Arnold Bennett - Son of Stoke-on-Trent

contents: Bennett's 'Five Towns' books

index page for Arnold Bennett

These Twain

These Twain
These Twain

"In the year 1892 Bleakridge, residential suburb of Bursley, was still most plainly divided into old and new - that is to say, into the dull red or dull yellow with stone facings, and the bright red terracotta gimcrackery. Like incompatible liquids congealed in a pot, the two components had run into each other and mingled, but never mixed."

These Twain is the final volume in the Clayhanger trilogy, following Clayhanger and Hilda Lessways. In many ways this is the most accomplished of the three novels, for Bennett, drawing together the threads of his trilogy, presents already-established personalities in confrontation. 

Hilda is now married to Edwin Clayhanger and the two, with Hilda's son by her disastrous 'marriage' to George Cannon, are living in Bursley. As they cope with immediate tensions and with old wounds they are forced continually to reassess their relationship. Bennett is at his best here, recreating a society and its characters - Auntie Hamps and Tertius Ingpen among them - and achieving a remarkably subtle and biting portrait of a marriage.

Edwin does not enjoy an entirely happy marriage with Hilda. She does not conform to the period's stereotype of a submissive wife - which is, of course, partly why Edwin married her. It is also suggested - although according to the conventions of the time it is not stated - that the marriage is based on sexual compatibility, and as a result its problems are outside the bedroom. Hilda, who is rescued from virtual destitution by Edwin through their marriage, and who already has a child, is not a figure of passive gratitude, and has opinions on matters - such as Edwin's business - which would normally be a wholly male preserve. Edwin has his doubts about their union, and is brought to (mostly impotent) anger by his wife just as he had been by his father.

The book shows how Hilda and Edwin attempt to compromise, its title being a play on words: does it mean "these two" or "these separate"? It is suggested that they had both become perhaps too set in their ways before their marriage, even though each was in some way 'saved' by their union.

Hilda Lessways is the second book in the trilogy

The Roll Call is a sequel to These Twain