HG Wells is of course known as a pioneer in the field of science fiction, with such works as ‘War of the Worlds’ and ‘The Invisible Man’ being most well-known. However he did write some mainstream fiction, such as ‘Love and Mr Lewisham’.
The plot is as follows – boy meets girl, falls for her, loses contact with her, nearly forgets her, meets her again, falls again, they get married and then discover there’s more to married life than love. When you summarize this, it sounds like a very cliché romance. However, the plot is not really the point of this novel.
This novel is more thematic than plot driven. What Wells is really writing is a satirical look at the arrogance of youth, the erosion of lofty principles, and that love does not make the world go around without a bit of money to grease the wheels. The protagonist at the start of the story is a very naive youngster who is absolutely convinced of his own superior intelligence and understanding. In his defence, he is a very hard worker, so is quite capable of achieving at least some of what he sets out to do. Then he meets the girl, and as a consequence experiences his first set back (due to a blissfully ignorant assumption that societal rules would not apply to him.) However, he picks himself back up, and gets back on track, without the girl. Then he meets her again, and things go downhill from there.
Mr Lewisham is not a very likeable protagonist. He is too full of himself for that. However I found him rather funny, and also sad, because he is so very silly. I think we have all met teenagers and young twenty-somethings like this. I think we have all been these people. His gradual maturing during the course of the story is quite believable, as he does not end the story being a likeable or capable being, but rather a little older, a very little wiser, and still with much room for growth.
His love interest, Ethel, is similarly foolish. Her mind is full of very romantic notions, and she has a certain learned helplessness (no doubt due to her environment) that makes her something of a cliché as we look back to that time period. For the time though, and for a female even younger than the hero who, unlike him, is not expected to look after herself, I think she is believable.
I actually found the second female character, Miss Heidinger, the saddest of all. In spite of the fact that she is obviously highly intelligent, (far more intelligent than Mr Lewisham himself), she defines herself in terms of a man she considers someone she can advance, a man she dresses up for (something she abandons when she realises he is not interested in her), and does not really seem to consider the possibility that she can advance herself. While this would have been unusual at the time it was certainly not unheard of, but it seems that here it may be a presumption (or prejudice) of the author himself not to write her this way. It could also be argued that her purpose is only to advance the ‘love’ theme, and as such her autonomy is not necessary. I think her characterisation is a weak link in the story (though this may be my prejudice.)
I can’t say I loved this book, but it was interesting, and convincing. While it’s not exactly a page turner it’s certainly worth a look.