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The Two Sisters
Page Count
Word Count
Jonathan Cape
Viking Press
Publication Year
Document Types
Original Manuscript (mss)
Sisters, Northamptonshire, Love

London: Jonathan Cape, 1926 (June 24); New York: Viking, 1926.
Dedicated "to my father and mother."

Bates's first novel was written over a period of almost a year when Bates was 19 and working as a warehouse clerk (in fact Bates says in The Vanished World that "every word [of the novel] was written in the warehouse.") Rejected by some ten firms, it was finally accepted by Jonathan Cape in December, 1925, upon the recommendation of Edward Garnett (introduction).

The novel portrays Jennie and Tessie Lee, living in a bleak farmstead in the Midlands with their recently-widowed and tyrannical father and two brothers, one of whom is epileptic. Each woman responds differently to their domestic situation and for each the arrival of a male visitor, Michael Winter, brings the hope of greater happiness. The novel's end finds the two sisters many years later, without father or brothers, lovingly sharing their memories.

Bates writes of the book at length in The Vanished World (pp. 150-155, p. 188) saying, among other things that it "was a work solely of imagination: indeed it would not be untrue to say of wild imagination, the rampaging, highly-coloured, not always quite coherent imagination of youth trying to say something but not knowing quite what it wanted to say." In The Blossoming World (pp. 27-28), he writes of his emotions after its publication and on reading its reviews.

Reviews in The New Statesman and The Spectator note Bates's potential, while also finding weaknesses in the novel: "a young writer who has not yet got control of his medium...he shows that he can convey a mysterious sense of passion and pity in the very rhythm of his prose;"..."with a youthful dislike of compromise he has used no half-tones. The tense atmosphere in which this tragic story is enacted is not relaxed for one moment. This is exhausting, but it is a fault on the right side." Punch called it "an astonishingly complete and finely felt piece of work" and the Living Age called it "beyond doubt a work of genius" (as quoted by Vannatta). The review in The Nation & Athenaeum takes issue with Garnett's praise of Bates's "artistic economy": "it is carried dangerously near the point of niggardly evasion; and, unfortunately, Mr. Bates does not extend his economy to style." Eads (1990) quotes from a review in the New York Evening Post stating that "here is a first novel which has the definite flavour of a new individual, one who, if he chooses the difficult path of art, is destined to go far." The book garnered a full review in the New York Times, in which Louis Kronenberger holds that the lack of "insight into character, strict narrative unity, and a continuously compelling interest" is "compensated for by less usual merits" — "it seeks quintessences instead of a a heap of details."

The holograph manuscript is held in the Senate House Library archives at the University of London (https://archives.libraries.lon...).


  • Church Times (July 9, 1926, p. 52, attached)
  • Nation and Athenaeum (July 24, 1926, p. 476, attached)
  • New Statesman (September 11, 1926, p. 612, attached)
  • New Yorker (January 1, 1927, pp. 55-56)
  • New York Evening Post (date not yet identified, excerpt quoted by Eads)
  • New York Times (September 26, 1926, p. 11, attached)
  • Punch (September 15, 1926, p. 308, attached)
  • Rushden Echo (June 25, 1926, p. 5 and July 2, 1926, p. 2)
  • The Spectator (July 10, 1926, p. 66, attached)
  • Times Literary Supplement (August 5, 1926, p. 524, attached)
  • Commonweal (January 19, 1927, p. 304, Edwin Clark, attached)
  • The Living Age (August 21, 1926, p. 431, attached. Reproduced from The Morning Post)