I’ve never read anything by H.G. Wells before and never thought he would be an author I would enjoy. In fact, I hadn’t even realised he had written anything other than the science fiction books he’s famous for (The War of the Worlds, The Invisible Man, The Time Machine etc) and as I’m not a lover of science fiction, none of those have ever really appealed. So when I noticed this one in the library, sounding entirely different to the books I’ve just mentioned, I was intrigued and decided to give it a try.
The story is set in the early years of the 20th century and the title character is twenty-one-year-old biology student Ann Veronica Stanley. Tired of being locked in a constant battle of wills with her father, a strict and conservative solicitor who has very strong opinions about women and their place in society, she decides to run away to London to start an independent life of her own. In London, she is exposed to a range of influences and experiences (including the suffragette movement), becomes involved with several different men, and discovers that life can be difficult for a young single woman living on her own.
I wouldn’t recommend this novel to people who are looking for something with lots of action but if you’re in the mood for a slower, more character-driven story this is a very interesting read. And as a book about feminism written by a male author, I’m sure it must have caused controversy when it was first published in 1909. The book wasn’t perfect though – the main character started to irritate me after a while and at times it felt less like a novel and more of a vehicle for Wells to express his views on feminism, politics and science.
The first half of the book is concerned mainly with Ann Veronica’s struggle to gain independence from her father. She considers it unreasonable that he won’t let her go to a party in London with her friends and that he refuses to let her attend Imperial College to study for her science degree. And yet Ann Veronica’s father clearly loves his daughter and is not trying to be unkind to her – he truly believes women should behave in a certain way and it puzzles him that Ann Veronica doesn’t want to conform.
After a promising beginning, the second half of the book was dominated by a romantic storyline which became very sentimental and started to bore me. And although I can’t say too much because I don’t want to spoil the story for anyone, I was quite disappointed with the way the book ended and felt confused as to exactly what point Wells was trying to make. So, although I was left with mixed feelings about this book, at least it’s taught me not to have pre-conceived ideas about certain authors. I do feel happier about maybe trying one of his science fiction books now.
The version I read was the Penguin Classics one, but for those of you who like to collect Virago Modern Classics it has also been published as a VMC (and is one of the few written by a man).