Henry Earlforward, a shabby Clerkenwell bookseller, has retired from life to devote himself (and his wife Violet) to a consuming passion for money. Miserliness becomes a fatal illness and Bennett gives a terrifying description of its ravages. But the book's horrible situation is saved through the character of Elsie - whose life-affirming refusal to engage with the nightmarish world of the bookseller transforms the story. Bennett wished in Riceyman Steps to create an English novel as powerful as anything by Balzac, the writer he most admired, with the same sense of great human issues being played out within the confines of a household. The result is an unforgettable work which is also a gripping description of the harsh, battered London of the period just after the First World War.