold Bennett: A Study of His Fiction. New York: Methuen, 1974. Asserts that Guy de Maupassant’s cynicism influenced Bennett’s portrayal of Constance. Bennett considered The Old Wives’ Tale an important demonstration of his seriousness as a writer.
Meckier, Jerome. “Distortion Versus Revaluation: Three Twentieth-Century Responses to Victorian Fiction.” Victorian Newsletter 73 (Spring, 1988): 3-8. Suggests that The Old Wives’ Tale is a criticism of the cynicism found in William Makepeace Thackeray’s Vanity Fair (1847-1848). Bennett drew more joy than Thackeray did from the secular world.
Roby, Kinley E....
(The entire section is 220 words.)