Spencer's Reviews > Mr. Britling Sees It Through
The quaint address is misleading however, for life in Matching's Easy is anything but easy with a monstrous war looming on the horizon. Local thought, leastwise for Mr. Britling, is that that this war has been brewing since 1870-1871. The first half of the book consists of Mr. Britling's ruminations on the impending war, aggravated by the fact that he has a son Hugh, who is the apple of his eye and is 17 years old.
Mr. Britling is being visited by an American, Mr. Direcks, who is trying to persuade Britling to come to America on a lecture on the "American Cousins Abroad." We see during the course of the discussions that both England and America share the same sort of insularity about getting involved in a war in Europe. To England it is a case where foreign entanglements have never worked out well for them, and for Americans it is simply that Europe is so far away and it feels safe that it is protected by a 3000 mile Atlantic Ocean. It forgets that if England falls there will be no one patrolling those waters to keep out foreign invaders.
We find that Mr. Britling is a widower, having lost his first wife Mary about 10 years ago. She was the passion of his life, a passion that he does not share with his second wife Edith, though they have an "agreement" that somehow they will make it work. How Mr. Britling does that would call for a spoiler alert, so I'll simply let it drop. While he is making things work the younger crowd busies itself with field hockey, a sport that has been imported from India. Mr Direcks and Cissie, the sister-in-law of Britling's secretary Teddy, strike up a romance that propels the story on. Britling is being dragged into the 20th century having recently purchased an automobile which he names Gladys. Britling and Gladys do not get along well, as he is a dangerously inexperienced driver, with many comic results. The dialogue between Mr. Direcks and the locals is amusing, as it plays on the idiosyncrasies of both their common languages.
The story starts to drag during the last half, just as the Great War gets under way. There is much hand wring by Britling and other locals, as their most recent exposure to war was the distant Boer War in South Africa. Prior to that it was the Crimean War in the 1850s and some smaller battles in their far flung colonies. This new war is different in that it is just off their shore and they are starting to receive refugees from Belgium, many of whom they do not approve of. We see much of the patriotic drum beating and jingoism that is peculiar to all home fronts. What complicates things is that it is family, friends and neighbors who are going to war, not some unknown entities from distant counties and cities. Wells also writes in a firsthand accounting of Zeppelin bombing attacks, that I was never aware of before. I have since learned that they were quite common through all of 1914-1917, especially in London. It does not call for a disclaimer that this is a very anti-war novel. We see Wells' skill as an essayist and pundit as the Britling character hammers out his thoughts on ideas on the war and its conduct. That Britling is a writer and author, just as Wells is, works out quite well.
We find out that Letty, wife of Teddy, fearing for the loss of her husband has conjured up an idea how all the women of the world could unite and enact a scheme that is sure to stop all future wars, including this one. It is unique in its simplicity. Britling, on the other hand, wrestles with placing blame, and figuring out how God has a role in ending war. He comes to some surprising conclusions.
It is at this point that I wish that Wells had loped off about fifty pages, as it really started to drag at the end. It was an unusual ending to as it ended in 1916, the year of its publication, before Wells knew the outcome of the war. For the reader of the day it must have been very confusing.