Summer Read-Along: Arnold Bennett, The Old Wives’ Tale

penguin-bennettDorian and I thought it would be fun to do some kind of informal collaborative summer read-along; we settled on Arnold Bennett’s The Old Wives’ Tale as a book that neither of us knows and that lies in between our two main “periods” (me, Victorian; Dorian, Modern). I’ve been wanting to get to know Bennett on his own terms for a long time—suspecting, for instance, that Woolf’s brilliant but inevitably Woolfian perspective on Bennett in her (in)famous essay “Mr Bennett and Mrs Brown” is far from the only way to think about his contributions to the history of the novel.

The basic idea is that we’ll read The Old Wives’ Tale in instalments and take turns posting at our blogs to begin the discussion. Anyone who wants to can read along and join in, in the comments – or on Twitter or, of course, they can just post on their own blogs! When we get started, we’ll use a Twitter hashtag (probably #OldWivesTale21) so people can either follow it or mute it, depending on how they feel about this undertaking. 🙂

Here’s our (tentative) schedule, subject to the kinds of adjustments that both the pandemic and the fluidity of our summer plans mean are probably inevitable.

Bennett Schedule

Our intention is to keep this quite low-key: the instalments are pretty modest, the overall time-frame for reading the novel is generous, and there are no rules about what or how much we will be posting or how the spin-off discussions should go. It just seemed like a bit of structure would be a good way to make sure we actually do this! Please do join us on whatever terms would make it fun for you.

14 thoughts on “Summer Read-Along: Arnold Bennett, The Old Wives’ Tale

  1. Carolyn Ruane June 4, 2021 / 4:18 am

    I am Carolyn Ruane and live in Stoke on Trent in England. I am a member of the Arnold Bennett Society and I am looking forward to Joining in with this reading group.


    • Rohan Maitzen June 4, 2021 / 11:16 am

      I’m so glad you’ll be reading along with us! You definitely know more about Bennett than Dorian and I do, so I’m sure you will have plenty to contribute.


  2. Carol Gorton June 8, 2021 / 5:31 pm

    Hi Rohan, I am all ready for Friday. Added a bit more to the twitter posts.


    • Rohan Maitzen June 8, 2021 / 5:35 pm

      Great, Carol! I’m not particularly ready yet, but I’m enjoying the novel so far and will see what comes to mind when I sit down to write my first post about it.


  3. Carolyn Ruane June 12, 2021 / 4:42 am

    I loved how you started with the quote:” You cannot drink tea out of a teacup without the aid of the Five Towns; … you cannot eat a meal in decency without the aid of the Five Towns … All the everyday crockery used in the kingdom is made in the Five Towns—all, and much besides.” This is often done by Bennett is is showing how proud of the crockery made in The Five Town. As a person who is from there I feel the same, When I go to a restaurant I always turn over plates to see where they are from.

    It is interesting to see other perspective.

    Bennett is good at giving you pieces on characters so I picture is built up in your mind of who they are.

    Sophia wants to be a teacher and so this upset her mother as she wants her work in the shop not read and learn. I like Sophia as I read a lot.

    Constance is behaving as the good daughter as she works in the shop. Sophia stays reading near her dying father.

    The Elephants are unusual aspect as animals did tour towns in Bennett’s day. It was so said of one dying and the description of ” Six men of the Rifle core” killing the ill one. Sophia did not go to see them but stayed with her ill father and the shop. The mutilation of the dead animal was horrific; people taking feet for umbrella stands or the meet; we assume to eat.

    Sophia with her dead father is great writing as he dies as you feel you are in the room watching. The description of the face is almost horrific. With a funeral tea lasting five hours and Sophia not attending. Is a long affair.

    There could be a love interest brewing for Sophia as she stayed in the shop in the hope that she might see Mr Scales rather see the elephants.

    Sunday I will start chapter 5.

    Carolyn of The Arnold Bennett Society


    • Rohan Maitzen June 12, 2021 / 8:17 am

      I love that you always check where your dishes are from! I have gained some appreciation for the history and also the craft of the region from watching The Great Pottery Throw-Down, which of course is filmed in Stoke-on-Trent and often includes bits of historical context along with the actual potting. I like that Bennett gives us such a strong sense of the area, and I’m interested to see how it changes as the sisters’ lives do. I gather that Constance stays and Sophia goes, so that will give us both an inside and an outside perspective on it, I expect.


  4. Elizabeth Leslie June 14, 2021 / 3:59 pm

    Just logged in. I am a member of the Arnold Bennett Society and live in North Staffordshire.Interested in what you are doing although a little uncertain about dissecting the book !


    • Rohan Maitzen June 14, 2021 / 5:22 pm

      Welcome to the discussion! The only rule is that there are no rules: if you feel like adding anything, please do.


    • Carolyn Ruane June 14, 2021 / 5:41 pm


      I am also in The AB Society from Trentham.

      I viewed it about like doing O level English Lit ( I did mine 39 years ago).

      I found it fun. Everyone’s perspective is OK. We each see different aspects. Just have a go.


      • Rohan Maitzen June 15, 2021 / 8:34 am


        It’s not meant to be or feel like school! We’re just readers doing our thing. Any comments about what you like or find interesting in the novel are very welcome. Something that might interest those of us who haven’t read any Bennett before would be to find out what it is about him that made him such a favorite that you belong to the AB society – maybe we’ve seen it already in these chapters, or maybe as we read along there will be moments that exemplify what you particularly like about reading his novels.


        • Carolyn June 15, 2021 / 9:57 am

          I do not mean it is a school activity. It is just the way my brain works. I analyse every day life. At A level did Biology , Physics with pure Maths and Applied Maths. Sorry I do mean to offend; this is how I think.

          Please have fun reading a great book.


          • Rohan Maitzen June 15, 2021 / 10:05 am

            Oh, I’m definitely not offended! I just didn’t want people to think this was a formal endeavor of any kind.


  5. Carol Gorton June 18, 2021 / 6:39 pm

    It’s late and I have just read Dorian’s comments and I am blown away. It will take me some time to absorb it all. It’s great, thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

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