Saturday, 18 February 2012

HG Wells and the suffrage novel

First published in 1909, Ann Veronica is HG Wells’ novel addressing his support of women winning the right to vote and thereby gain their independence from men. And it’s a strange one.
Our heroine Vee is a 21-year-old, middle-class science scholar who lives with her widowed father and spinster aunt in Suburbia. She dreams of escaping her father’s overbearing control over her, and of taking up with her Bohemian friends… who have introduced her to the idea of women’s suffrage.
Ann Veronica is a book in two parts. In the first half of the novel, Vee is painted as a naïve but impassioned young woman who is determined to get what she wants by any means. HG Wells creates her as a malleable vehicle for demonstrating to his readers how suffocated women are without the vote, and the subsequent right to live independently of fathers or husbands.
Yet the second half of the novel, as has been widely agreed in reviews, descends into a tedious romance bearing little relation to the first half, and causing the reader to care little for what scrape Vee has now found herself in, and whether she can win yet more people round to her manipulative way of thinking.
This was a curious book to read as I work my way through as many suffrage novels as I can manage, but I’m not sure HG Wells put as much time and thought into this as he did with his better known books. There’s every cynical possibility that Ann Veronica was simply an outing for him to express his (supportive) views about the enfranchisement of women.

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