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Love and Mr Lewisham by H. G. Wells

Love and Mr Lewisham (original 1900; edition 2005)

by H. G. Wells (Author), Simon J. James (Editor), Gillian Beer (Introduction)

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207681,989 (3.54)25
Title:Love and Mr Lewisham
Authors:H. G. Wells (Author)
Other authors:Simon J. James (Editor), Gillian Beer (Introduction)
Info:London: Penguin, 2005. 7th printing. 1900. Trade paperback, 229 pages.
Collections:Your library
Tags:literature, victorian, penguin classic

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Love and Mr. Lewisham by H. G. Wells (1900)



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'Natural Selection – it follows . . . this way is happiness . . . must be. There can be no other.'
     He sighed 'To last a lifetime, that is.
     'And yet – it is almost as if Life had played me a trick – promised so much – given so little! . . .
     'No! One must not look at it in that way! That will not do! That will
not do.' (207)

This is the earliest (I think) of Wells's umpteen novels about scientists and marriage; it would be followed by Ann Veronica (1909) and Marriage [duh] (1911-12). Like a lot of Wells's literary novels, it tracks Wells's own life fairly well in some regards: George Edgar Lewisham is a science student trying to rise through the social classes and also maintain a marriage and also advance the cause of socialism. He also teaches, and he falls in love with a student's cousin, Ethel, and has to figure out how to balance the needs of a spouse with those of career. Also he's got a classmate who might be more his intellectual match than Ethel, and is clearly in love with him. So, similar ground to both Ann Veronica and Marriage (like the Traffords in Marriage, the Lewishams struggle even more because of the artificial requirements society places on them, like the need to by certain kinds of nice things and so on).

Wells will never be the world's most moving writer. He's good at depicting the interiority of aspiration in conflict with the exteriority of the social world, but it's always more of an intellectual feeling, as opposed to how Thomas Hardy or George Eliot can hit you in the gut with similar subject matter. But it is a pleasant read, and there's some black humour, and some familiar problems to anyone who's ever gone on the job market, and some real-feeling awkwardness of early married life. Lewisham is a scientist (or he would be one, anyway), and there's this weird subplot about Ethel's involvement in faking séances, though Wells kind of sews this all together with pointing out that there are different kinds of cheating, and different kinds of belief.

An interesting book, I thought it was less good and polished than Wells's later literary fiction, but it's still heart-rending in its own way. My quotation above comes from the final chapter, where Lewisham realizes that he and Ethel are having a baby, and thus his scientific and political career aspirations will probably go unfulfilled. I don't know what to make of it, and I like that I don't know. Lewisham is desperately trying to convince himself that it's a good thing to have a child, even though it appears nowhere in his "Schema," but even as he keeps repeating to himself that the coming child means "the end of empty dreams" (208), you can tell he doesn't believe it, and that he will miss those dreams. He tears up his Schema and thus his past self-- and something dies in him in that moment, and that's where the book ends. Lewisham has reproductive success, but nothing else. Evolution is the thing he studies, but its methods (i.e., reproduction) will foreclose his ability to study it, and destroy the other kinds of success he had valued. But at the same time, you (probably) want him to have a child because it's what so many of us value! So Lewisham's values conflict with yours even as you empathize with him, and they conflict with the world he seeks to change, but he never can. It's a quietly tragic end to a genial book.
1 vote Stevil2001 | Sep 14, 2018 |
I liked this little known Wells very much. Such a sense of being poor in 1890s London. ( )
1 vote laurenbufferd | Nov 14, 2016 |
Excellent story of a young scholar whose prospects are derailed by love and marriage. ( )
  lisahistory | Apr 16, 2016 |
This is not a great novel but it is a very good novel. It is little more than a love story and must have seemed like a change of pace from Wells' previous books which had delighted the public with their imaginative fiction: [The Time Machine], [The Invisible Man] and [The war of the worlds]. There is no time travel, science fantasy, or aliens in [Love and Mr Lewisham] which is the story of a poor young man trying to make good through his efforts to educate himself. Wells uses his own life experiences to create a scenario that is both authentic and poignant, peopled with characters that would have resonated with his readers. It is very much a novel of it's time; set in the 1890's when a young man took substantial risks in meeting a girl to whom he had not been introduced. Mr Lewisham's meeting with Ethel Henderson and their subsequent unchaperoned walks, leads him having to sacrifice his position as an assistant teacher and later when he meets her again in different circumstances he must sacrifice his potential career for her.

When we meet Mr Lewisham at the start of the book he is a young man with a mission. His rigorous self imposed timetable is designed to fill all his waking hours with study and self improvement. He is already the proud owner of a number of certificates and he can look forward to possible scholarships to finance his further education. An accidental meeting with Ethel and his subsequent romantic infatuation with her takes him to areas of human feelings for which he is totally unprepared. The dialogue between the naïve diffident young man and the inexperienced Ethel is both naturally sure-footed and humorous without resorting to the clever-clever witticisms that authors of today may be tempted to employ. Wells never loses sight of the fact that this novel is told from Mr Lewisham's POV and his awareness grows as the novel develops. Ethel is sent away to Clapham in South West London and Mr Lewisham loses touch with her and it is a chance meeting at a séance that rekindles his passion. He is a little more mature now and is forging a way for himself at a London College, but love again stops him in his tracks as he struggles to come to terms with his situation which does not permit him to support Ethel and himself. His studies suffer again and he comes to realise he cannot have the career he dreamt of and Ethel as well. He again is forced to make a sacrifice but a life of poverty in a hostile world leads to problems with his relationship with Ethel and Wells once again shows his mastery of dialogue in the arguments and fighting between the two young lovers.

Wells seizes on the opportunity to introduce two issues that were of intense interest to him; by making Mr Lewisham a young socialist and an advocate of a scientific explanation for life's mysteries. There are heated debates on the advantages and disadvantages of a socialist society and Wells avoids preaching on the subject and leaves Mr Lewisham disillusioned of his earlier ideals at the end of the novel. The craze for séances and the use of mediums to get in touch with the spirit world also features, with the young Lewisham determined to expose the trickery, but later having to concede that much of it does very little actual harm. Mr Lewisham learns harsh lessons about the ways of the world, lessons which gradually make him a somewhat wiser man. H G Wells had himself learnt these lessons and while it would be inaccurate to say that Mr Lewisham represents Wells as a young man the author certainly uses all his knowledge to make Mr Lewisham a thoroughly believable character. He also does a good job with his two major female characters; Ethel and the studious Miss Heddingly.

This novel was a critical success for Wells and the reasons are obvious. This well crafted novel with its sincerity and character development shows how Wells was able to use his own life experiences to create a thoroughly satisfying read. It is pitched just right and although it might have seemed a little depressing at the time it rings true enough today. The novel has its limitations and perhaps seems more of a novella in length, but there is no denying the quality of the writing. A four star read ( )
6 vote baswood | Sep 1, 2013 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
H. G. Wellsprimary authorall editionscalculated
Beer, GillianIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
James, Simon J.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0141441054, Paperback)

Young, impoverished and ambitious, science student Mr Lewisham is locked in a struggle to further himself through academic achievement. But when his former sweetheart, Ethel Henderson, re-enters his life his strictly regimented existence is thrown into chaos by the resurgence of old passion. Driven by overwhelming desire, he pursues Ethel passionately, only to find that while she returns his love she also hides a dark secret. For she is involved in a plot of trickery that goes against his firmest beliefs, working as an assistant to her stepfather - a cynical charlatan mystic' who earns his living by deluding the weak-willed with sly trickery.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:22:17 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

One of Wells's first forays outside the science fiction genre, Love and Mr. Lewisham tells of a young, penniless science student whose carefully structured life is thrown into disarray when an old passion, in the person of a former sweetheart, re-enters his life.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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