Meanwhile: The Picture of a Lady
Author: Herbert George "H G" Wells (1866-1946)
Publisher: Ernest Benn Ltd
288 pages. Small octavo (7 1/2" x 5") bound in original brown cloth with gilt lettering to spine in original pictorial jacket. First edition.
Meanwhile is divided into two books: "The Utopographer in the Garden" and "Advent". In the first book, Cynthia and Philip Rylands, a wealthy British couple, are entertaining guests at Casa Terragena, an Italian villa with a famous garden on the Italian Riviera. Among the party are a prominent author, "the great Mr. Sempak," an American aesthete, Mr. Plantagenet-Buchan, the beautiful, vivacious Lady Catherine, Col. and Mrs. Bullace, Lady Grieswold, and a number of others. At dinner, Sempak, a brilliant talker with ideas similar to Wells's, expounds the idea that a "Great Age" is certain to come, and that contemporaries are obliged in the present to live, as it were, "meanwhile": "Since nothing was in order, nothing was completely right. We lived provisionally. There was no just measure of economic worth; we had to live unjustly .... We were justified in taking life as we found it; in return if we had ease and freedom we ought to do all that we could to increase knowledge and bring the great days of a common world-order nearer, a universal justice, the real civilization, the consummating life, the days that would justify the Martyrdom of Man." A crisis is precipitated when Cynthia Rylands, who is pregnant with her first child, surprises her husband engaged in a dalliance "in the little bathing chalet" with one of their guests, a Miss Clarges. She is distraught and confides in Sempak, who offers her wise advice in a long letter: she should not forgive her husband, but rather "realise that there is nothing to forgive." Mrs. Rylands accepts Sempak's notion that her husband's real problem is not infidelity but idleness, and the first book ends with him departing at her urging for a visit to England, where his family's vast coal holdings are at risk in the crisis that culminated in the 1926 general strike.
The novel's second "book" is dominated by Philip Rylands's letters describing the British political situation ("many of the leading participants in the strike appear in the novel without disguise") and his recruitment to the Open Conspiracy, Wells's plan for establishing a World Republic. But it is also punctuated with a number of subplots, some comic, some dramatic. Lady Catherine undertakes the seduction of an unwilling Mr. Sempak, but before this affair can be consummated, she flees to join a British fascist committed to fighting the class war back at home. Mrs McManus, a nurse from Ulster who comes to assist Mrs. Rylands in the last stages of her pregnancy, is a memorable comic character. And Mrs Rylands, with the help of Mrs McManus, comes heroically to the aid of Signor Vinciguerra, a liberal Italian leader being hunted by Italian fascists in her garden; she succeeds in helping him escape to France. Meanwhile concludes with the return of a now devoted, engage Philip to Cynthia after she has given birth to their son.
Corners gently bumped, page ends foxed. Jacket soiled with closed edge tears else a better than very good copy in like jacket.