5 thoughts on “H G Wells is aggravating again: The Wife of Sir Isaac Harman

  1. “After her fourth child is born [Sir Isaac] is persuaded that she ought not to have any more, and disgruntledly lets her alone.”
    Is Sir Isaac supposed to disapprove of contraception or to be ignorant of it or does Ellen refuse to use it as a reason to avoid him, or aren’t we told?

    You say “Sir Isaac and his children increase in vileness throughout the novel”: are these his children with Ellen or are they children from an earlier marriage?

    Might there not have been a real tea-shop chain that would “only employ a good class of young lady who… does not need anything except a ‘supplementary’ income” that both were attacking?


    1. Mentioning contraception in a novel in 1914 would have got the book banned and the publisher charged with indecency, so that wasn’t an option. The veiled way that Wells goes about it suggests that Sir Isaac becomes sexually frustrated, which appears to be the preferred option to killing his wife with repeated pregnancies. I don’t know if Wells approved of contraception or not, or just approved of women being more sexually available. The children are his with Ellen; it’s really quite unusual for children to be described so antagonistically in a novel of this period. It’s likely that Wells and Reeves were both attacking the ABC chain, or Lyons, but the real target was oppressive and exploitative working practices rather than tea-shops per se. The conicidence that both closely-linked writers went for the same vehicle for attacking low-paid labour is probably not a coincidence at all.


  2. Wells approved of contraception generally I think: though didn’t Rebecca West accuse him of sabotaging their usual contraceptive method so that their son was conceived?
    I wondered whether there might have been one particular chain of tea-shops which actually used the methods described – it could be both a general and a specific attack.
    Just how Jewish is Sir Isaac? Does Ellen convert? If she doesn’t their children can’t be Jews, which raises questions of whether Wells is attacking Jews or “Jews”. What about Reeves’s equivalent of Sir Isaac? If he is Jewish too, it raises interesting questions about specific models or stereotypes.


      1. Well, the books don’t sound worth reading as books, from your account.
        The possible attitudes and assumptions underlying them are interesting, but I’d rather find out the easy way.


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