Clayhanger, 1910

(Great Characters in Literature)

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...

(The entire section is 492 words.)

Hilda Lessways, 1911

(Great Characters in Literature)

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

(Great Characters in Literature)

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

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

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...

(The entire section is 940 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

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.