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.
Lessways is the second book in the trilogy
Roll Call is a sequel to These Twain