"Every stout, ageing woman is not grotesque -- far from it -- but there is an extreme pathos in the mere fact that that every stout ageing woman was once a young girl with the unique charm of youth in her form and her movements and in her mind. And the fact that the change from the young girl to the stout ageing woman is made up of an infinite number of infinitesimal changes, each unperceived by her, only intensifies the pathos. It was at (the) instant (of this observation) that I was visited by the idea of writing the book which ultimately became The Old Wives' Tale." So writes Arnold Bennett in the preface to his masterpiece of realistic fiction, a book that follows the lives of two sisters, Constance and Sophia, from simple days in mid-Victorian England through the chaos and tumult of the modern age. Along the way, a novel is built, detail by rich detail, that rivals the great realistic works of Balzac, Flaubert, Zola, and Maupassant.
Critical commentary on classic books is readily available from academics and career critics. But what do the greats have to say about the greats? In addition to the new Introductions we've commissioned from today's top writers and thinkers, we will provide a full Commentary section, excerpting book reviews and other critical essays from major authors -- E. M. Forster on Sinclair Lewis, Virginia Woolf on Forster, etc. We've edited these pieces down to the most salient and provocative passages, or we're running short pieces at full length.