Hilda Lessways, Paperback Book

Hilda Lessways Paperback

Part of the Clayhanger series

4 out of 5 (1 rating)


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Given its early publication date (1911) this seems a particularly imaginative companion volume to Arnold Bennett’s previous novel Clayhanger. Rather than offering us a traditional sequel, Bennett instead reviews the principal events from the earlier novel from the perspective of Hilda Lessways, and she certainly has a time of it!Stifled in her mother’s household in the Five Towns in the late 1870s Hilda manages to break free, firstly by consulting George Cannon, a local character. While he masquerades as clerk to a local solicitor, the marvellously-named Q Karkeek, Cannon in fact runs the business, even though he is not professionally qualified. Hilda consults him, drawn principally by the oddity of his accomplice’s name, seeking advice on how to protect her own interests in a portfolio of let property scattered around the Five Towns, which she believes her mother is grievously mismanaging.As a consequence of this initial encounter Hilda finds herself learning shorthand (an adventure in itself for a single woman in those days), and secures a post in Cannon’s alternative business venture which seeks to establish a new evening paper for distribution throughout the five towns. Meanwhile Hilda has met, and been intrigued by, local printer, Edwin Clayhanger.Although Cannon’s journalistic aspirations subsequently peter out, Hilda finds herself enmeshed within Cannon’s business web, and ends up accompanying his half-sister, the preternaturally feeble Sarah Gailey, in the management of a boarding house in Brighton. During this period Hilda becomes increasingly deeply drawn to Cannon, despite the occasional regretful thoughts about Clayhanger. Eventually (inevitably?) Cannon marries her, whisking her away for a brief honeymoon. However, almost immediately upon their return to Brighton Hilda learns, in the most distressing of ways, that Cannon was in fact already married, to a wealthy woman living in Cornwall, and that this first marriage was never dissolved.When confronted with this Cannon disappears, leaving Hilda alone. She returns to the Five Towns where she meets Clayhanger again, and falls even more deeply in love with him, but is unable to bring herself to tell him of her plight. Upon her return to Brighton she finds that her small personal fortune, which Cannon had invested in a new hotel venture, has been lost, and that she is pregnant.

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