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27 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Subtle, humane, ironic
While Bennett is always readable and usually very enjoyable, this book is probably his masterpiece. It tells the story of two sisters from the Five Towns whose lives take very different turns and who, after many years, are restored to one another.
Constance remains in the family business and while strong and determined, maintains the outlook of a provincial matron,...
Published on 5 Mar 2003 by Gordon Asquith

versus
3.0 out of 5 stars The old wives tale
An excellent read for any age. I suggest it would be a good book to study at school also. A very well observed picture of life in 19th century northern England . Lots of surprises in the plot to keep the pages turning. One of the best books I have read.
Published 1 month ago by A. Ray


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27 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Subtle, humane, ironic, 5 Mar 2003
While Bennett is always readable and usually very enjoyable, this book is probably his masterpiece. It tells the story of two sisters from the Five Towns whose lives take very different turns and who, after many years, are restored to one another.
Constance remains in the family business and while strong and determined, maintains the outlook of a provincial matron, facing the ups and downs, economic and social, of life running a large drapery shop. Sophia runs off to Paris with a cad, soon gets his measure and then decides to make her own life running an upmarket boarding house. While neither woman's life can be said to be happy or especially fulfilled, the reconciliation of the two sisters is moving and believable (it made me cry, anyway!) and their last years described with a gentle, sardonic humour which adds a different dimension to that of most of the French realists Bennett admired. This is an outstanding novel and in my view should be on the reading list of everyone who wants to think of themselves as a well-read person!
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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Forget Modern Day Fiction...., 3 Mar 2006
I have just read an old, battered copy of this novel, with its pages coming adrift and its hardback cover yellowed with age but it has been one of the best reads I've had in years. Bennett's enveloping saga of 2 very different sisters from young adulthood to old age and death is so skillfully and powerfully written that, at times, it took my breath away. I tried to get a copy of The Old Wive's Tale from my local library, having just enjoyed Bennett's Anna of the Five Towns. When I asked for the author by name the librarian smirked and said she didn't think he was very popular any more. (It was almost a case of Arnold WHO?) It's a crime! I find Bennett's writing in this novel as fresh and relevant to today's human condition as any of our present day writers. Please read this novel, you will be glad you did!!
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars wise, worldly and nicely understated., 26 July 2004
By 
S. Hapgood "www.sjhstrangetales.com" - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
I confess that the first time I tried to read this it defeated me, I found it simply too slow-moving, but a few months on I decided to give it another go and was very pleasently surprised. It is the life-story of two sisters, Constance and Sophia, daughters of a small-town draper. Constance is steady and reliable, she marries one of the assistants in the shop and they take over the business when her father dies. Her life is relatively uneventful, work punctuated by the birth of her beloved only child, (with whom she is absolutely besotted), and the untimely death of her husband. Sophia by contrast elopes with a travelling salesman, and runs away with him to Paris, where he proceeds to squander his fortune and then finally abandons her. Sophia though has the commonsense of her upbringing to fall back on, and manages to rise above all this.
Much has been written about the influence of the 19th century French realist writers on Bennett in this book, but I found him better. Zola's pessimistic view of life I find too exasperating at times. In this book Sophia develops realistically from a dreamy irresponsible schoolgirl into a young woman with a robust attitude to the world. Nowhere is this done better than the chapters where she falls ill with a fever and is taken in by a middle-aged courtesan. When the courtesan is left abandoned by her last lover, Sophia is shocked by the way the lady has humiliated herself trying to hang onto him. Why didn't she simply put aside some of her vast earnings from her heyday for when this was bound to happen? Here we have the shop-keeper's daughter in all her tremendous commonsense glory. Her feckless husband is also well-drawn and very believable. He's not wicked, just simply devoid of any kind of sense or responsibility.
Most fascinating for me though was Bennett's immaculate reconstruction of 19th-century small-town English life, and the day-to-day lives of the people living in St Luke's Square. Nowhere does he do this better than Constance's husband being quietly overwhelmed with emotion when he learns he's at long last to be a dad, and the townsfolk's dignified protest when one of their own is hanged for accidentally killing his alcoholic wife. I haven't yet read any of Bennett's other books, but I find it hard to believe they come much better than this.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great novel, 21 Mar 2009
By 
T. C. Burton "Mandurang" (Rowville, Victoria, Australia) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Arnold Bennett is a great writer, albeit long out of fashion. In this novel he follows the careers of two sisters whose lives take completely different courses. Bennett captures the world of the potteries town of "Bursley" in the second half of the 19th century, and the very different world of Paris. His characterizations, his deep compassion for people, his evocation of place, and the accessibility of his writing make this novel a joy. The introduction by John Wain is unusually helpful and insightful. I recommend this purchase thoroughly.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lovely; slowly builds up in detail to grip you, 27 Jun 2001
By A Customer
A fantastic book.
Very slowly, very exactly it builds up the story of the lives of two sisters through the 19th century. From birth & childhood in a small town, through there events of their lives, you get a wonderfully rich picture of them, their charachters & the surrounding life.
The jacket describes this as ".. one of the most succesful attempts - if not the most succesful - to rival the French realistic novel". That is truye as gar as it goes, but it misses the fact that I found this significantly more compelling, more interesting & richer than any of the French realist novels I've read lately. But perhaps that's because I'm English and the history resonates...?
A friend recommended this, and I admit, rather to my surprise, I thoroughly enjoyed it.
It is long, and it does take a while to get into it, but it is worth taking the time.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars shattering and thought provoking., 17 April 2010
By 
Phil Robinson (Newcastle upon Tyne, England) - See all my reviews
Many books by great writers that trace the whole lives of their subjects capture your imagination and emotions effectively, but this is something special. There's something in the way Bennett writes that feels honest and real: he doesn't take the easy options in storyline and is never sentimental. As a result the characters in this novel ring true. You never think, as you may with lesser writers, 'that wouldn't happen, Sophia wouldn't do that' instead you think 'Why did she do that?' and it sets you thinking, filling in the gaps from your own experience and thus personalising the experience. The characters aren't different or special: they could be anyone, they are us... and you'll undoubtedly recognise aspects of your own life somewhere in them.

In the final section of this book Bennett asks the question 'what is life for?', and I think gets as close as you can to answering it.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 'The Old Wives Tale' is up there with the best, 2 July 2008
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Arnold Bennett's 'The Old Wives Tale' is well worth the read. Bennett was just as famous as the likes of JK Rowling in his time, even more famous than Viriginia Wolfe. This book is a classic, it is set in the Potteries and tells the tale of two sisters Constance and Sophia growing up in Victorian England.
I do not want to give too much away about the story, but Bennett's understanding of these two totally different characters is what makes this book one of the greats.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Capturing the past wonderfully, 1 Mar 2012
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I have read this novel before in book form and I found that it works fantastically well on the kindle format, their is an intimacy to the novel that translates to kindle very well. The work itself is without doubt a major piece of social history and a triumph from one of Britain's greatest ever novelists, he paints portraits of places and individuals, of the domestic and the social. Not to be missed.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful writing - every few chapters there's a surprise, 16 Nov 2013
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The Old Wives' Tale is just an example of how underrated much nineteenth-century writing is. This book involves you at every level, and every so often one gasps at another surprise (not mentioned in the other reviews). Wonderfully balanced writing of the very different lives of Sophia and Constance. With all its surprises, there is nothing out of place and nothing that one could not have predicted. It's wry, rich, with a suitably bleak ending.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars English Literary Realism at its best, 30 Aug 2013
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A masterful insight into the soul of Woman, by way of following through the lives of a mother and her two daughters, almost in real time: it is a very long book, and yet it offers rich rewards for our concentration. Bennett is great at detail, only his detail is never excessive, with a purpose to it, and often very funny. The characters are complex, contradictory, you love them and you hate them, along with those who surround them and who are at the receiving end of their words and actions, and with the author whose discreet judgement of them is always to hand.
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