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Ann Veronica (1909) by H. G. Wells. Edited by Carey J. Snyder

Cover image of woman walking in city for the book Ann Veronica by H. G. Wells. Edited by Carey J. Snyder
Ann Veronica. H. G. Wells. Edited by Carey J. Snyder. Peterborough, ON: Broadview Press, 2015. Pp. 376. $23.75 (paperback). $13.97 (eBook).

H. G. Wells may be most famous in modernist studies for Virginia Woolf’s suggestion that he doesn’t belong among the “moderns.”[1] Yet Wells was vitally engaged with the features, futures, and controversies of early twentieth-century life, as his varied oeuvre makes clear. If his science fiction has kept Wells a household name, it is in his social romances that we see him at his most perceptive as an observer of modern everyday life. Socialists and suffragettes are among the characters of Ann Veronica: A Modern Romance (1909), a novel that grapples with roles for women in a time of rapid social change. Previously out of print in the US, and with no scholarly edition available anywhere, Ann Veronica was overdue for rediscovery. Carey J. Snyder’s edition of the novel provides an incisive introduction, illuminating notes, and judiciously chosen contemporary documents that enable readers to appreciate Wells’s contributions to the debates of his age and to our own.

Snyder’s introduction provides a number of important contexts for understanding the novel. A brief consideration of Wells’s place in Edwardian and modernist fiction is followed by a fascinating treatment of his biography, especially as it relates to its relevance in the novel through Wells’s thinly veiled allusions to his study of biology with T. H. Huxley, his adulterous affair with the much younger Amber Reeves (the daughter of prominent Fabians), and his consequentially fraught history with the Fabian Society. Snyder’s expertise in periodical studies and feminist history is reflected in illuminating discussions of The New Age (a socialist weekly to which Wells was a contributor and to which he alludes in Ann Veronica), the suffrage movement, and New Women fiction. The latter two contexts are particularly important for the novel, and Snyder explores them with a combination of clarity and erudition that makes the introduction useful for undergraduate students and established scholars, alike.

This edition is wonderful to teach with. Snyder’s annotations explain references that may be unfamiliar to present day readers, particularly ones outside the UK. Some notes are plainly informative, as in the succinct definitions of “petrography” and “the City,” both associated with Ann Veronica’s father (55). Many notes gloss references with an eye toward their relevance in the novel or in its author’s life, picking up on contexts discussed in the introduction and pointing the reader to material in the appendices. Helpfully, the annotations are at the bottom of the page, increasing the odds that students will read them. A chronology of Wells’s life and work includes film and theatrical adaptations from the 1950s and 1960s. In keeping with Broadview’s commitment to providing contemporary contextual materials, this edition includes a fascinating range of primary documents, from articles and speeches to letters and photographs. These are thoughtfully selected and organized in appendices addressing the reception of the novel, Wells’s own comments on the novel, the debate over modern fiction among the most authoritative of author-critics (Wells, Henry James, and Woolf), the domestic ideal (epitomized by John Ruskin’s “Of Queen’s Gardens”) and its challengers (including Mona Caird and Olive Schreiner), the suffrage movement, and more.

Lively classroom discussions emerge from Ann Veronica’s position on (white, middle-class) women—their social roles, their suffrage movement, their access to education and paid employment, and their self-fulfillment—for the novel’s position on women is hard to pin down. Eager for an education both in and out of school, Ann Veronica defies her father and his traditional conception of women’s roles and runs away to take up life on her own terms in London. However, she soon finds that the social and economic systems with which she must contend are as restrictive as her father’s outmoded views. An independent stroll in the city, which she mistakenly believes is now hers to explore, results in a frightening episode of street harassment, an ordeal that (distressingly, understandably) struck many of my students as relevant to our own time. Testing “her market value in the world,” Ann Veronica is disappointed to find that, without salable skills, she must live on borrowed money, which entangles her in a potentially dangerous relationship with a married man (143).

If Wells exposes the difficulties women face when trying to live independently, according to their own values and desires, he is most interested in women’s self-realization through romantic heterosexual love. Ann Veronica’s involvement in the suffrage movement, which leads to her participation in a raid on the House of Commons, quickly followed by a stint in prison, is sidelined by a romance plot that takes over the latter part of the novel. Suffragettes are satirized as much as unwanted suitors, and the novel’s closure suggests that Ann Veronica’s self-fulfillment requires a return to conventional domesticity, as though the only thing that mattered was securing the love of the right man. The question “Is this a feminist novel?” elicited a discussion in my class that spilled beyond our time together to online posts and more discussion in the next meeting.

If Ann Veronica is modern in its themes, it is also less conventional in its form and methods than those who come to Wells through Woolf’s essay would expect. Woolf’s critique of Wells in “Modern Fiction” alludes to Joan and Peter (1918), a novel that, Snyder reports, Woolf had reviewed. It is not known whether she ever read Ann Veronica, but, as Anna Snaith and Michael H. Whitworth have noted, in Mrs. Dalloway, Peter Walsh would retrace Ann Veronica’s steps as he follows a woman through the streets.[2] In any case, in Ann Veronica, Wells is not content with a superficial treatment of character but goes into the “dark places of psychology” (Woolf, “Modern Fiction,” 290) with his heroine, particularly during her time in prison when Wells makes use of free indirect discourse to capture her roving mind.

Snyder’s terrific edition does justice to Ann Veronica’s experiments in the modern and to the implications of the “modern romance” of its subtitle. Its introduction and notes assist readers with understanding contemporary contexts and debates, while its appendices provide readers with tools to extend their analyses of the novel’s engagement with, among other topics, feminism, theories of modern fiction, socialism, censorship, evolutionary biology, urban life, and contrary notions of “modernity.”


[1] In “Modern Fiction” (excerpted in Snyder’s edition), Woolf names Wells along with John Galsworthy and Arnold Bennett as “materialists” whom she distinguishes from a younger generation of writers such as James Joyce and, implicitly, herself, who are interested “in the dark places of psychology.” Woolf, “Modern Fiction,” The Virginia Woolf Reader, ed. Mitchell A. Leaska (San Francisco: Harcourt Brace Javanovich, 1984), 285, 290. While Wells has been marginalized in modernist studies, that may be changing. See Nathaniel Otjen’s “Energy Anxiety and Fossil Fuel Modernity in H. G. Wells’s The War of the Worlds,” Journal of Modern Literature 43, no. 2 (2020): 118–33; chapter 3, “Streets and the Woman Walker: When ‘Street Love’ Meets Flânerie,” of my Threshold Modernism: New Public Women and the Literary Spaces of Imperial London (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019); and Sarah Cole’s Inventing Tomorrow: H. G. Wells and the Twentieth Century (New York: Columbia University Press, 2019).

[2] “Introduction: Approaches to Space and Place in Woolf,” Locating Woolf: The Politics of Space and Place (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007): 1–28, 23.