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Anna of the Five Towns by Arnold Bennett: Synopsis & Analysis

Instructor: Ginna Wilkerson

Ginna earned M.Ed. degrees in Curriculum and Development and Mental Health Counseling, followed by a Ph.D. in English. She has over 30 years of teaching experience.

Arnold Bennett's 'Anna of the Five Towns' is an early 20th-century commentary on the effect of work and industry on personal relationships. In Bennett's novel, this effect becomes devastating --ruining the relationships and lives of important characters.

Importance of the Setting

Anna of the Five Towns is set in five of the towns that make up the Potteries area of the English midlands. When the novel was published in 1902, the ceramic industry was well established in the Potteries area and provided work for many people, as well as income for the owners of the pottery works. The impact of business and industry on the personal lives of the characters is a key theme of Bennett's novel.

The Tellwright Family

The plot of the story follows Anna Tellwright, a quiet and unassuming young woman who has grown up almost exclusively in the domestic sphere of her father's home. Both her own mother and the second Mrs. Tellwright are dead, leaving Anna as the mistress of the house and surrogate mother to her little sister Agnes.

Anna's father, Ephraim Tellwright is domineering, shrewd, and controlling-- especially when it comes to Agnes and Anna. Additional restrictions on the two daughters' behavior comes from the Methodist Church and its limiting of women's conduct .

Anna's Wealth

The limits imposed on Anna, however, seem to change when she is abruptly told on her twenty-first birthday that she now has a considerable amount of wealth. This news may sound exciting, but Anna feels frightened and overwhelmed. She would like to be happy about the inheritance; nonetheless, she has no idea how to handle her wealth--particularly after her first confusing visit to the local bank.

Almost immediately, she is ordered by her father to go to the property rented by the unsuccessful pottery maker Titus Price, who is far behind in his rent. Now that Anna believes herself to be in charge, the older Tellwright uses her to press Price for rent money. Surprisingly, she is successful in getting a small sum from the poor renter, money her father promptly takes to 'hold for her.'

Relationships

You may be wondering if there is a love story in this novel. Surely a twenty-one-year-old young woman in the world of 1901 England must have a man to marry, when little else is available for a woman as a goal in life. Anna does indeed have some interest in a young teacher Henry Mynors, who is the last of a once prominent family in the five towns. On his own, Mynors has worked and saved a sum of money equal to part of the cost of a possible business investment.

The World of Industry

At her father's suggestion, Anna goes into a business partnership with Henry Mynors, a relationship that further immerses her in the unfamiliar world of industry. In keeping with the novel's emphasis on the work world, both business and personal interactions between the couple are based on money. Anna agrees to marry Mynors, although she feels little excitement about the prospect. Anna is not happy with her involvement in the world of manufacturing, nor is she content with her choice of partner.

Unhappy Ending

Unfortunately, it is the unsuccessful and shy Willie Price, son of the hapless property renter Titus Price, who really reaches Anna's emotions. Though their relationship is impossible in the restricted world in which they both live, Willie has Anna's heart and sympathy.

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