Mr. Britling Sees It Through

Mr. Britling Sees It Through

Book - 1943
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Publisher: New York : Macmillan, 1943, c1916.
Characteristics: 443 p.


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Dec 18, 2018

To the extent that his name rings any bells nowadays, H. G. Wells is remembered as the father of science fiction in English, and half-a-dozen or so of his sf novellas are still read and regularly filmed. That's too bad, because he really was as good a novelist as England had in the twenty years before WWI. I'm under the impression that this book is probably his last first-rate novel, but I may test that assumption. It's as good as the few earlier non-sf novels that I've read--Love and Mr. Lewisham, The Wheels of Chance, and Tono-Bungay--and that is very good, indeed. It has a large cast of characters and a story line right out of the annals of the time in which it occurs and was written, 1914-16. Mr. Britling is what we now call a pundit, successful enough at it to maintain his family, a secretary and his wife and wife's sister, a young German tutor for his two little boys, and the occasional long-term visitor or two in a house in the country a ways east of London. He is not the book's narrator, but he is very thoroughly the main reader-identification figure (the novel begins from the point of view of a wealthy young American visitor who falls in love with the secretary's sister-in-law. Everything that happens on-stage, so to speak, happens in the environs of the Britling home, Dower House, though the events that have the biggest impact on the characters happen in Europe as war breaks out and the young men--the secretary, the tutor, and Hugh, Britling's son from his first marriage (ended by the wife's death)--are drawn into combat. One perhaps profitable way to approach this excellent novel is to think of it as a well-to-do middle-class version of that king of WWI TV dramas, Upstairs, Downstairs, with not an aristocratic politician but a popular liberal-socialist commentator (the Britlings do not have a full company of servants) as pater familias.

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