The Sea Lady

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The Sea Lady
The sea lady cover page.jpg
First edition title page
Author H. G. Wells
Original title The Sea Lady: A Tissue of Moonshine
Genre Fantasy
Publisher Methuen
Publication date
July 1902
Pages 301
OCLC 639905
Preceded by The Discovery of the Future
Followed by Mankind in the Making

The Sea Lady is a fantasy novel written by H. G. Wells that has some of the aspects of a fable. It was serialized from July to December 1901 in Pearson's Magazine before being published as a volume by Methuen. The inspiration for the novel was Wells's glimpse of May Nisbet, the daughter of the Times drama critic, in a bathing suit, when she came to visit at Sandgate, Wells having agreed to pay her school fees after her father's death.[1]


The intricately narrated story involves a mermaid who comes ashore on the southern coast of England in 1899. Feigning a desire to become part of genteel society (under the alias "Miss Doris Thalassia Waters"), the mermaid's real design is to seduce Harry Chatteris, a man she saw "some years ago" in "the South Seas—near Tonga," who has taken her fancy.[2] This she reveals in a conversation with the narrator's second cousin Melville, a friend of the family who adopts "Miss Waters". As a supernatural being, she is unimpressed with the fact that Chatteris is engaged to the socially-minded Miss Adeline Glendower and is trying to make amends for his wastrel youth by entering politics. With mere words, the mermaid shakes both Chatteris and Melville's faith in their society's norms and expectations, enigmatically telling them that "there are better dreams". In the end, Chatteris is unable to resist her alluring charms, though succumbing supposedly means his death.


Couched in the language of fantasy and romance that blends with light-hearted social satire, The Sea Lady explores serious themes of nature, sex, the imagination, and the ideal in an Edwardian world in which moral restraints are loosening. Wells wrote in Experiment in Autobiography that The Sea Lady reflected his "craving for some lovelier experience than life had yet given me."[3]

In its narrative structure, The Sea Lady plays cleverly with conventions of historical and journalistic research and verification. According to John Clute, "Structurally it is the most complex thing Wells ever wrote, certainly the only novel Wells ever wrote to directly confirm our understanding that he did, indeed, read Henry James."[4] Adam Roberts has argued that The Sea Lady was written in a kind of dialogue with James's The Sacred Fount (1901).[5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Michael Sherborne, H.G. Wells: Another Kind of Life (Peter Owen, 2010), p. 145.
  2. ^ H.G. Wells, The Sea Lady, Chap. 6, § II.
  3. ^ Norman and Jeanne Mackenzie, H.G. Wells: A Biography (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1973), p. 179.
  4. ^ John Clute, Pardon This Intrusion (Beccon Publications 2006), p. 123.
  5. ^ A. Roberts, (2017), 'The Sea Lady', Wells at the World's End

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]