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Pulling off the blinkers of circumstance
on 23 January 2005
The History of Mr Polly tells the story of the almost accidental life that the eponymous hero pretty much stumbles through, until, facing bankruptcy, he decides to take some drastic measures. Beginning with his nadir, the first third of the book is taken up with describing how he got there, the second third with what he then decides to do, and the final third with the unexpected results.
It's a subtle observation of how people drift through life and the possibilities that open up to us when we pull off the blinkers of circumstance. In a key passage the narrator reminds us that, if we are strong enough and can face the consequences, we can get out of our situation.
It's a very Dickensian subject, and Wells writes with a similar wit, although the central character perhaps lacks some sympathy. The final third, being the least mundane and the most unexpected, is also the most enjoyable, but by then I'd grown a little disinterested in Polly's history and wanted something more escapist.