Book review: The Wife of Sir Isaac Harman

Dec 7, 2016 by
The Wife of Sir Isaac Harman Book Cover The Wife of Sir Isaac Harman
Herbert George Wells
Chatto & Windus

Lady Harman's concern for the women employees striking against her husband's tea-shops finally convinces her to leave him

Like a lot of H G Well’s sociological novels, I found this very easy to read when I was holding it, and very easy to ignore when I wasn’t. It’s probably the slowest paced novel of his I’ve read thus far, but the pay off is worth it.

The basic plot is straight forward. A woman is persuaded to marry young to a wealthy man. As she grows older she realises how little freedom she has, even to have opinions, let alone express them. She tries to find a way to gain that freedom.

Lady Harman is a pretty passive character, which is what makes her an interesting example of Edwardian feminism. I found her frustrating at times, but I appreciated that in her own quiet way she sticks to her guns and found a way through her marriage to the other side. Mr Brumley is an interesting foil, never quite understanding her motivations; he’s almost as sexist as her husband in his persistent belief that her complaints are solely due to her treatment at the hands of her husband rather than the treatment at the hands of a chauvinist society. The narrator appears well aware of this, and mocks him gently on occasion for it.

It’s hard to tell where exactly H G Wells stood on the issue. From the novels I’ve read so far he seems in favour of giving women the vote, but most of his female characters are very passive, existing predominantly in the background and with little impact on plot. His use of an omniscient narrator (hinted here to be a member of Lady Harman’s group of friends) means he distances himself from the opinions espoused in the novel quite neatly.

Overall, it’s definitely worth reading, especially if you’re interested in depictions of early feminism in contemporary novels. However, it is very slow, with predominantly passive characters, and is best saved for a long afternoon with no distractions, or it will get put down and not picked up again.


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