First published in 1908, The Old Wives' Tale tells the story of the Baines sisters shy, retiring Constance and defiant, romantic Sophia over the course of nearly half a century.
Bennett traces the sisters' lives from childhood in their father's drapery shop in provincial Bursley during the mid-Victorian era, through their married lives, to the modern industrial age, when they are reunited as old women.
The setting moves from the Five Towns of Staffordshire to exotic and cosmopolitan Paris, while the action moves from the subdued domestic routine of the Baines household to the siege of Paris during the Franco-Prussian War.
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For the first hour or so I wasn't at all sure I liked this audiobook. Arnold Bennett seemed to witter on a lot and while the reader was good at accents, he was a bit over-dramatic for my taste I thought. Gradually I got drawn in further and further however. I got completely absorbed in the tale of Constance and then the tale of Sophia. Not only was this a riveting story; sometimes Bennett's observations on the way human beings think and react were so accurate and timeless it was breathtaking. I now agree it's a masterpiece.
Say something about yourself!
This is a superb work. Bennett‘s sweep of social history in provincial Bursley during the Victorian era is enlightened at all points by gentle irony and sardonic wit. The section which describes the Siege of Paris is fascinating and conveys a picture of conditions under the Siege which is quite different from that which we often imagine. The characterisation is masterly. The contrasting characters of the two sisters are portrayed with sympathy and understanding and the supporting characters are no less compelling. This really is compulsive listening – you won’t want to stop once you have started. David Haig’s narration is superb – his intonation and inflections convey the tone of the work perfectly - and what a joy it is to hear a narrator whose pronunciation of the French language is impeccable! I cannot praise this audio book highly enough.
I love Arnold Bennett. He tells a great story, bringing out the romance of people in and from a rather grim Victorian Potteries town. Immerse yourself in his world and let yourself go. It's a compliment to say I didn't notice the narration.
I was fascinated by the historical detail from the provincial background of the Potteries to the excitement and tension of Paris in the 1870s.
I was intrigued by the character of Sophia - high-spirited and wilful in her youth, but determined and resourceful when circumstances left her destitute. Constance was rather insipid in contrast but provided a perfect foil to her sister. However, all the characters were interesting. Bennett is good at revealing human weakness in a subtle non-judgemental way.
This was a brilliant performance. David Haig managed to give the right tone to every description and every character.
This was a book to savour in small amounts. Not to be read too quickly or you will miss the flashes of wit, the gentle irony and the exquisite detail in the descriptions.
Why is Arnold Bennett so under-rated these days? He combines the wit and irony of Jane Austen with the realism of Dickens' descriptions of the Victorian urban scene.
I can't comment as I haven't read the print version
This was a daring subject to write about. On the face of it, it might have been considered a little dull and possibly morbid before reading - a story about two provincial sisters, followed through different stages of their lives, until their deaths, but no, it is so beautifully observed and really is a social commentary, as much as a moving and sometimes beautifully funny account of two, very different lives. It was clever and subtle and I admire the author for his bravery in choosing such a subject. Delivered so very beautifully and with excellent observation.
I really loved the opening scene, the way that the author took us slowly down, almost it seemed in a 'birds eye view' style, towards the middle part of England, then closer into the Shire and then closer still, into the town and 'The Square' and then finally right into the shop, which was to be that stage setting for us to launch into meeting the two young ladies that we were to follow from then on.
A sedate rollercoaster ride through the lives of two very different, but in their own ways extraordinary, sisters. Moving and Hilarious, all in one beautifully crafted package.
When Sofia died, I genuinely felt personally bereaved! I wanted both sisters (and their lovely dogs) to live forever, so I could continue to follow them, through the ups and downs of their lives. The characters are so well defined in this book, that you really feel you know them and even the dogs have their own little personalities and odd ball traits. It is truly charming.
"Loved Every Word"
The narrator is simply perfect. I listened with my eyes closed whilst I was on the treadmill every day. I have lost over 22 pounds doing this with other books as well as this one. An hour just flies. I just don't want to get off. Well, this story is spell-binding. The style of writing is lovely. The setting and characters are charming and the author makes the listener feel part of the whole scene. I have read the book prior to listening to this version and loved it but the superb narration has made me totally fall in love with this author. Fabulous in every way. Just love it all. I couldn't stop listening but I didn't want the story to end. Hooray for this narrator.... thank-you so much for your wonderful work... it has given me such immense pleasure and enjoyment. Who would have thought working out could be so much fun!
This is a wonderful book, beautifully read. I have always liked Bennett. (Perhaps some one will do The Statue, that he wrote with Eden Phillpotts, another good story.) It is amazing what a good writer can do with such "quiet" material. The lives of two sisters: One quite ordinary and the other forced by circumstances to survive by force of will. My only complaint is the same I have with so many audio books, and that is the horrible music. It sounds as if it were played by a speaker-phone on hold. I hope this penchant in audio books goes away for it is always distracting. The reader here was excellent, but he did pronounce Sophia, Sofia a couple of times which confused me. Still, this was one of the best books I've listened to all year. I doubt that you will forget the charactors and situations in this story for a long time.
"A charming, funny book"
I enjoyed this book more than any I've listened to in a long time. It has some really funny sections. I especially enjoyed the birthday party for the 4-year-old boy. If you have ever had workmen at your home, you'll enjoy that description.
If you like Trollope, give this a listen.
"Beauty and frailty of human endeavor"
Biography of 2 English sisters spanning later half of 19th century. Constance, the good-natured older sister, grew up, married and raised a family all in the bonding accordance of social and familial expectation, while the beautiful Sophia's stubbornly independent streak propelled her to elope from her family, country and tradition into an utterly varied life. Both main characters are brilliantly etched inside and out, divulging both the beauty and frailty of human endeavor.
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