Review: ‘The Jilting of Jane’ by H. G. Wells

‘The Jilting of Jane’ is a short story by H. G. Wells (1866-1946). It’s included in his Complete Short Stories, although according to the Wells scholar J. R. Hammond, its publishing history is somewhat sketchy: he tells us it was ‘first published circa 1894’, although where it appeared has apparently been lost in the mists of time.

To summarise the story briefly: ‘The Jilting of Jane’ is about a maid-servant, Jane, who is in service to the narrator and his wife, Euphemia, whom the narrator considers to be too familiar with their servants.

Jane is courted by William, a young man who is somewhat above Jane in the social order. He is promoted to head porter at the hotel where he works, and is soon seen wearing a silk hat and new white cotton gloves.

Jane, who has always worried William was out of her social league, bumps into William one day when he is with another woman, a milliner (that explains his new silk hat) and her mother. There’s a public scene, which involves Jane trying to claim that William is her ‘inalienable property’, while William is bundled into a cab and the three of them get away from Jane.

When the day of William’s wedding arrives, Jane, who has been busy aggressively polishing shoes, asks for permission to go and see the happy couple. Euphemia grants her permission, although she is worried about what Jane plans to do. When Jane returns later that day, she proudly tells Euphemia that she threw a boot at William’s bride, but the missile missed and hit William instead, causing the boys at the wedding to burst into laughter.

‘The Jilting of Jane’ ends with the narrator reflecting on how Jane had come to realise William was of too high a station for her. He also hints that Jane has become involved with a new beau, the butcher’s boy.

‘The Jilting of Jane’ is one of H. G. Wells’s tales about class divisions. Much of Wells’s ‘mainstream’ fiction (that is, the novels he wrote that weren’t scientific romances) is concerned with social climbers, especially lower-middle-class men, draper’s assistants and so on, who are trying to improve their lot and woo a woman above their station.

Of course, ‘The Jilting of Jane’ contains this trope, but the story, in being told from Jane’s perspective, throws the light on what happens to the poor (in both senses of that word) woman who is cast aside when the upwardly mobile man finds a more ‘suitable’ bride and trades in his current fiancée for the newer model.

Nevertheless, one can’t escape the fact that this is a trivial story, and if it didn’t exist, or was left out of the Complete Short Stories (which contains ‘The Jilting of Jane’ but omits, for example, the much more noteworthy and interesting ‘The Queer Story of Brownlow’s Newspaper’), one wouldn’t miss it.


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