H. G. Wells The History of Mr. Polly

ISBN 13: 9781484950821

The History of Mr. Polly

 
9781484950821: The History of Mr. Polly

The History of Mr. Polly is a 1910 comic novel by H. G. Wells. The protagonist of The History of Mr. Polly is an antihero inspired by H.G. Wells' early experiences in the drapery trade: Alfred Polly, born circa 1870, a timid and directionless young man living in Edwardian England, who despite his own bumbling achieves a sort of contented serenity with little help from those around him. Mr. Polly's most striking characteristic is his "innate sense of epithet," which leads him to coin hilarious expressions like "the Shoveacious Cult" for "sunny young men of an abounding and elbowing energy," and "dejected angelosity" for the ornaments of Canterbury Cathedral.

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Review:

Fans of H.G. Wells's famous, genre-spawning science fiction novels may be startled to read his less-remembered but once bestselling The History of Mr. Polly. Its comically romping narrative voice is worlds away from the stern, melancholy tone of The Time Machine. Wells won fame for his apocalyptic, preachy books about the history of the future, but this history is strictly, as Mr. Polly would put it in his creatively cracked version of English, a series of "little accidentulous misadventures."

Mr. Alfred Polly is a dyspeptic, miserably married shopkeeper in what he terms that "Beastly Silly Wheeze of a hole!"--Fishbourne, England. He is inclined to spark arguments and slapstick calamity wherever he goes. Education was lost on him: when he left school at 14, "his mind was in much the same state that you would be in, dear reader, if you were operated upon for appendicitis by a well-meaning, boldly enterprising, but rather overworked and underpaid butcher boy, who was superseded towards the climax of the operation by a left-handed clerk of high principles but intemperate habits... the operators had left, so to speak, all their sponges and ligatures in the mangled confusion." Still, Polly's mind burns with eccentric genius, and his thwarted romantic heart beats him senseless. His despair results in the most amusing suicide attempt this side of Lisa Alther's novel Kinflicks. We won't spoil the surprise by saying precisely how his scheme misfires--and beware: the introduction gives it away. Note that you can't expect Polly to do anything right, and of course he'll become an inadvertent hero to the whole town. Then he promptly vanishes for further misadventure.

Many critics compare Mr. Polly's broad social satire to Dickens, but it smacks of Mark Twain and the dialect humor of Finley Peter Dunne's Mr. Dooley too. "I think it is one of my good books," Wells opined. What makes it so is Polly's heroic incompetence, his subversion of Edwardian propriety, and his bewildered unawareness that he is a revolutionary. --Tim Appelo

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