The History of Mr. Polly

June 10, 2009
So, I finished my first book for the Gaurdian challenge.
The History of Mr. Polly was a pretty quick read, and maybe I went through it a little too fast. While I was reading it I really enjoyed it, but looking back I find it kind of dissatisfying.

Alfred Polly is educated poorly and apprenticed at a men’s clothing store. He moves to progressively worse jobs, but manages to retain an interest in his surroundings. He unwisely — and sort of unintentionally — marries a cousin and opens up a shop in a town called Fishbourne.

He gradually alienates the other local shopkeepers through is lack of social skills and habit of making up unflattering nicknames. His relationship with his wife, Miriam, deteriorates, and the shop becomes less and less profitable.In his late thirties, miserable and on the verge of bankruptcy, Mr. Polly decides to kill himself. H.G. Wells makes a point of telling us that this is as much a result of his chronic indigestion as his actual circumstances.

Mr. Polly decides to set a fire in his house and then cut his throat. Everyone will think he died in the fire, and Miriam will get his insurance money. Instead, once he’s set the fire Mr. Polly forgets about cutting his throat and instead ends up rescuing an old woman who lives next door and becoming something of a local hero.

Suicide not having worked out, Mr. Polly leaves town and wanders for a while, finally getting a job as a ferryman and all-around helper at an inn run by a plump older woman who he gets along with really well. Five years later, he returns to Fishbourne to check up on Miriam, and finds out that she thinks he’s dead and has started a tea shop with the insurance money. He returns to the plump woman’s inn and presumably lives happily ever after.

The story is just a little disappointing because I felt like, with a few tweaks, I could have enjoyed it a lot more than I did. Things like the part where Mr. Polly drives away the plump woman’s disreputable nephew and the part where he has to convince Miriam that he’s a ghost ought to have been wonderful and were just okay.

On the whole, though, the book works because Mr. Polly works as a character. He seems terribly ordinary at first, but as you learn things about him — well, he doesn’t seem less ordinary, exactly, but his ordinariness becomes very real. The parts where he alienated the few friends he had completely without intending to or realizing that he was doing it were painful, but only because Mr. Polly was so likeable (as opposed the the kind of painful scenes in books and movies that make one cringe).

So, a thumbs up for Mr. Polly, but not a prticularly enthusiastic one. I’m pretty sure I’m not going to find anything by Wells that I like more than Little Wars.



  1. Sry for being OFFTOPIC – what WordPress template are you using? It looks amazing.

    • It’s called “Neat!”

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