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.