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The Old Wives' Tale (Penguin Classics) Paperback – 31 May 2007

4.5 out of 5 stars 110 customer reviews

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Frequently bought together

  • The Old Wives' Tale (Penguin Classics)
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  • Anna of the Five Towns (Penguin Modern Classics)
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  • CLAYHANGER by ARNOLD BENNETT: New Edition
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Product details

  • Paperback: 624 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; New Ed edition (31 May 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141442115
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141442112
  • Product Dimensions: 13.1 x 2.8 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (110 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 51,504 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product description

Review

"Bennett's masterpiece... There are few more moving accounts of the effects of time, the passage of history and the slow encroachment of age than this remarkable, epic novel" (Guardian)

"It's not just a wonderful story; it's also an expressionist masterpiece, almost surreal at times. It's also an amazing feat of empathy... It's also very intimate, and highly emotional. In fact, it's the perfect novel" (Deborah Moggach Independent)

"Arguably the finest novel written by an Englishman in the 20th century" (Daily Telegraph)

"Arnold Bennett did write one indisputable masterpiece, The Old Wives' Tale, and that is where I recommend you start... Each time I'm in the midst of reading it, I think it the best novel ever written" (Wendy Lesser New York Times)

"For Bennett...compassion is not soggy. It involves understanding. The core of his writing is psychological truth, clinically observed, crisply reported" (Sunday Times) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Book Description

A long-neglected twentieth century masterpiece about the lives of two sisters, spanning seventy years of the nineteenth century from Northern England to Paris --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
If you want a rattling good saga with characters whose lives and aspirations are strangely contemporary, despite being set against the history and society of a bygone age, this one is for you. I'll admit the first few pages were a little like wading through mud, but Bennett more than makes up for this when, at last, the setting is well and truly established and the story of the Baines family begins!

The local period detail of Bursley, one of ‘the five towns’ is, eventually, engrossing, as is the wider historical perspective of the German siege of Paris in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 – 1871. Bennett’s irony is at its best in his observations of the latter, in the light of his character’s almost total ignorance of what is happening at the end of the Parisian street she lives in.

The tale largely follows the lives of the Baines sisters. One stays put in Bursley and one finds herself transplanted by unforeseen circumstance to Paris and a personal history that demands an impressive level of ingenuity and business acumen in order for her to survive her fate. Each of the sisters sees the world from an entirely individual viewpoint, which begins with youthful positivity and ambition and develops by stages to a more reflective evaluation of what has come to pass.

What kept me gripped was the episodic nature of the story – Bennett leads his reader an interesting dance. I also loved the skilled depiction of Bursley – the gradual breaking up of its traditions and the dawning of industrialisation. And finally, the sheer likeability of the sisters with their underlying empathy for each other despite their very substantial differences.

Highly recommended.

Note: Like many classics, this book is free for kindle.
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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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Brilliant book. Rereading it, as first read it as a teenager. Now in my 60's it means even more as all life is there. The small importances that we all have, Arnold Bennett does so well. Also the combination of pathos and humour which is in all great works is here in abundance. The scenes of the execution were so real that when I looked up I was surprised to find myself in the 21st century as the 19th had absorbed me completely.
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I decided it was time to read some of the classics. In Arnold Bennett's Old Wives' Tale you are told the stories of two sisters from birth to death. The language is beautiful and the descriptions vivid. However the reading is long and hard going. I struggled through the book but although I did enjoy parts and the story was intriguing it is not a book that I would want to reread.
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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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I'm reading this at the moment.

The fact that Bennett's work is 'out of fashion' and can be hard to find is a damning condemnation of the vagaries of fashion.

That such a book, a book in which every page has left me moved by the author's grasp of what it is to be human and by his capacity to communicate this, that such a book could be 'out of fashion' seems ridiculous. His account of one of his protagonists being present at a beheading left me stunned and trembling, without this protagonist even having actually seen anything of the actual execution itself.

I came to this book after having read his 'Clayhanger'. I had doubted that I could find another book so well written - 'The Old Wives' Tale' exceeded my hopes. I am grateful for it being so long - reading it is a pleasure I would want to make last as long as possible.
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I have never read Arnold Bennett before and was motivated to do so by listening to the 'Great Lives' programme on Radio 4. He is someone who has, 'fallen out of fashion' and I agree with his advocate on the programme, this is an unfairness to a great writer. His ability to write about the lives of women is wonderful. The book was written around 1908 I think but for me, it has stood the test of time. A very good read.
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the story of two sisters whose life goes both different ways but in the end brings them together again when they are old. In the beginning there were some dull moments and sometimes I lost interest but more and more you get into the sad story of both sisters, in the end dying both unhappy and sad with much regrets they had in their lives
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