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The History of Mr. Polly  
Title Page of First Edition
Author H. G. Wells
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Genre(s) Comedy
Publisher N/A
Publication date 1910

The History of Mr. Polly is a 1910 comic novel by H. G. Wells.


Plot summary

Alfred Polly is a quiet, timid and direction-less young man living in Edwardian England, in the town of Fishbourne, West Sussex (although the town in the story is thought to be based on Sandgate, Kent where Wells lived for several years)[1]. Polly enjoys reading books of knightly endeavours more than his jobs in a draper's shops, and several times his daydreaming mind loses him his job. After the death of his father, a man he had little in common with, he's left a little money in the inheritance and at the funeral he meets Miriam Larkins, a distant cousin. Although not really in love with her (Polly is in fact in love with Christabel, a girl he met whilst out riding his bicycle), he marries Miriam, they buy a shop and set out to make a success of it.

Fifteen years later, Miriam has become abusive and spiteful, Polly is still bored and dissatisfied with his life, the shop is in debt, and he hates all their neighbours. Polly is inclined to spark comedic arguments and slapstick calamity wherever he goes. When he knows his marriage is failing, and he is seen as a bit of a joke in the community and he's facing bankruptcy, he decides to set fire to his new shop and cut his neck with a razor, but the twist is that he fails to go with the slash because the fire surprises him by the speed with which it spreads. Also, saving his neighbouring shop owner's elderly mother from the fire (the fire station is opposite the shops, but the firemen are unable to act before the fire-engine's hose is molten as they cannot find the key), Polly is seen as a local hero. The events lead to Polly wanting to do something adventurous with his life and go out and see the world instead of keeping stuck with his wife in Fishbourne. Polly then leaves the insurance money from the fire with Miriam, and he disappears in the night to try to make a new life for himself.

After a month of wandering aimlessly in the Sussex countryside, Polly comes to a riverside inn, the Potwell Inn, and is offered work by the innkeeper, a widow who Wells never names -she is referred to only as the 'plump woman'. The relationship between Polly and the widow is friendly from the very beginning. Polly meets her young niece Nancy and also "Uncle Jim", who turns up regularly, usually drunk and demanding money. Jim demands Polly "gets off his patch", but Polly sticks around and is nearly killed by Jim on one occasion, but survives by pure luck and chance. Despite not being exceptionally brave, Polly stands his ground and Jim stops visiting – later his body is found drowned and he is identified as Polly by the name sewn into a pair of trousers which Jim stole from the inn.

Several years later, in a fit of conscience, Polly returns to the shop in Fishbourne, now a tearoom run by Miriam and her sister. He briefly meets Miriam, who believed him dead and is horror-struck, but tells her that he doesn't really exist anymore and that he is a ghost. Knowing that Miriam is now happy and content, he returns to the Potwell. The novel ends with Alfred and the innkeeper enjoying a sunset together by the inn.

Film, TV or theatrical adaptions

A film version of the same name was made in 1949 by Anthony Pellisier, with John Mills as Mr. Polly.

A television version, starring Lee Evans as Mr Polly, was shown on UK television channel ITV1 in May 2007.

External links


  1. ^ chapter notes from The History of Mr Polly, Penguin Classics (2005)


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