Publication date 1910, 1911, 1916, & 1918
Country United Kingdom
|Series the Clayhanger Family|
Subject Coming of age
|Publisher Egmont Books (1st edition)|
Books Clayhanger, Hilda Lessways, These Twain, The Roll Call
The Clayhanger Family is a series of novels by Arnold Bennett, published between 1910 and 1918. Though the series is commonly referred to as a "trilogy", and the first three novels were published in a single volume, as The Clayhanger Family, in 1925, there are actually four books. All four are set in the "Five Towns", Bennett's thinly disguised version of the six towns of the Potteries district that merged into the borough (later city) of Stoke-on-Trent. Buildings described in the novels are still identifiable in Burslem, the basis for the fictional town of "Bursley".
This coming-of-age story set in the Midlands of Victorian England follows Edwin Clayhanger as he leaves school, takes over the family business and falls in love. Bennett wrote it in 1910 at the Royal Albion Hotel, Brighton, and in Lausanne.
Edwin Clayhanger's father, Darius, has risen from an extremely poor background, which Bennett repeatedly returns to, to become a prominent printer in Bursley. Edwin is not aware of his father's history and takes his family's affluence for granted. He allows his ambition to become an architect to be overruled by his father and instead becomes an office junior in his father's business. He sees through the many hypocrisies of Victorian England, but he does not confront them or become his own man until after his father's final illness and death. Then he reopens his relationship with the impoverished but exotic Hilda Lessways.
Hilda Lessways (1911)
The second novel in the series parallels Edwin Clayhanger's story from the point of view of his eventual wife, Hilda, by telling the story of her coming of age, her working experiences as a shorthand clerk and as a keeper of lodging houses in London and Brighton, her relationship with George Cannon, which ends in her disastrous bigamous marriage and pregnancy, and her reconciliation with Edwin Clayhanger. Bennett includes some scenes from the first book retold from Hilda's perspective.
These Twain (1916)
The third novel in the series chronicles the married life of Edwin and Hilda. Edwin, released from the controlling influence of his father, finds himself free to run his business and his life, but his freedom is diminished by his wife's caprices. Hilda does not conform to the expected role of submissive wife, which is partly why Edwin married her,and has opinions on matters, such as Edwin's business, that in their day are regarded as for men only. Edwin has his doubts about their marriage and is brought to mostly impotent anger by his wife just as he had been by his father.
The Roll-Call (1918)
The fourth novel in the series concerns the early life of Edwin Clayhanger's stepson, George, who insists on remaining George Cannon and refuses to take his steofather's name. George is an architect and thus represents what Edwin Clayhanger once wanted to be. (Edwin, now an alderman of Bursley, appears only briefly in this novel.) Unike his mother and stepfather, George has not experienced poverty and has been spoiled by having too easy a life (a theme that Bennett had previously explored with other characters in The Old Wives' Tale).
Clayhanger Street in Burslem
Clayhanger Street in Burslem was named after the first novel in the series. It runs beside the Wedgwood Institute.
The four novels were dramatised as a 26-part serial by ATV and broadcast on the British network ITV in 1976. The cast includes Janet Suzman as Hilda and Peter McEnery as Edwin. The serial was released on DVD in the UK in July 2010.