‘Last night, when I went into the Duval for dinner, a middle-aged woman, inordinately stout and with pendent cheeks, had taken the seat opposite to my prescriptive seat. I hesitated, as there were plenty of empty places, but my waitress requested me to take my usual chair. I did so, and immediately thought: “with that thing opposite to me my dinner will be spoilt!” But the woman was evidently also cross at my filling up her table, and she went away, picking up all her belongings, to another part of the restaurant, breathing hard. Then she abandoned her second choice for a third one. My waitress was scornful and angry at this desertion, but laughing also. Soon all the waitresses were privately laughing at the goings-on of the fat woman, who was being served by the most beautiful waitress I have ever seen in any Duval. The fat woman was clearly a crotchet, a 'maniaque', a woman who lived much alone. Her cloak (she displayed on taking off it a simply awful light puce flannel dress) and her parcels were continually the object of her attention and she was always arguing with her waitress. And the whole restaurant secretly made a butt of her. She was repulsive; no one could like her or sympathize with her, but I thought — she has been young and slim once. And I immediately thought of a long 10 or 15 thousand words short story, The History of Two Old Women. I gave this woman a sister, fat as herself. And the first chapter would be in the restaurant (both sisters) something like to-night — and written rather cruelly. Then I would go back to the infancy of these two, and sketch it all. One should have lived ordinarily, married prosaically, and become a widow. The other should have become a whore, and all that; 'guilty splendour'. Both are overtaken by fat.Bennett did indeed give the fat woman a sister and put them both in a novel, rather than a short story, tracing their lives from girlhood, to young womanhood, to middle age, bulk, sciatica, rheumatism and death. This was The Old Wives’ Tale, and one of history’s more elaborate revenges for indigestion.
Bennett, Arnold: The Old Wives' Tale (Introduction by John Wain, 1990)
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