H.G. Wells's "The Pearl of Love" is one of the most memorable and haunting short stories in the history of the English literature. Wells described this short story as one of his personal favorites (Hammond 17). It is a mesmerizing and timeless tale of love and loss, devotion and obsession, purpose and art, powerful and striking in its poignancy and simplicity. Probably, the most important secret to its potent effect upon the reader is the insight this short story offers into the way a human being can change under the weight of grief and suffering, and be amazingly transformed by an obsessive striving for perfection. The primary focus of "The Pearl of Love" is on change - metamorphism as a basic quality of the human nature and the implications associated with it.
In the world literature, H.G. Wells, one of the founding fathers of the modern science fiction, is most famous for his iconic novels, The Time Machine (1895), The Island of Doctor Moreau (1896), The Invisible Man (1897), The War of the Worlds (1898) and others; yet, his short stories, pearls of literary craft in their own right, are no less worthy of close attention. In his book H.G. Wells and the Short Story, John R. Hammond analyzes the essential difference between the genres of a novel and a short story in Wells's literary heritage. The scholar states that "to Wells the short story was not a novel in miniature, but a literary experience utterly different in nature and scope" (Hammond 18). The difference lies within the short story's ability to permit "a concentration on a single idea or theme which then remained in the reader's mind to arouse speculation" (Hammond 18). Many of Wells's short stories focus on the theme of change. This curiosity towards the malleability of the human nature can be explained by historical and personal reasons. Wells started writing at the times when great technological and social changes were shaking the very foundations of the Victorian society which to many of his contemporaries had seemed to be carved in stone. "It is difficult ... to imagine the impact this climate of change must have had on Wells's mind" (Hammond 22), writes John R. Hammond, commenting on the metamorphosis as "the leading motif of his [Wells's] fiction" (Hammond 22). Transformation - personal and aesthetic - is at the very heart of the short story "The Pearl of Love."
The pearl is definitely an effective and impressive symbol signifying change and transformation. A pearl, formed as a result of suffering and brought to life by a defect, an irregularity, ideally suits Wells's purpose of exploring a metamorphosis a human being goes through on the way from pain and loss to art and even perfectionism. Already the title and the very first sentence of the short story offer the reader an insight into this subtle and complex symbolism. The title, "The Pearl of Love," somehow misdirects the reader's expectations. It hints at a perfect love story, as a pearl can be seen as an emblem of elegance and perfection, but, in fact, it turns out that the short story has a more complicated central theme. The first sentence is more revealing - it is a kind of a symbolic digest of the whole story: "The pearl is lovelier than the most brilliant of crystalline stones, the moralist declares, because it is made through the suffering of a living creature" (Wells). A pearl is a product of the suffering of a mollusk when a grain of sand, an outsider, an intruder, destroys its usual comfortable routine. The mollusk turns this suffering into a perfect pearl by incessant efforts. Instead of a grain of sand and the suffering the observer will find a masterpiece of beauty, everything else is left behind and forgotten. This is the story of the prince too. The prince is shaken by the death of his lovely wife. Trying to cope with his personal drama, he turns it into a source of inspiration, putting all his efforts, time and money into commemorating his beloved. Yet, as his craft develops and reaches unseen heights, the prince loses sight of the initial purpose that the edifice is supposed to serve. The grain of sand is now completely covered with the beautiful iridescent layers and there is no trace of it left.
The change in the prince occurs as a result of his suffering and his attempts to cope with it in the best manner that he can handle. The youth is going through a very serious metamorphosis which turns him into a man. At the beginning of the short story the prince is just a young man in love with a young woman. More is said about his queen and their love than about the protagonist himself, which is a telling detail in itself:
There was a young prince, lord of all the land; and he found a maiden of indescribable beauty and delightfulness and he made her his queen and laid his heart at her feet. Love was theirs, full of joys and sweetness, full of hope, exquisite, brave and marvellous love, beyond anything you have ever dreamt of love (Wells).
The prince is defined through his affection for his beloved and their mutual feelings. He has developed no personality of his own yet. The prince's unique individuality is ultimately shaped by the life-changing drama he has to live through. The great pain that the prince endures when his beloved dies brings about the crucial change in him: "He was silent and motionless with grief. ... For two days and nights he lay upon his face, fasting, across the foot of the couch which bore her calm and lovely body. Then he arose and ate, and went about very quietly like one who has taken a great resolution" (Wells). The prince does not resort to the usual way of coping with grief that his native culture can offer, he does not "rend his garments nor defile himself with ashes and sackcloth as the custom was" (Wells), because, just like Shakespeare's Hamlet, he is above such common and functional display of grief. "His love was too great for such extravagances" (Wells), writes Wells. He gives himself completely to one purpose and this helps him pull himself together, but also hardens his heart: "For by this time he was no longer the graceful youth who had loved the girl queen. He was now a man, grave and intent, wholly set upon the building of the Pearl of Love" (Wells). This purpose becomes an obsession, a wedge which keeps the prince from falling apart, it also starts to define his personality, just like at the very beginning of the short story it was defined by his immense love for his queen.
The setting perfectly mirrors the change in the prince's character bringing in new semantic nuances. Rich, abundant, splendid nature of India, "which is the most fruitful soil for sublime love stories of all the lands in the world" (Wells), is described at the very beginning of the short story, as "a country of sunshine and lakes and rich forests and hills and fertile valleys; and far away the great mountains hung in the sky, peaks, crests, and ridges of inaccessible and eternal snow" (Wells). This strikingly beautiful landscape is a symbol for the love the two young people share and their marital bliss. The cold and austere mountains are far away yet, in the background. When the prince's beautiful wife dies, he haunts the places which remind him of her, he lingers "by the pools and in the garden-houses and pavilions and groves and in those chambers in the palace where they two had been most together, brooding upon her loveliness" (Wells). While the memory of the queen is still alive, it keeps the prince's emotional landscape rich and inspired. Yet, remembering brings too much suffering, and to be able to carry on living the prince has to become stronger and leave the memories behind. His emotional state is symbolized by the wild and awe-inspiring nature which surrounds the architectural miracle that the prince is building: "A great foundation was hewn out of the living rock in a place whence one seemed to be looking at the snowy wilderness of the great mountain across the valley of the world" (Wells). The prince gradually moves away from the dwellings of men and green luxury of the forests. The cold and majestic mountains become a symbol of the prince's ultimate emotional isolation.
The central symbol of change in the short story is the monument, lying like a pearl in the shell of the narrative - it evolves along with the main character. The initial mission of the mausoleum is to commemorate the love the prince feels for his late wife. The whole description of the building ultimately focuses on its designation and the way people react to it:
A building it should be of perfect grace and beauty, more marvellous than any other building had ever been or could ever be, so that to the end of time it should be a wonder, and men would treasure it and speak of it and desire to see it and come from all the lands of the earth to visit and recall the name and the memory of his queen (Wells).
Thus, at first, in the prince's eyes the edifice is a material embodiment of his devotion and the love he feels for his lost mistress. But as the time passes, the theme of love becomes less and less prominent and the purely aesthetic elaboration is gradually taking over. Yet, the sarcophagus, the symbol of memory, is still in the centre of attention: "At first it was smaller and more wrought and encrusted; there were many pierced screens and delicate clusters of rosy-hued pillars, and the sarcophagus lay like a child that sleeps among flowers" (Wells). Comparison with a sleeping child shows how precious the memory of his wife is for the prince.
The initial architecture of the Pearl of Love with its splendor, richness of colors and shapes matches the natural profusion around and the depth of the prince's affection. But human feeling is not equal to heavenly beauty the prince strives for, it is not grand enough: "The first dome was covered with green tiles, framed and held together by silver, but this was taken away again because it seemed close, because it did not soar grandly enough for the broadening imagination of the prince." (Wells) But, slowly and surely the edifice starts to look like mountains in all their austere glory and grandeur:
His sense of colour had grown finer and colder; he cared no more for the enamelled gold-lined brightness that had pleased him first, the brightness of an illuminated missal; he sought now for blue colourings like the sky and for the subtle hues of great distances, for recondite shadows and sudden broad floods of purple opalescence and for grandeur and space. He wearied altogether of carvings and pictures and inlaid ornamentation and all the little careful work of men (Wells).
The prince does not think of what would reflect the beauty of his beloved or his love for her anymore. His has turned into a real artist in love with his craft: "With every year of effort he had learnt new possibilities in arch and wall and buttress; he had acquired greater power over the material he had to use and he had learnt of a hundred stones and hues and effects that he could never have thought of in the beginning" (Wells). The focus of the building is no longer the sarcophagus, but the striking view upon "the snowy wildernesses of the great mountain, the lord of all mountains, two hundred miles away" (Wells). The effect this building produces upon the spectator has nothing to do with love, devotion or commemoration anymore: "When men saw that austere beauty for the first time they were exalted, and then they shivered and their hearts bowed down" (Wells). The prince has lost sight of what has initially moved him. The memory of his love and the suffering it has brought becomes superfluous. He orders to take that thing, the sarcophagus in which there lay the casket of lead and silver with "the queen, the dear immortal cause of all this beauty" (Wells), away. The prince's endeavor turns into a pure art for ar...
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Essay Example on H.G. Wells's The Pearl of Love: Love, Loss, Devotion & Obsession. (2023, Jan 11). Retrieved from https://proessays.net/essays/essay-example-on-hg-wellss-the-pearl-of-love-love-loss-devotion-and-obsession
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