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Clayhanger

Arnold Bennett

Book Overview: 

This first of a series of four novels (Clayhanger, Hilda Lessways, These Twain and The Roll-Call) is a coming-of-age story set in the Midlands of Victorian England, following Edwin Clayhanger as he leaves school, takes over the family business, and falls in love.
The books are set in Bennett's usual setting of "the 5 Towns", a thinly-disguised version of the six towns of "the Potteries" which amalgamated (at the time of which Bennett was writing) into the borough (and later city) of Stoke-on-Trent.
In one of the earlier chapters in the book, Bennett writes that Edwin had only heard of a philosopher as 'someone who made the best of a bad job' and in some ways that is what Edwin has to do in the book - survive under a stifling layer of conduct imposed by his father, his church and the society he is part of.

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Book Excerpt: 
. . .However, Edwin had perfectly lost all interest in marbles; only once in six months had he thought of them, and that once through a funeral card. Also he was growing used to funeral cards. He would enter an order for funeral cards as nonchalantly as an order for butterscotch labels. But it was not deaths and the spectacle of life as seen from the shop that had made another Edwin of him.

What had changed him was the slow daily influence of a large number of trifling habitual duties none of which fully strained his faculties, and the monotony of them, and the constant watchful conventionality of his deportment with customers. He was still a youth, very youthful, but you had to keep an eye open for his youthfulness if you wished to find it beneath the little man that he had been transformed into. He now took his watch out of his pocket with an absent gesture and look exactly like his father’s; and his tones would be a reflection of those of the last important full-sized man w. . . Read More

Community Reviews

The whole Clayhanger series is worth reading

Occasionally comes along a book in which the protagonist does nothing I want him to - ever. In which questions are posed and never answered. It turns out that I like this ( at least in this particular case). Edwin is trapped in a way that makes the reader want to scream for him - trapped by his f...more

Clayhanger is two things. It is a trilogy set against the entirety of life in the Five Towns in the Victorian and Edwardian periods, and it is the first and greatest book in this trilogy, dealing with the adolescence and early manhood of a fictional young man who has a great deal of Arnold Bennet...more

First rate novel of a young man growing up. Edwin Clayhanger has aspirations of moving beyond his father's small printshop and the provincial town in which he lives. He makes friends, some excellent decisions (and a few poor ones) improves his social standing, and meets a girl who puzzles and ann...more

There are so many books to read that rarely can I justify reading a book more than once.
I have read Clayhanger three times due to Bennett creation of one of literary's most sympathetic and empathetic characters in Edwin Clayhanger. The rest of the series don't quite measure up but I so wanted Edw...more

A great read and first in the trilogy. Edwin is a frustrating character in many ways. He does not follow his dream of being an architect and instead follows his father Darius into the family printing business. The book follows his pathway from adolescence to adulthood and the promises we all make...more

Years ago I read Margaret Drabble's masterful biography of Arnold Bennett and proceeded to read most of his novels with pleasure. This one, *Clayhanger,* was written in 1910 and was the first of a series of books about a family living in the pottery-making district of England in the 19th C. It co...more

If you are adverse to books that "move slowly," then by all means pass on this one. What Bennett is so very good at is creating characters by examining the minutia of their lives, desires, and personalities. I found "Clayhanger" to be so absolutely human in a way that's eminently recognizable eve...more

This is admirable if you have the patience to deal with Arnold Bennett's detail but if you are looking for an exciting read with plenty of action, this is not the book for you. It is one or two gears above Proust (in my view).

truly (and rather to my surprise) a page turner

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