When Did the “Clayhanger” Trilogy Become a Tetralogy? & the Autumn TBR

I just finished Arnold Bennett’s These Twain, the third in the Clayhanger trilogy, set in his fictitious Five Towns, based on the six towns in the Potteries district of Staffordshire where Bennett grew up.

Well, I’m done, I thought with satisfaction the other night.  I read the first two books in June 2016 and only now got around to These Twain, which was a much slower, choppier read.

Except my e-book copy (my on-the-go back-up to the paperback editions) claims Clayhanger is a  tetralogy, not a trilogy. It includes a fourth novel called The Roll-Call, which is set in London, not the Five Towns, so I’m skeptical.

I trust the information on the Penguin jacket copy and bios.  It says “The Clayhanger trilogy.” Three is a magic number.

But I did very much love the first book, Clayhanger, a bilidungsroman.   Bennett tells the story of a middle-class hero, Edwin, the bookish son of a successful printer. Edwin hopes to become an architect but goes into his father’s business because he does not want to disappoint his father.  One wonders if he’ll ever marry:  finally he meets Hilda Lessways, a charming, cultured young woman who is unlike anyone he has met.

But courtship is a rocky road when you don’t live in the same town.  In the second novel, Hilda Lessways, we see the same events from Hilda’s point of view, but Hilda’s passions lead her into the arms of George Cannon, who turns out to be a bigamist.  While he is in prison she raises their child alone, and runs a boarding house to make ends (barely) meet.  But she and Edwin meet again, and she tells him the whole story. Edwin understands Hilda’s strengths and weaknesses.  They get married.

In  These Twain, my least favorite, Arnold portrays their tumultuous marriage.   Hilda is still half in love with her bigamist first “husband,” George Cannon.  In  a harrowing scene, she actually glimpses George during a tour of the prison.   Hilda is moody, manipulative, and mercurial:  she begs Edwin to buy her a horse and carriage, then uses the carriage to take him and and a neighbor on Christmas day to a country house she wants him to buy.  That’s almost too much even for Edwin.   Near the end Arnold assures us that Edwin doesn’t mind indulging Hilda’s little foibles.  He adores Hilda, and she sometimes impulsively loves his practicality and kindness.  But can this very ill-suited couple be happy?  Who am I to say that is not the stuff of a good marriage?.

The fourth book, The Roll-Call, is the story of Hilda’s son George (Edwin’s stepson)  working as an architect in London.  Now it may or may not be good, but it’s not a Five Towns book, and is not on my priority Bennett list.

Has anyone read The Roll-Call?  What’s your favorite Bennett? Does anyone read him anymore?

Bloggers love to plan their Autumn Reading.  Well, some do.  Here are some books I’ve recently added to my TBR, though I won’t get to these this year–I don’t even have copies yet!  And some have not yet been published.

1. John Banville’s Mrs. Ormond.  Naturally I must read Mrs. Ormond, a sequel to Henry James’s The Portrait of a Lady, penned by Booker Prize winner John Banville.   Kirkus Reviews says,

Fans of John should deem it marvelously Banville-an in its observations, humor, and insight—though they may wonder at this literary diversion by a writer who already plies the pen name Benjamin Black.
A sequel that honors James and his singular heroine while showing Banville to be both an uncanny mimic and, as always, a captivating writer.

It won’t be published here till November, and, no, it’s not available from Netgalley. (I just checked.)  But perhaps I’ll find a used ARC, or will find it under the Christmas tree–put there by me.

2. Where Now: New and Selected Poems by Laura Kasischke .  This was on the National Book Awards longlist, and the poems I’ve found online are breathtaking.  I don’t have a copy of this book yet–perhaps for Christmas?–but I love the following poem.

Ubi Sunt?

In the mirror, like something strangled by an angel—this
woman glimpsed much later, still

wearing her hospital gown. Behind her—mirrors, and
more mirrors, and, in them, more cold faces. Then

the knocking, the pounding—all of them wanting to be
let out, let in. The one-way conversations. Mostly not

anything to worry about, really. Mild accusations, merely.
Never actual threats. (Anyways, what could they possibly

do to you now from inside their locked, glass places?)
Still, some innocent questions on some special occasion

might bring it all back to you again, such as: Might
you simply have forgotten where you left me when you left me?

Or—Shouldn’t you be searching all the harder for me then?
Or—the question that might frighten any woman being

asked this of her own reflection (no
tears on its face, a smile instead)—How far

did you really think I’d go without you? Then—
Don’t you think that’s where you’ll find us now?

Arnold Bennett’s Clayhanger & Do Costume Dramas Matter?

Clayhanger penguin 20th century bennett 9780140182699-usHow very much I enjoyed rereading Arnold Bennett’s Clayhanger (1910),  a compelling realistic novel in the tradition of John Galsworthy’s The Forsyte Saga!  Bennett is less known in the U.S. than the Nobel-winning Galsworthy, but they have similar strengths: both are superb storytellers, if not always elegant stylists, and their chronicles of work, marriage, and changing social mores among the middle classes in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century are fascinating, moving, and historically significant.

It has occurred to me that I owe a debt to British costume dramas.  I would never have discovered Bennett or Galsworthy without “Masterpiece Theater,” which has shown British TV adaptations of novels for many  years. Clayhanger has not been in print in the U.S. (except in print-on-demand and e-book editions) since  PBS aired the TV show in 1976.  I may roll my eyes when I read a review of Julian Fellowe’s adaptation of Doctor Thorne, but the series would have sent me running to the bookstore when I was young.

clayhanger bennett penguin tv cover 9780140009972-uk-300Bennett’s Clayhanger trilogy (Clayhanger, Hilda Lessways, and These Twain) is an enthralling story of provincial life.   Set in the fictitious Five Towns, which are based on six towns in the Potteries district of Staffordshire where Bennett grew up, Clayhanger  is a bildungsroman that follows the shy, awkward character Edwin Clayhanger from school graduation to early middle age. The son of a successful printer, he hopes to escape going into his father’s business when he leaves school and become an architect instead.  His dreams are soon squelched.  Why?  Because it is impossible to resist his father Darius, at least if you are Edwin.  And we become sympathetic when we learn Darius’ story , which, sadly Edwin never learns.

When Darius was seven, his family was evicted and they spent a brutally Dickensian night in the workhouse before a Sunday school teacher named Shushian, who remembered Darius as a promising student, saved the family and found both father and son work.  Darius had to work long hours in brutal conditions, but eventually became a printer’s devil and bought an enormous business.

Edwin doesn’t quite have Darius’s oomph, but he is smart and rapidly becomes involved in the business. When his father buys a “new” used printing machine, it is a great occasion.

The descriptions of the workplace and machinery are fascinating.  The floor has been rickety in the building for years, but Darius has ignored this.  The new machine is very heavy.

Edwin could not keep out of the printing office. He went inconspicuously and, as it were, by accident up the stone steps, and disappeared into the interior. When you entered the office you were first of all impressed by the multiplicity of odours competing for your attention, the chief among them being those of ink, oil, and paraffin. Despite the fact that the door was open and one window gone, the smell and heat in the office on that warm morning were notable. Old sheets of the “Manchester Examiner” had been pinned over the skylight to keep out the sun, but, as these were torn and rent, the sun was not kept out. Nobody, however, seemed to suffer inconvenience. After the odours, the remarkable feature of the place was the quantity of machinery on its uneven floor. Timid employees had occasionally suggested to Darius that the floor might yield one day and add themselves and all the machinery to the baker’s stores below; but Darius knew that floors never did yield.

The floor does indeed almost break under the new machine, but Edwin does something with pulleys and hooks and prevents a disaster.

clayhanger tv and book cover ch03But how does Edwin’s soul live?  He is stimulated by the company of the Orgreave family, whose son Charlie Orgreaves (known as the Sunday) attended school with him.  Mr. Orgreave is an architect, and his wife and children read, listen to music, and discuss art and architecture.  Edwin attempts to do architectural drawings and begins to read French novels.

But what about his love life?  Janet Orgreave is charming, but he is attracted to her fierce, brooding friend, Hilda Lessways.  Hilda sometimes visits, and Edwin and Hilda fall in love, but it comes to nothing.  His father refuses to pay him more than one pound a week, even when he is 30.  It’s a very, very stuffy household.  How can anyone live?

hilda lessways md6774804080So many disappointments for Edwin.  The characters are all bottled up.  But you need to read the whole trilogy to really appreciate what happens.  There are many gaps in the first book The second novel, Hilda Lessways, fills in all the gaps about her character.  And she has work, too:  she ends up running a rooming house.

Fortunately Edwin and Hilda meet again eventually and…

Bennett was influenced by French and Russian writers.  According to the intro to the Penguin, H. G. Wells said Anna of the Five Towns was ‘an underdeveloped photograph.” Bennett explained “the degree of development was that of Turgenev and Flaubert.”

Bennett has his fans, but in a way he got cheated,  because of the rise of modernism and the way it pushed everything out of its path.  You were either the brilliant (a) Virginia Woolf, H.D., Djuna Barnes, Dorothy Richardson, and James Joyce (whom Woolf hated, by the way) or  the unfashionable (b) John Galsworthy, Elizabeth von Arnim, H. G. Wells, and Arnold Bennett (whom Woolf hated, by the way.)

And so that leaves Woolf.  Woof!

No, I’m joking.  I love Woolf.

Woolf loved some books better than others

And I like more books than Woolf liked.