Anna of the Five Towns

by Arnold Bennett

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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, simple, and dignified—is the highest possible proof of Anna’s fine character.

Landsdowne House

Landsdowne House. Home of the Sutton family, which Anna visits for a sewing party. Here, as elsewhere in the novel, Bennett develops Anna’s character by describing her reaction to a particular place. The house is everything that the Tellwright house is not—rich, luxurious, overstuffed—its rooms filled with expensive furnishings, its walls adorned with beautiful pictures. Anna’s friend Beatrice Sutton shows Anna the upstairs art studio that her father has furnished for her. Later, Mrs. Sutton serves an ample tea of fancy breads and cakes, jams, sandwiches, and pork pies. Anna, who has had almost no social life, is amazed by the opulence of the Sutton household, a stark contrast to her own meager life.

Price’s pottery works

Price’s pottery works. Factory Anna inherited from her mother, who died when Anna was five. After her twenty-first birthday, her father forces her to go to the factory personally to collect the overdue rent that Titus Price owes. Anna finds the condition of the run-down factory shocking—its “yard” is a small square paved with black, greasy mud—and she is humiliated by having to collect...

(This entire section contains 1073 words.)

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money from a man she has long regarded as a pillar of the Five Towns. The incident illustrates Anna’s deep emotional sensitivity and her helplessness before the demands of her overbearing father.

Mynors’s pottery works

Mynors’s pottery works. Factory that Anna tours as Henry Mynors’s guest. In sharp contrast to Titus Price’s pottery works, Mynors’s factory is one of the best of its size in the district. Just as Anna’s kitchen is a testament to her character, so Mynors’s factory is a testament to his. His factory is clean and orderly, its workers skilled and efficient. Anna’s visit to the facility heightens her admiration for Mynors and strengthens the growing bond between them. The scene at the factory also gives Bennett an opportunity to write a set piece—a detailed, affectionate description of the operation of a model manufacturing plant. One of few scenes in the novel that shows the Five Towns in a positive light, it suggests a certain nostalgia on Bennett’s part for the place of his youth.

*Isle of Man

*Isle of Man. Island in the Irish Sea, off the west coast of England, that the Suttons, Anna Tellwright, and Henry Mynors visit for a summer holiday. The Isle of Man is an important location in the novel—a place away from, and in dramatic contrast to, the gritty, industrial atmosphere of the Five Towns. Bennett describes the island’s scenery in considerable detail—its steep mountains and beautiful bays, its quaint fishing village of Port Erin, and the cottage in which Anna and Mynors stay as guests of the Suttons. The island holiday is a pastoral interlude—a time for Anna of unprecedented freedom and contentment, and a time for Mynors to complete his courtship of Anna. Near the end of the island holiday, after Anna has competently nursed the seriously ill Beatrice Sutton back to health, Mynors proposes, and he and Anna leave the island engaged to be married.


Priory. Home of Titus Price, which Henry Mynors purchases for himself and Anna after Price commits suicide. For Anna, though she does not say so to Mynors, the Priory is a grim, dreary place, a reminder of her unpleasant dealings with Price and of her sense of responsibility for his death after his business failed. Toward the end of the novel, Anna realizes that her true passion—a sort of powerful maternal love—is for Titus’s orphaned son, Willie. Although she does not love Mynors, she marries him out of duty. The Priory, the home that she will occupy as a married woman, thus becomes a place of sorrow rather than joy.


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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.


Critical Essays