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“A Thing Of Dreams And Desires, A Siren, A Whisper, And A Seduction”: Mermaids and the seashore in H. G. Wells’s The Sea Lady: A Tissue of Moonshine

Alder, Emily



The Sea Lady (1901) is one of the more neglected early novels of H. G. Wells, particularly compared to his more famous scientific romances. Both a social satire and a mediation on the limits of human imagination, Wells’s only mermaid story has drawn surprisingly little attention as a mermaid story. The novel is highly intertextual with legends, written tales, and artwork about mermaids in the 19th Century, which, I argue, Wells deploys in pursuit of the narrative’s interests in gender politics, the critique of social conventions, and philosophical reflection on the possibility of reaching for greater knowledge. Traditional associations of mermaid figures with sexual and ontological transgression and with liminal zones of the sea and the seashore are used to invite reflection on late Victorian social practices around sea-bathing and clothing, as the mythological mermaid’s incursion into the real everyday world exposes its profound vulnerability to radical alternative ways of thinking and being.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date May 29, 2021
Publication Date 2021
Deposit Date Jun 28, 2021
Publicly Available Date Jun 26, 2023
Print ISSN 1834-6057
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 15
Issue 2
Pages 85-100
Keywords H.G. Wells, mermaids, folklore, sea-bathing, seashore, clothes
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