Anna of the Five Towns by Arnold Bennett

Product Description (yes, really!) courtesy of Amazon:

Against a brilliantly observed background of life in the Staffordshire Potteries, ANNA OF THE FIVE TOWNS is both a novel about a gossipy, myopic, savage community and at its heart a young girl dominated by her miserly father. Bennett’s portrait of Anna as a spirited, subtle, complex modern woman makes this book as absorbing and moving today as when it was first written.

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  1. michelebbc

     /  April 25, 2011

    Having not read any information about this one, or taken part in the discussion, I have to say that I found this a surprisingly disturbing book. In some ways it felt like many themes were in development and then abruptly cut off, and I wondered if this was originally intended to be a much longer novel. I felt that this story was an attack on on a traditional religious society of that time. The people who are introduced at the beginning of the story as the reliable, influential role models for Anna are the ones who happily stand by and leave Willy to his fate after his father has become bankrupt and committed suicide. Anna’s decision to visit the house that Willy has to leave and to marry Henry is her submitting to live by the rules of that society and to go against her own instinctive beliefs of what is right and wrong. I found the whole religious society almost more suffocating than Anna’s life with her father and felt that her future would be as a kind of stepford wife.
    I’d be interested to hear what everyone one else thought of this one.

  2. I admit, when I initially reviewed this book I was harsher than I am inclined to be now, subsequent to the Book Chat meeting.

    Bennett’s medley of themes struck me as muddled and inconclusive. (They still do!) But a lot of discussion at the meeting centered around Anna’s development as a character, and I am now impressed by the originality of Bennett’s portrayal of a woman at the turn of the century.

    Anna is depicted as a strong woman, with real choices, and it is this that provides the conflict within a novel which has variously been described as dull or bland. (Quoting from internet sources.) The puzzle of the story is to fathom why Anna makes the choices she does, with apparent confidence in her future happiness.

    Female practicality isn’t unusual in literature of this kind, but is often accompanied by a tragic sense of inevitability. It was refreshing here to find sensible choices made in conjunction with a determination to be happy.


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