The Old Wives’ Tale

  • Linda R. Anderson


The Old Wives’ Tale, published in 1908, is generally regarded as Bennett’s masterpiece. It is a novel which really does aspire to be ‘epic’ both in its size and scope. In the Preface Bennett referred to the ambition which guided him in writing the novel. Taking another French realist writer as a model, Guy de Maupassant this time rather than Balzac, he described how he had intended ‘ “to go one better” than Une Vie’ by making his novel ‘the life-history of two women instead of only one’. ‘I was intimidated by the audacity of my own project,’ he wrote, ‘but I had sworn to carry it out.’1 The tone which Bennett adopts here is partly mocking and seems to mix boldness with temerity. In a letter which he wrote to his friend George Sturt before beginning work on the novel in 1907 he was similarly ambivalent about what he was doing:

The novel will be as long as A Man from the North, Anna, and Leonora all added together. It is a prodigious canvas. All about the 5 towns. After a sort of an impulse to quit those Towns I have found myself going back to them.2


Great Book Mere Successiveness Commercial Traveller General Madness Sheer Contingency 
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Copyright information

© Linda R. Anderson 1988

Authors and Affiliations

  • Linda R. Anderson
    • 1
  1. 1.University of Newcastle upon TyneUK

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