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Riceyman Steps

elsie bennett tries earlforward

generally considered the best of the late novels of Arnold Bennett, published in 1923. It is the tale of a miserly second-hand London bookseller, Earlforward, who marries a neighbouring shopkeeper in Clerkenwell, the trim and efficient Mrs Arb. She becomes more and more shocked by his pathological meanness (he even tries to sell the dust from his vacuum cleaner) and eventually both fall ill and die, nursed with devotion by Earlforward's loyal charwoman Elsie. It is a grim and convincing psychological study, and a vivid and sympathetic portrait of one of London's poorest quarters. Elsie proved such a success with the novel's readers that Bennett reintroduced her in a less authentic but interesting long short story, ‘Elsie and the Child’ (1924), in which Elsie tries to better herself and become a proper maidservant.

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