Clayhanger, 1910

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Edwin Clayhanger

Edwin Clayhanger, who wants to continue school and become an architect. Because Edwin’s father will not allow him to continue his education, Edwin begins work at his father’s printing shop. He heroically saves the building from collapsing. After moving to Bleakridge, Edwin meets Hilda Lessways and falls in love. Disappointed that she marries another, Edwin remains single. After hearing of the death of Hilda’s husband, Edwin visits Hilda in Brighton and helps financially. When Hilda returns to Bleakridge, Edwin discovers the truth about George Cannon, Hilda, and her child.

Darius Clayhanger

Darius Clayhanger, Edwin’s relentless father. Extremely proud that he survived poverty and his experience in the Bastille, Darius conservatively manages his shop, money, and children. He refuses to acknowledge Edwin’s dreams and forces him to work in the printing shop. After an illness, Darius reluctantly relinquishes the control of his company. He dies and leaves the company to Edwin.

Hilda Lessways

Hilda Lessways, the mysterious friend of the Orgreaves. Arriving in Bleakridge with Janet, Hilda meets Edwin. Hilda sneaks out of the Orgreave house and questions Edwin about his beliefs. After saving Mr. Shushions at St. Luke’s Square, she kisses Edwin in the printing shop. Hilda confesses her love to Edwin but leaves Bleakridge and writes to Janet that she has married another man. During her son’s illness, Hilda returns to Bleakridge and reveals that she was married to George Cannon and pregnant when she kissed Edwin.

George Edwin Cannon

George Edwin Cannon, George Cannon and Hilda Lessways’ illegitimate child. George comes to Bleakridge with Janet Orgreave, and Edwin befriends him. When George develops the flu, Hilda returns to Bleakridge and bares the truth about George’s birthright.

Clara Clayhanger

Clara Clayhanger, Edwin’s younger sister. Clara marries Albert Benbow, a shifty businessman. Edwin becomes disgusted with Clara’s purpose in life, to have children.

Maggie Clayhanger

Maggie Clayhanger, Edwin’s unmarried older sister. Maggie manages the Clayhanger household.

Aunt Clara Hamps

Aunt Clara Hamps, Edwin’s mother’s sister, whose constant moralizing Edwin deplores. Aunt Clara, a visiting nuisance, imparts useless advise.

Big James Yarlett

Big James Yarlett, the large-framed, gentle, and sensitive foreman of D. Clayhanger, Printer and Stationer. Big James dedicates his life to the Clayhangers.

Janet Orgreave

Janet Orgreave, Charlie’s elegant, mannered sister and Edwin’s neighbor at Bleakridge. Janet sets her marital goals toward Edwin, but he is not interested. Janet remains unmarried and becomes the caretaker of her parents.

Charlie Orgreave

Charlie Orgreave, Edwin’s good-humored childhood friend. Charlie continues school and becomes a medical doctor. He returns to Bleakridge with Hilda and cares for George during the flu epidemic.

Mr. Shushions

Mr. Shushions, the superintendent of the Sunday school and childhood benefactor of Darius Clayhanger. When Darius’ family is thrown into the Bastille, Mr. Shushions secures the family’s release. Destitute and starving, Mr. Shushions dies in the Bastille before Darius can rescue him.

Hilda Lessways, 1911

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Hilda Lessways

Hilda Lessways, who learns about life through bad decisions. After arguing with her mother, Hilda consults George Cannon. Persuaded to study shorthand, she works for Cannon’s newspaper. Hilda’s mother dies suddenly, and Hilda helps Sarah Gailey in London with Cannon’s boardinghouse. Janet Orgreave invites Hilda to Bleakridge, where she meets Edwin Clayhanger. Returning to London, Hilda follows Sarah to Brighton. Hilda marries George Cannon, becomes pregnant, and discovers that the marriage is illegal. When she discloses the truth, Edwin forgives her, which secures her future as Clayhanger’s wife.

George Cannon

George Cannon, practices law illegally behind the façade of Q. Karkeek. Never completely honest in his financial endeavors, George invests Hilda’s money after their marriage. He is imprisoned for fraud and bigamy.

Sarah Gailey

Sarah Gailey, George Cannon’s sister. Unable to teach dancing, Sarah manages George’s boardinghouse in London. When George sells the residence, Sarah goes to Brighton. Sarah confirms the truth about her brother’s first marriage.

Edwin Clayhanger

Edwin Clayhanger, who remains in love with Hilda. After hearing of George Cannon’s death, Edwin locates her in Brighton and pays her boardinghouse debt. Edwin is shocked when he discovers the truth about Hilda during young George’s illness.


Louisa, a maid at the Brighton boardinghouse who shouts out that George Cannon has another wife in Devonshire.

Florence (Florrie) Bagster

Florence (Florrie) Bagster, who is hired to work for Mrs. Lessways at the age of thirteen and rehired to work for Hilda at Brighton. Florrie runs away with Mr. Boutwood, a resident of Cannon’s boardinghouse. Florrie tells Louisa that George Cannon is already married.

These Twain, 1915

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Edwin Clayhanger

Edwin Clayhanger, who vacillates between his happiness and misery. Unable to control Hilda, Edwin contemplates his decision of marriage. No matter how strongly he resists Hilda’s antics, Edwin always gives in to her desires.

Hilda Clayhanger

Hilda Clayhanger, who manipulates Edwin to acquire possessions. Disillusioned with her inequality in marriage, Hilda schemes to get her way even when Edwin refuses to comply with her wishes.

George Edwin Cannon Clayhanger

George Edwin Cannon Clayhanger, who becomes an intelligent young man. George hopes to join the firm of Johnnie Orgreave in London.

George Cannon

George Cannon, who is released from prison after serving two terms. George returns to his first wife. Unable to tolerate his living conditions, George leaves his wife and borrows money from Edwin to escape to America. As promised, George repays Edwin.

Tertius Ingpen

Tertius Ingpen, an industrial inspector and Edwin’s friend. Ingpen, a bachelor, believes that women are not equal, yet he helps Hilda scheme against Edwin to acquire what she wants. After Ingpen injures his groin, he asks Edwin to destroy some photographs. Edwin discovers that Ingpen has been having an affair with a married woman.

Aunt Clara Hamps

Aunt Clara Hamps, who bequeaths her estate to Clara’s children because she realizes that the Benbows will not provide for them.

Maggie Clayhanger

Maggie Clayhanger, who inherits the Bleakridge house. Maggie sells the house to Hilda and Edwin and moves in with Aunt Clara until Clara’s death. She then moves into the Benbow home to care for the children.

Places Discussed

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Clayhangers’ first home

Clayhangers’ first home. Combination dwelling and business premises in which Edwin Clayhanger spends his formative years. Situated on a busy square in one of Bennett’s Five Towns, the fictional English city of Bursley, “D. Clayhanger, Printer and Stationer” is an integral part of local commercial life. Darius Clayhanger, Edwin’s father, has worked for his living since the age of seven, and as a result has come to believe that one’s identity is a function of one’s occupation; all of his waking life is taken up with the operations of his printing business, which is described with a wealth of detail that suggests Darius himself has been imprinted with the stamp of the powerful presses he oversees.

Although Edwin does go into the family firm, he refuses to permit his decision to define the limits of his ambitions. He turns his bedroom into a sanctuary from the outside world—a place in which objects such as a model sailing ship can be contemplated and used to fuel the imagining of a life free from constraint. Even after he assumes responsibility for much of the shop’s daily operations, he insists on creating a personal “lair” that symbolizes how he conceives of his position in the business: off limits to his employees but able to overhear what they say and do, Edwin preserves a sense of personal identity within the commercial organism that has swallowed the rest of his family.

Clayhangers’ new home

Clayhangers’ new home. Suburban residence to which the family moves when Edward is twenty-four years old. Owning a house that is not a place of business is a step up the social scale for the Clayhangers, and Edwin uses the opportunity provided by this change to create an even more satisfying refuge in his new bedroom. The acquisition of a personal library, which contains many books his family would find incomprehensible or offensive, represents a further step in his efforts to widen the horizons of his existence.

After the death of his father and his marriage to Hilda Lessways in These Twain, Edwin asserts his new sense of independence by renovating the dwelling to suit himself. The installation of a radiator in its downstairs hall symbolizes his rejection of the Victorian cliché that cold houses build firm characters, and the physical as well as emotional warmth of his household is sharply contrasted with the frigid climate of his relatives’ abodes. Edwin also strives to make his home a sanctuary against the demands of the outside world; just as he made his boyhood bedroom a refuge from his family, so does he make his adult residence a haven from the “varnished barbarism” of surrounding society.

Orgreave home

Orgreave home. Residence of a refined middle-class family in which Edwin first meets Hilda Lessways. The Orgreaves’ interests in music and literature open up new worlds of enjoyment for Edwin, and their amply furnished household likewise inspires him with the idea that one need not settle for the bare minimum of necessities in life. When the Orgreave parents die, the children go their separate ways, and Edwin is profoundly saddened by the loss of a place that represented his sense of what a cultured and civilized life should be.


*Brighton. Resort city on the southern English coast. When Edwin travels here in search of Hilda Lessways, he encounters extremes of wealth and poverty that stimulate his budding awareness of social inequality. For Hilda, who has gone to Brighton to manage an ailing friend’s boardinghouse, it is the place where her sexual feelings are awakened by the seductive charms of a ruthless bigamist. As in many other British novels, notably Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock (1938), the narrative’s depictions of pervasive misery and squalor serve as an ironic counterpoint to the city’s reputation as a wonderland of pleasure and delight.

Lessways home

Lessways home. Initial setting of the second part of the trilogy, Hilda Lessways. Here Hilda and her mother lead a comfortable but sterile existence that Hilda experiences as a prisonlike confinement offering material plenty but no deeper satisfaction. This household is portrayed as being obsessed with appearances, devoted to daily rites of cleaning and scrubbing whose gleaming surfaces mask the untidy realities that lie underneath them. Although Hilda comes from a middle-class background and Edwin from a working-class one, they are both driven by the need to create rewarding lives for themselves out of their spiritually and intellectually impoverished origins.

George Cannon’s office

George Cannon’s office. Law firm in which Hilda finds her first job. As is typical of Bennett’s approach to character development, the office is presented as a literal embodiment of its occupant’s personality: well organized and efficient, flawed only by a toppled volume of romantic poetry, whose presence foreshadows future revelations concerning Cannon’s moral failings.

Shawport printing works

Shawport printing works. New suburban location of the Shawports’ growing family business. After the structure has been built, Edwin regrets that he has taken a conservative rather than aggressive view of his economic prospects, and makes a direct connection between the only partial adequacy of the building and the “half-measures” that he sees as characterizing his life as a whole.

*Dartmoor Prison

*Dartmoor Prison. Penitentiary in which Hilda’s bigamous lover, George Cannon, is incarcerated. When Edwin and Hilda visit the prison in company with upper-class relations of the Orgreaves, the contrast between the latters’ blithe disinterest in what they see and Edwin’s horror at the treatment of the inmates is one of the trilogy’s most powerful statements of differences among English social classes.


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Anderson, Linda R. Bennett, Wells and Conrad: Narrative in Transition. London: Macmillan, 1988. Contains a chapter on the Clayhanger trilogy, which Anderson sees as the last novels in which Bennett managed to investigate his complicated relationship to his past honestly. Focuses on the theme of guilt and selfhood. Select bibliography and index.

Drabble, Margaret. Arnold Bennett. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1974. The most readable of the biographies on Bennett. Helps relate the complicated nexus that held Bennett to his past. Includes a detailed bibliography and index.

Hall, James. Arnold Bennett: Primitivism and Taste. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1959. Contains a chapter on the Clayhanger novels, which Hall sees as the best example of the balance achieved between the two opposing forces of primitivism and taste. Select bibliography.

Hepburn, James, ed. Arnold Bennett: The Critical Heritage. Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1981. Includes a number of publication reviews of each of the Clayhanger novels, as well as a general introduction, a select bibliography of critical material from the years 1904 to 1931, and an index.

Lucas, John. Arnold Bennett: A Study of His Fiction. London: Methuen, 1974. Probably the best general introduction to Bennett. Includes a reasonably thorough discussion of the Clayhanger trilogy, which Lucas rates highly in Bennett’s oeuvre. Index.


Critical Essays