Thus far I have only traced an imperfect outline of what I take to be the more important motive of the book. But there is a second pattern hardly less essential—namely, the criticism of the management and, a fortiori, of the conception of principle, in relation to the International Bread Shops. Arising out of this interwoven theme we come to some examination of the status of the female employee in general, and particularly in connection with the question of their board and lodging outside business hours. But in The Wife of Sir Isaac Harman the essay manner has been abandoned. Any diversion from the development of the story is carried out by the expressed opinions of the characters themselves; and, as a consequence, the two essential problems are not unduly intruded upon the reader, although for that very reason they may remain longer in his thoughts. One more comment should be added, which is that this is the wittiest book that Mr Wells has yet given us. However serious the motives that give it life, it must be classed as a comedy....
In concluding this brief review of Mr Wells’ novels, I feel that I must hark back to a passage in The Passionate Friends in order to indicate a spirit which, if it is not so definitely phrased in this last book of his, is certainly upheld in the matter of the story. For it is that spirit which seems to me the thing that should live and be remembered. Here is one of its more characteristic expressions in the mouth of Stafford, who writes:
“I know that a growing multitude of men and women outwear the ancient ways. The bloodstained organised jealousies of religious intolerance, the delusions of nationality and cult and race, that black hatred which simple people, and young people and common people cherish against all that is not in the likeness of themselves cease to be the undisputed ruling forces of our collective life. We want to emancipate our lives from this slavery and these stupidities, from dull hatreds and suspicions.... A spirit ... arises and increases in human affairs, a spirit that demands freedom and gracious living as our inheritance too long deferred....”
And surely H.G. Wells has striven to give a freer and more vital expression to that spirit, working through his own life, than any other novelist of our day. Indeed I would go further and claim that no such single and definite inspiration can be found in the works of any other secular writer. Wells has given to the novel a new criticism and, to a certain degree, a new form.