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The History of Mr. Polly

3.59  ·  Rating Details ·  1,034 Ratings  ·  103 Reviews
Mr. Polly is an ordinary middle-aged man who is tired of his wife's nagging and his dreary job as the owner of a regional gentleman's outfitters. Faced with the threat of bankruptcy, he concludes that the only way to escape his frustrating existence is by burning his shop to the ground and killing himself. Unexpected events, however, conspire to lead the bewildered Mr. Pol ...more
Paperback, 227 pages
Published March 31st 2005 by Penguin Classics (first published January 1st 1909)
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Jul 14, 2016 Majenta rated it it was amazing
Welcome to Alfred Polly's mid-existence crisis. That's where we meet him, then we backtrack from his infancy through his life up to what might just be a fresh-starting point...

"...filled him with a vague and mystical happiness that he had no words, even mispronounceable words, to express." (location 486) And this gentleman has a way with words, all right!

"Time had removed the hair from the top of his head and distributed a small dividend to the plunder in little bunches carelessly and impartiall
MJ Nicholls
Apr 23, 2013 MJ Nicholls rated it it was amazing
Everyone at some point in their lives will suddenly realise in their naive exuberance they made a colossal mistake that now has its python-like grip around their cowardly little necks, and that the only solution is to burn the shop and down and become a country hobo. Or maybe only the first part of that sentence. Life in the early 1900s was uniformly dreary for the working classes, but at least they were born and raised to expect nothing—nowadays we are taught from the womb to reach for the star ...more
Dec 07, 2013 Bruce rated it really liked it
Published in 1910, this novel is the story of Alfred Polly, a generally non-descript member of the English lower middle class. The story begins when he is thirty-five years old, miserably unhappy with his life, both his circumstances and himself. In fact, he has been unhappy for almost his entire life. He had a bleak education, truncated when he left to go to work at age fourteen. He had never seen the point of education (despite being an avid reader), and he did poorly. Now he owns and runs a f ...more
May 26, 2013 Jonfaith rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The esteemed M.J. Nicholls dryly encircled the genius of this novel. It was fitting to conclude my week-long tour of Britons electing paired initials as Christian names - to rest easy under the warm praise of the Scotsman with his love of completeism and exhumation.

Alfred Polly is my hero. His neologisms are remarkable. I thought of citing a half dozen examples but feel that out of context, it would prove to be shit. His suspicions and pleasures appear to be my own. One can't just sit around fo
Jun 26, 2016 Emily rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2016
4.5 stars

I had never heard of this book before I stumbled upon it in an antique store. I don't like antique stores, but my husband does, so while I wait for him to finish shopping, I check out the disorganized shelf or two of books you can usually find in these places.
Something about this book drew my eye-maybe the combination of an author I'd heard of and a title I hadn't. I read the introduction by Sinclair Lewis and decided I should probably buy the book, never mind that my to-read list is w
Nov 30, 2012 Tony rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY. (1910). H. G. Wells. ****.
After having read most of Wells’ science fiction novels I thought I’d sample his other works. The only other novel of his I’ve read that was not science fiction – and which I plan to read again since that was about 30 years ago – was “Tono Bungay.” This novel would be hard to classify. It’s the story of Mr. Alfred Polly, a lower-middle-class individual who has nothing much to look forward to in life except what comes his way. He was not good i
Jan 12, 2014 Sara rated it really liked it
I read this not long after reading Orwell's Coming Up For Air. This one is a much better novel, but they're interesting as two books about very similar characters in very similar circumstances; in the wrong class in Britain at the wrong time, badly educated, badly married, dreams lost, no real prospects or hopes or pleasure left in life when the books begin. Wells is much more subtle about the blind ignorant ways in which people can make themselves miserable in life, and get what they put out.

HG Wells is known for his pioneering science fiction, like Island of Dr. Moreau and Invisible Man, but he wrote tons of unfantastic books. Kipps and Ann Veronica are among the better-known ones; and History of Mr. Polly's recently nabbed a spot on The Guardian's Top 100 books by white men, and some pages in Michael Schmidt's The Novel: A Biography and it seems to be having a little moment for itself, so here we are.

It's not that great.

Mr. Polly is an average little man - somewhat ruined by chro
May 13, 2009 Manda rated it it was amazing
This book was written 100 years ago.

It hasn't dated.

I was stunned. Why hadn't I heard of this book before I randomly picked it off the library shelf? Why is it not on all kinds of lists? The style is deceptively simple but the ideas expressed are universal. Mr. Polly is not unique to any one era, he isn't terribly fashionable. That's why he has not dated. He is just as relevent now as he was 100 years ago.
Oct 16, 2015 Peter rated it liked it

Mr Polly is everyman; at least in his searching for direction or meaning in life he is. He is any middle aged, middle class, middle England-er who has ticked all the right boxes as far as society is concerned and yet still gotten nowhere; financially invested, unhappily married and physically over the hill. But, he is also a thinker, a dreamer and a chaser after unrealised ideals. Inadequate, in that he is unable to fully express himself yet not inarticulate, rudderless yet not without aims and
Greg Deane
May 03, 2013 Greg Deane rated it really liked it
“The History of Mr Polly” (1910) is a disturbing comic novel that Thoreau’s observation that “the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” The petit bourgeois shopowner Alfred Polly, starts his working life as an apprentice window dresser, reads novels and dreams of a life of wild freedom and romance. Despite the years of quiet hopelessness he is destined to live, the protagonist holds onto a yearning for an ideal: “Deep in the being of Mr. Polly, deep in that darkness, like a creature whic ...more
Aug 21, 2014 Mel rated it it was amazing
When I was very young I used to think that working in a shop would be the best job you could have. I think it was the idea of being surrounded by all the things that normally you wouldn't be able to buy, being able to go into those areas marked "private" and to be a step away from being part of the general public. I remember when I grandmother started working at a Christian book shop and I was so jealous. I remember it was so exciting going into the shop when it was closed and sitting and lookin ...more
May 07, 2009 Cynthia rated it liked it
I've never liked Wells. This is the first of his books I've been able to force myself to finish. I didn't love it but it was FUNNY! My friends, no doubt smarter and more learned than me, told me the book contained social commentary, that Wells was a socialist with an agenda of showing the superiority of that type of system. Poor Mr. Polly seems to wander around with no aim, his past, with a dead mother and an emotionally absent father provides no support and he stumbles into his future with no c ...more
Jun 29, 2011 Leslie rated it really liked it
Not uncommonly, at a certain point in their lives, people look up from their daily tasks and ask themselves something like, "How the hell did I get here? How did I end up in this place in my life, with this partner or with no partner, with these children or with no children, with this job or with no job? This isn't what I intended at all." So thinks Mr Polly at the age of 37 (middle age came earlier then) as he sits on a stile one day, realising that his life is in a "Beastly Silly Wheeze of a h ...more
Jul 16, 2016 Sarah rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: old-faithful, re-read
I read it a few times many years ago - so one of my favourites then. From long past the other side of 40 (Mr Polly's age half way through the book when his history finishes and the actual narrative resumes and about the age of Mr Wells when he wrote it) this is a really miserable and uncomfortable read. Enjoyable once Alfred Polly starts his adventures. Very strongly based inside Mr Polly's consciousness - the only other characters that have anything going on inside their head at all are his you ...more
S. Nikolova
Jun 16, 2012 S. Nikolova rated it liked it
Shelves: work-bc
The last third of the book is what moved it from a one-star to a three-star read for me. The beginning two thirds left me quite annoyed with the main character, Mr. Polly, who is the kind of passive person that lets life happen to him. It was no surprise to me that he ended up having the expected mid-life crisis after realizing that his existence was not at all what he wanted out of life. What followed this realization was a suicide attempt, an arson, and a series of events that were as engrossi ...more
Jun 19, 2010 Michael rated it it was amazing
I did this book for 0 level (GCSE). I loved it then and it has stayed with me . Despite all the deeply spiritual and worthy books I have read since I think this one had more influence on my life. A young man out in the countryside on his bike enjoying a sense of freedom having inherited a little money and then quickly getting stuck into a loveless marriage and a job that slowly kills him (as Radiohead would say). Desperate measures lead to an unexpected chance to rebuild his life and for him to ...more
Victoria Grusing
Aug 31, 2016 Victoria Grusing rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned
The first half was pretty dry. Mr. Polly then realized his life wasn't what he wanted and lit a fire under himself. The remainder of the book was for me insightful, funny and really very good.
At first, I thought it was a book for the thrift store. It is a 1909 copy with spots, but otherwise in great shape. It will stay with me now.
Dec 29, 2012 Brittney rated it did not like it
Absolutely hated this book. This is a book that's meant to act as social commentary, but unless you are intimately familiar with the time period or own a time machine (wink wink nudge nudge) the references don't make any sense and you will most likely miss them. In other words, this does not stand the test of time
Tim Davies
Apr 06, 2015 Tim Davies rated it liked it
Very slow pace for the first half, but kept me interested with its witty style. The action in the second half was great!
Enrique Del Castillo
Feb 07, 2013 Enrique Del Castillo rated it it was amazing
Una excelente novela! Todo el tiempo uno está con el suspenso de saber que sucederá con cada personaje.
Julie S.
Nov 26, 2010 Julie S. marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Don't read the introduction- there are spoilers.
Marts  (Thinker)
Mar 02, 2012 Marts (Thinker) rated it really liked it
Shelves: h-g-wells, 2012-reads
The tale Alfred Polly, his life, unhappy marriage, fantasies, crime, and eventual escape...
Joey Brockert
Dec 21, 2014 Joey Brockert rated it really liked it

Mr. Polly is a sad fellow. He has a shop that is not doing so well and a wife who is unhappy with him and what he does and his stomach aches and.... He disparages of being able to be happy.
As I started to listen to this story I was thinking this is not much of a story. Where is the science fiction? Where is the action? Who knew that Mr. Wells wrote social commentary literature? But I continued to listen, and I was entranced.
The story starts as mentioned above, then you read of his history, hi
Sergiu Pobereznic
Feb 06, 2015 Sergiu Pobereznic rated it it was amazing
Review by Sergiu Pobereznic (author)
Humorous, entertaining, poignant, nostalgic and insightful.
This is a story about a discontented shopkeeper; an Englishman of middle age, middle class, a dreamer with untenable ideals who is letting life just happen to him. However, he finds a way to alter his humdrum existence. This is where the fun begins.
The atmosphere was like that of a Dickens novel, but some of the sections reminded me of Mr Nabokov. Certainly an appeal
Feb 09, 2014 Dan rated it liked it
Shelves: classics
I absolutely adored H.G. Wells' sci-fi stories so I thought I would try perhaps his most famous non sci-fi work. By the halfway mark I was pretty disappointed and very bored but I persevered and the second half really picks up. It must be one of the few stories in history where a suicide attempt picks things up.

The book opens with a depressed Mr. Polly living an empty life and we then see his life up to that point, which is not particularly interesting. The most interesting section was also the
The focus on this story, Mr Alfred Polly, is probably not the most dazzling or successful of literary characters you’ve come across, but it’s probably the fact that he is not which makes his story worth reading. Despite the novel focusing on the rather serious topic of a mid-life crisis, H.G. Wells makes this work memorable in that he lifts this topic from its gloomy depths by writing with a humorous and satirical hand.

Mr Polly represents all the people in our world who live this vicious circle
Jul 17, 2016 Rose-Ellen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This novel of H.G. Wells is not one of his more famous, but I had a lot of fun reading it.

The protagonist is more interested in chatting with anyone that will listen, than in doing any work. You would think there would be little to recommend a book featuring a no-talent irresponsible lad like Alfred Polly – but here Wells has crafted a quirky character fond of coining unique words to describe people and happenings. He shows an interesting point of view. He could even be called selfish (at first,
History of Mr. Polly (1910) - H. G. Wells
Even more biking adventure. H. G. Wells is probably thought of by most as a science fiction writer, but he wrote a wide range of works including a series of social comedies. I was caught completely off guard by this book, it is modern, fast moving and really funny. I love the description of bicycle travel through the British countryside. The plot is captivating, with extraordinary but believable twists, and events that spur moral and social thought.
The ev
Steph Pomfrett
Dec 07, 2015 Steph Pomfrett rated it it was ok
This was the companion book to Warm Vellum Books’ October choice for me (the other was The Darling Buds of May) and it’s definitely an interesting one.

I’ve never read any H.G. Wells before, so I had no preconceptions of what this might be like. It’d be overstating it to say that I enjoyed it; for quite a small book, it was a bit of a slog. It probably didn’t help that the typeface was tiny.

The book itself does as it says- it tells the story of a man who is a bit of an Everyman. Most of his life
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In 1866, (Herbert George) H.G. Wells was born to a working class family in Kent, England. Young Wells received a spotty education, interrupted by several illnesses and family difficulties, and became a draper's apprentice as a teenager. The headmaster of Midhurst Grammar School, where he had spent a year, arranged for him to return as an "usher," or student teacher. Wells earned a government schol ...more
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