Marriage

This week features a book that’s little known in Labrador—but you may recognize the author!

The cover of the 1986 edition of Marriage, by H.G. Wells.
The cover of the 1986 edition of Marriage, by H.G. Wells.

The War of the Worlds, The Time Machine, and The Invisible Man are three enduring, much-adapted science fiction classics from the nineteenth century that are still in print today.  None of them has anything to do with Labrador—but if any of the three has ever tickled your fancy, then you might be interested to know that their author, H.G. Wells, did in fact set one of his later books partly right here in Labrador.

Marriage is a different sort of novel, as the title itself makes clear. It was first published in book form in 1912, and is indeed to some degree about marriage—namely the courtship and wedded life of the two main characters, Marjorie Pope and R.A.G. Trafford, whom Marjorie nicknames “Rag.”

Despite the epigraph, “And the Poor Dears haven’t the shadow of a doubt they will live happily ever afterwards,” Marriage is not at all pessimistic.

The novel is full of witticisms and banter, and often takes comic turns. For example, Trafford is introduced into the narrative when he and a friend crash a small plane into the Popes’ lawn during a family croquet game in Kent (in the English countryside).  Trafford blithely describes the event as a “thundering smash,” and walks away jaunty and unharmed after he and Marjorie pry his injured companion out from the wreckage.

Fans of Jane Austen will recognize the familiar elements of a novel of manners early on, but Wells relies more on flippancy than Austen, and less on precision.  Also, although he was an effortlessly prolific writer all his life, sometimes one suspects that Wells dashed off the book a little more quickly than he might have done.  That may seem a strange observation given the novel’s length, as it is much longer than his science fiction works, but unlike those novels, Marriage is really a light-hearted book with no clear focus, beyond sharing a wide range of mainly humorous insights into men’s and women’s respective internal lives.

The book veers between genres in its third part, and winds up as a sort of expedition novel.

This is where Labrador comes in, as Marjorie and Trafford elect to spend a year in the Labrador wilderness, including a winter isolated together in a remote cabin at the height of land.  Why exactly they do this is not entirely clear: in fact the third part begins with the narrator’s confession that “I find it hard to trace the accumulation of moods and feelings that led Trafford and Marjorie at last to make their extraordinary raid upon Labrador.”  Their motive, though, is at base a spiritual and romantic one. Trafford wants to temporarily retreat from the world into remoteness and solitude in order to reset his outlook on life, and Marjorie would sooner go with him than be left behind.

The account of their actual time in Labrador is informed by what Wells had read and heard of the area, and the text occasionally mentions some of its sources.  Trafford remembers, for example, having read about Leonidas Hubbard’s and Dillon Wallace’s misfortunes in The Lure of the Labrador Wild.   Because of this indirect source material, from which Wells necessarily extrapolates, there are some inevitable liberties and inaccuracies. There are also obsolete perspectives, but fewer than usual in similar novels, in my opinion anyway, and Wells is shrewd enough, and wary enough of over-reaching, to avoid becoming ridiculous.

As hard as it is to pin down, Marriage is a highly entertaining book, and certainly interesting as a little-known bit of Labrador literature, written by a brilliant and world-famous author.  Moreover, since Wells died in 1946, it is now in the public domain and available free online at Project Gutenberg and Hathitrust—so it’s easy to get your hands on a copy. I definitely recommend checking it out!


Student Cheat Sheet

Marriage, by H.G. Wells (1912)

Author. H.G. Wells (1866-1946) is most famous for science fiction novels like The War of the Worlds, but his literary output was varied and prodigious. Wells was English and apparently had little to do with Labrador personally, though references within Marriage show that he was at least familiar with contemporary Labrador books by Dillon Wallace, Mina Hubbard, and Wilfred Grenfell.
Summary.  Marriage tells the comic, fictional story of young, well-to-do Englishwoman Marjorie Pope, who marries R.A.G. Trafford, a scientist, aviator, and businessman.  Marriage is partly a meditation on women’s social roles, and partly a comedy of manners. Labrador appears only in the final third of the book, but it dominates that part, as the couple spend a year in the Labrador wilderness, seeking a “magic refuge” in which to rediscover themselves.
Origin.  The novel was first published in installments in The American Magazine from 1911-1912.  In 1912, Wells reworked it into a single volume for Macmillan in London and Duffield & Company in New York.
Legacy.  Few remember that  Wells ever wrote about Labrador. A 1927 silent movie adaptation actually substituted Africa for Labrador, though that film has not survived. However, a 1996 paper by Wyoming literature professor Janice Harris disagrees with Wells’s own prediction that his “writing about sex” would swiftly become obsolete, and some of the book’s observations on gender roles and relations are indeed ahead of their time.  Marriage was republished by Hogarth in 1986 with an introduction by Victoria Glendinning.

Working on a book report for school?  Here’s how to cite this article:

Mills, Morgon. “Book of the Week: Marriage.” LILA Online. Labrador Institute, 8 May 2020, lilaonline.ca/2020/05/08/marriage/. Accessed [today’s date].

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