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Ann Veronica: A Modern Love Story (1909)

by H.G. Wells

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3301133,462 (3.45)30
Member:richardderus
Title:Ann Veronica: A Modern Love Story
Authors:H.G. Wells
Info:The Modern Library (no date), Hardcover
Collections:Your library
Rating:
Tags:5/5/1

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Ann Veronica by H. G. Wells (1909)

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    The Rose of Dutcher's Coolly by Hamlin Garland (inge87)
    inge87: Both are semi-successful attempts at New Woman romance.
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Showing 1-5 of 10 (next | show all)
I had serious doubts about this book when I first started it, not only is it not science fiction, but a ROMANCE, from HG Wells? Yeah, okay. I was thinking it was going to be ridiculous, but once I started reading it, I realized it was completely different from what I had first thought — it’s an early book about feminism. And you know what? It’s done rather splendidly.

Ann Veronica is the youngest of a fairly well-to-do family. She’s not your typical turn-of-the-20th-century girl — she studies biology at a college (with her father’s permission) and enjoys talking about her intellectual interests with others. Her close friends are burgeoning suffragists, so she often joins their discussions about how women aren’t free to do what they want and how they’re caged up in society because men keep them imprisoned, basically. So, when her father literally locks her in her bedroom to prevent her from going to a ball, she runs away to the city to make it on her own. She quickly finds out that there’s not a great way for women to make a lot of money, and renting out an apartment in London actually costs quite a lot. Basically, she has to face harder truths than she realized were out there and more fully understands the plight of women because of her decision to not live under her father’s roof.

What I love about this story is how it covers everything and doesn’t sugarcoat anything. It gives a clear, honest look at exactly what the situation of women was for that time period — hardly any job prospects (and any available were drudgery for pennies), no respect, and no vote. Their lives were at the mercy of the men in their lives and they weren’t taught anything about how to survive or live in the world. Ann Veronica even gets herself into a misunderstanding with a man and it’s sad how much that particular “misunderstanding” can still be seen in today’s world. They talk as if they’re friends, and they go out to lunch together as friends, and then he locks her in a room with him “to make love” because of course she had to know that they weren’t really friends and he wanted her, and deserved her after all that he’d given her. (Isn’t it creepy how familiar that sounds?) HG Wells does a tremendous job in outlining the various difficulties that women faced when they fought for equal rights and equal opportunities in London and really hits, if not all, then at least most of the points.

The first half was wonderful, but it does start to drag a bit as the book goes on. I think the first half of the book is perfect and it would have been 5 stars if it had continued in that vein, but then Ann Veronica falls in love and the whole story sort of starts to fall apart and get into themes that don’t make sense for where the book started. Alas. Basically, I would recommend this to anyone who has an interest in feminism, its roots, or even how it was viewed during this time. I was blown away by how insightful this story was and a little saddened by how true those themes remain. If not a great story, it’s interesting to see the thoughts and themes of feminism from a male author born in the 19th century.

Also posted on Purple People Readers. ( )
1 vote sedelia | Jan 30, 2017 |
I like this just as much as I did the first time I read it. Ann's voice is so fresh and modern. Wells must have really been carefully listening to the women (and there were a lot of them) in his life. Ann's trajectory from her father's house to life on her own is fascinating, as is her foray into the sufferage movement. There's some wooly Wellsian writing here, but also some crisply expressed ideas and vivid, almost visceral scenes.

I like the ambiguous ending more this time around.

A wonderful book for anyone interested in the New Woman. ( )
  laurenbufferd | Nov 14, 2016 |
Ann Veronica is an interesting novel, mixing the way Wells met his second wife with the reaction to one of his first mistresses, Amber Reeves. It's about a young woman, Ann Veronica Stanley, who falls in love with her married biology demonstrator at Central Imperial College, G. Capes. (Weirdly, Capes never receives a first name, though in Wells's later novel Marriage, he is finally forenamed "Godwin.") As someone who has read more Victorian scientist novels than you can shake a test tube at, the differences from those are striking. The first is that one can take a science degree-- most Victorian scientists are self-taught, with medical degrees or the like. The second is that Ann Veronica is female-- there are very, very few fictional female scientists in the nineteenth century. Both of these changes can be attributed, I suspect, to the increasing professionalization of science. Now it's a thing you can take a degree in like any other thing, thus it's easier for women to enter into it because they don't have to teach it to themselves with their extra time and money.

Like many writers of scientist novels, Wells examines the relationship between science and morality, but as always, Wells charts his own path. Ann Veronica does not justify science's moral claims by showing how they replicate traditional moral strictures, nor does it denigrate science's moral claims by showing how they contradict traditional morality. Rather, Wells shows how science can be the basis of a new morality, though he is also careful to show that this is sometime a post facto rationalization, a way of justifying a behavior one has already decided to undertake.

That Ann Veronica and Capes possess an unconventional morality is most clearly demonstrated by their decision to become lovers even though Capes is married and Ann Veronica is much younger than him. When Capes objects that even their meeting together is against the rules, as he is her teacher, Ann Veronica replies that "This is something above all rules" (243). Later, she expands on this assertion, when Capes supposes that she will rationalize the story of his affair during his first marriage:

‘If I told you the facts […] you’d explain the whole business as being very fine and honourable for me – the Higher Morality, or something of that sort…. It wasn’t.’
     ‘I don’t deal very much,’ said Ann Veronica, ‘in the Higher Morality, or the Higher Truth, or any of those things.’
     ‘Perhaps you don’t. But a human being who is young and clean, as you are, is apt to ennoble – or to explain away.’
     ‘I’ve had a biological training. I’m a hard young woman.’
(245)

This passage attributes Ann Veronica's refusal to be bounded by the strictures of traditional Edwardian morality to her training as a scientist. Seeing like a scientist has enabled her to see events with a clarity that others lack. Her vision is not mystified by Christianity, but rather she understands the biological imperatives that underlie human interactions in the area of love. Capes cheated on his first wife because she could not satisfy him sexually, and Capes asks her how she classifies sexual relations:

     ‘Do you think of these things – these matters – as belonging to our Higher Nature or our Lower?’
     ‘I don’t deal in Higher Things, I tell you,’ said Ann Veronica, ‘or lower, for the matter of that. I don’t classify.’ She hesitated. ‘Flesh and flowers are all alike to me.’
(246)

Ann Veronica's scientific training hasn’t taught her that sex is all that matters, nor that love doesn't exist. Rather, it has caused her to classify sex and love on the same level, or even as the same thing. She sees nothing improper in sex because it is biological imperative of the flesh, and she sees nothing wrong with her love for Capes because it is tied up in that imperative. Her and Capes's love for one another is no different from her and Capes's sexual desire for one another.

But while it is possible for Ann Veronica to see this aspect of morality outside traditional thinking, it is not possible for her to do so with society more broadly. There is one passage that hints she has a larger capacity; as she learns more about biology, she begins to see that

the influence of the science radiated far beyond its own special field – beyond those beautiful but highly technical problems with which we do not propose for a moment to trouble the naturally terrified reader. Biology is an extraordinarily digestive science. […] [N]ot only did these tentacular generalizations gather all the facts of natural history and comparative anatomy together, but they always seemed stretching out further and further into a world of interests that lay altogether outside their legitimate bounds.
     It came to Ann Veronica one night
[…] that this slowly elaborating biological scheme had something more than an academic interest for herself. And not only so, but that it was, after all, a more systematic and particular method of examining just the same questions that underlay the discussions of the Fabian Society, the West Central Arts Club, the chatter of the studios and the deep […]. It was the same Bios whose nature and drift and ways and methods and aspects engaged them all. (134-35)

That said, the narrator claims this revelation "was but a momentary gleam of personal application" that she never follows up (135). She is in the process of learning to apply scientific vision to human affairs, but in the end, she is only able to do so for her personal affairs. When self-interest is no longer at stake, she doesn't have the drive to procede.

And besides, society won't let her. Capes and Ann Veronica both have to give up their scientific careers as a result of their running off with one another. They spend some time on the continent, they eventually do get married and return to England, Capes becomes a playwright (they are allowed to be more unconventional than biology demonstrators), and Ann Veronica is about to become a mother when the novel closes. They reappear in Wells's Marriage, which I haven't read, but I'd like to, because Ann Veronica seems to me to have a somewhat bleak ending: what acceptance society has given them seems to derive from the fact that they have conformed more to its expectations. I'd be curious to know if Wells had a more optimistic vision for the unconventional than Ann Veronica indicates.

* Capes is pretty clearly based on Wells himself: Wells was a married biology demonstrator who ran off with and later married one of his students, Amy Catherine Robbins. Capes studied under the fictional biologist Russell, who played a significant role in the Darwinian controversies; Wells studied under Huxley, who played a significant role in the Darwinian controversies. Only instead of working at a university, Wells worked for a test preparation service!
  Stevil2001 | Sep 9, 2016 |
[Ann Veronica] by H G Wells subtitled a modern love story
A grown up story about a young lady growing up in early 20th Century Edwardian England. When Ann veronica was published in 1909; Suffragette militancy had been a fact of life for the last five years, the first world war was still five years away and women would not get the vote on the same terms as men until 1928. The newspaper paper talk was of a sex war and Wells does not hesitate to plunge into this maelstrom of opinions with his story of Ann Veronica.

H G Wells' progressive, socialist views were well known to all his readers and it could be argued that many of his novels take on a sort of preachiness in tone that makes some of them disjointed, perhaps they are even used as an excuse for Wells to beat his readers over the head with his views. This is not the case in Ann Veronica, Wells had found a subject where he only had to give a true impression of a young unmarried woman's lot in life, and the difficulties that she faced to become independent, for him to demonstrate the follies of Edwardian social structures.

The story is told from Ann Veronica's point of view; we find her as a 21 year old woman living under the protection of her father in the suburbs of London. She is a bright, intelligent and attractive all of the things her father wishes she wasn't. He sees her role as looking after his household and caring for him. He is far too busy dealing with his work in the city of London to worry about Veronica. A crisis is reached when Veronica wants to go to an art school dance, her father forbids her to go and when she defies him he physically restrains her so that she cannot leave the house. Her only recourse is to run away, there is no one who she can turn to who can help her in her situation.

"“I want to be a Person said Ann Veronica to the downs and the open sky “I wii not let this happen to me, whatever else may happen in its place”

There is a note of desperation in her voice as she sees herself in a pit from which there is no escape. She escapes to London and manages to find a bedsitter, but she has no way of earning a living or continuing with her work at the Imperial college of science. She meets Mr Rammage who she knows form her home town, he is a successful business man and when she goes to him for help he suggests a business arrangement and makes her a loan of 40 pounds sterling. Rammage we understand is a lover of women, rather like Wells;

“A young man comes into life asking how best he may place himself” Ramage had said “a Woman comes into life thinking instinctively how best she may give herself.”

Rammage of course expects that Veronica will become his mistress and it is only when she narrowly avoids being raped by him that she realises the burden of debt that she is under. In desperation she turns her attention to the womens suffragette movement and volunteers to take militant action. She is involved in an attempt to disrupt Parliament for which she is unceremoniously arrested and sentenced to a month in prison. Wells' treatment of this suffragette raid is even handed, but told from Veronica's point of view it appears a desperate, frightening act, but one which she could easily view as her only course of action.

In jail she has plenty of time to think and comes to realise that the only course of action left to her is to return home to her father and negotiate the best deal for her independence that she can:

“I suppose all life is an affair of chances. But a woman’s life is all chance. It’s artificial chance. Find your man that’s the rule. All the rest is humbug and delicacy. He’s the handle of life for you. He will let you live if it pleases him."

She gets to continue her work at the Imperial College and there falls in love with her tutor (Capes). Veronica never makes easy choices however and she discovers that Capes is married, but separated from his wife, who will not divorce him. The love affair between Capes and Veronica takes up the second half of the novel, but there are tensions here as well. It is only when Veronica takes decisive action that these can be resolved.

The novel falls neatly into two parts, but both depict the difficulties of being an independent woman in Edwardian England. Veronicas struggles in the first part are totally absorbing and the suffragette raid is vividly depicted. There are also the tensions of the love affair in the second part, but when these are resolved the novel fades a little at the end to a depiction of a young loves dream. Well's novel caused a bit of a scandal in 1909, not because of his sympathetic depiction of the suffragette movement but because of Veronica's decision to become Capes' mistress. A leading critic John St Leo Strachey condemned the book as "poisonous" because it treated female sexuality and sex outside marriage, not as shockingly sinful but as natural behaviour. Wells had not made Veronica pay for her actions and this is what upset some of the critics. I think there can be no better testimony as to how difficult it was for a woman at that time, and Wells brings this out brilliantly.

I have now read over twenty books by H G Wells and Ann Veronica is one of his best. You are never going to get a finely judged well balanced novel from him because he was always so impatient to move onto the next thing, but this one is better than most and so a four star read. ( )
8 vote baswood | Dec 30, 2014 |
GUTENBERG EBOOK ANN VERONICA
Produced by Charles Keller and David Widger
Release Date: March 18, 2006 [EBook #524]
Last Updated: December 10, 2012 ( )
  sharrya | Oct 17, 2014 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
H. G. Wellsprimary authorall editionscalculated
Drabble, MargaretIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Schutt, SitaEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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One Wednesday afternoon in late September, Ann Veronica Stanley came down from London in a state of solemn excitement and quite resolved to have things out with her father that very evening.
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From the back cover: She was vehemently impatient - she did not clearly know for what - to do, to be, to experience. All the world about her seemed to be in wrappers, like a house when people leave it in the summer. And there were no intimations that the blinds would ever go up or the chandeliers, that seemed to promise such a blaze of fire, to be unveiled and furnished and lit'

Ann Veronica Stanley wants to work and she wants to love. Above all, she wants to be 'a Person', free of the futile obligations of life in a respectable London suburb at the turn of the century. A young girl of unusual spirit and intelligence, she reluctantly defies her beloved father and leaves home, determined to study - and to be her own woman.

In an England awakening from the constraints of the Victorian age, she encounters a world of Fabians, suffragettes, free love. But when she falls passionately in love with Capes, a married man, she confronts what her new freedom really means...
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0141441097, Paperback)

Twenty-one, passionate and headstrong, Ann Veronica Stanley is determined to live her own life. When her father forbids her from attending a fashionable Ball, she decides she has no choice but to leave her family home and make a fresh start in London. There, she finds a world of intellectuals, socialists, and suffragettes - a place where, as a student in Biology at Imperial College, she can be truly free. But when she meets the brilliant Capes, a married academic, and quickly falls in love, she soon finds that freedom comes at a price.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:22:29 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

Twenty-one, passionate and headstrong, Ann Veronica Stanley is determined to live her own life. When her father forbids her from attending a fashionable ball, she decides she has no choice but to leave her family home and make a fresh start in London. There she finds a world of intellectuals, socialists, and suffragettes. A place where, as a student in biology at Imperial College, she can be truly free. However, when she meets the brilliant Capes, a married academic, and quickly falls in love, she soon finds that freedom comes at a price.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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