The Old Wives’ Tale by Arnold Bennett
The Old Wives’ Tale was first published in 1908 and could surely be considered as Bennett’s masterpiece. It is the story of 2 sisters, Sophia and Constance. Sophia is beautiful, strong willed, adventurous, and courageous. Constance – on the other hand – is plain, humble, obedient, and cautious.
The opening scene: their home in a small town in England. Sophia and Constance are in their teens, sharing a cozy afternoon; young, innocent, playful, and oblivious to their future. We follow their lives spanning nearly 50 years and realize that the genius of the tale is not the plot, but the philosophical message… the intense reality of everyone’s mortality. E. M. Forster, speaking of the sisters, made the cynical comment, “They are doomed to decay with a completeness that is very rare in literature.”
My husband often watches the Biography Channel on TV. I don’t like to watch with him because every story has such a sad ending. Everyone gets old and dies! Well, reading this book is like watching the Biography Channel. The only difference is that this story is about 2 ordinary women, their joys and sorrows, accomplishments and disappointments. The plot takes some unexpected twists and turns. Just like real life, things do not always work out the way they were intended. Max Beerbohm put it most eloquently, “it’s about the passing of time, about the stealthy merging of youth into age, the invisibility of the traps in our own characters into which we walk unwary, unknowing.”
Both Sophia and Constance are genuine characters. They could have been your grandmother, your mother, your aunt or your sister. They could have been me or you. They both had strengths and weaknesses, virtues and flaws. And they both had hopes and dreams. We watch them each take a different path in life; marriage, children, work. And we witness the external changes that occur during their lifetime; war, politics, business, society, attitudes, manners, everything that makes up a lifetime of memories. And we watch them age.
I loved this book. It gave me a greater appreciation for those that came before me. It made me think about what is truly important in life. It helped me put things in proper perspective. The Old Wives’ Tale is a timeless classic.
Rated 5 Stars.
All contents © 2014 Lois Weisberg. All rights reserved.