Old Wives' Tale
The Old Wives' Tale
"Those two girls, Constance and Sophia Baines, paid no heed to the manifold interest of their situation, of which, indeed, they had never been conscious. They were, for example, established almost precisely on the fifty-third parallel of latitude. A little way to the north of them, in the creases of a hill famous for its religious orgies, rose the river Trent, the calm and characteristic stream of middle England. Somewhat further northwards, in the near neighbourhood of the highest public-house in the realm, rose two lesser rivers, the Dane and the Dove, which, quarrelling in early infancy, turned their backs on each other, and, the one by favour of the Weaver and the other by favour of the Trent,..."
|The Old Wives' Tale
affirms the integrity of ordinary lives as it 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,
England, during the mid-Victorian era, through their married lives,
to the modern industrial age, when they are reunited as old
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.
The book is broken up into four parts.
The first section, "Mrs Baines" details the adolescence of both Sophia and Constance, and their life in their father's shop and house (a combined
property). The father is ill and bedridden, and the main adult in their life is Mrs Baines, their mother.
By the end of the first book, Sophia (whose name reflects her sophistication, as opposed to the constant Constance) has eloped with a travelling salesman. Constance meanwhile marries Mr Povey, who works in the shop.
The second part, "Constance", details the life of Constance from that point forward up until the time she is reunited with her sister in old age. Her life, although outwardly prosaic, is nevertheless filled with personal incident, including the death of her husband, Mr Povey, and her concerns about the character and behaviour of her son.
The third part, "Sophia", carries forward the story of what happened to Sophia after her elopement. Abandoned by her husband in Paris, Sophia eventually becomes the owner of a successful pension.
The final part, "What Life Is", details how the two sisters are eventually reunited. Sophia returns to England and the house of her childhood, where Constance still lives.