Monday, 29 August 2016
Anna of the Five Towns is the first novel by Arnold Bennett that I have read. Quite how I 've managed to avoid reading him, one of the more prolific writers of the 20th century, I don't know. This tale was published in 1902. Arnold Bennett seemed to fall out of favour later in the 20th century, but is apparently having a bit of a revival at the moment.
Anna story is of a young woman who inherits a large sum of money from her long dead mother, having been brought up in a life of drudgery and plain living under her father's thumb. The setting is the Potteries, where Bennett himself grew up and used a setting for several of his stories. Anna is wooed by a young Non-Conformist minister, Henry Mynors, but she also has feelings for Willie Price, son of Titus Price, who runs a pottery business in a building owned by Anna. Titus is behind with his rent, and eventually becomes bankrupt and commits suicide. Anna realises she loves Willie, who plans to leave for Australia, but she marries Henry, to whom she has become engaged, while Willie also kills himself.
Bennett evokes the grimy atmosphere of the Potteries, and contrasts it with a holiday Anna takes with friends, a family with a daughter about her age.Beatrice, who is a lady of leisure compared to Anna, whose life is one of much domestic drudgery, despite her newly gained wealth. Women are not portrayed as being capable of business, yet many of the women of the period and place worked in the potteries, often of painters of the wares used in the home, cups, saucers, plates and so on.
Considering that this was first published in 1902, Bennett probably reflects the attitudes of the time, only for them to at least begin to change after the First World War, a few years in the future from the setting of this book.