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The Ethos of Business in H.G. Wells� Novel The Wife of Sir Isaac Harman (1914).

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article

Published
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>01/2007
<mark>Journal</mark>Journal of Management History
Issue number1
Volume13
Number of pages12
Pages (from-to)21-32
Publication statusPublished
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

This conceptual paper investigates H.G. Wells� 1914 novel as an �essay� illustrating aspects in the formation of the ethos of business and management in early 20th century capitalism. Approaching the novel as a piece of cultural history, we analyze its characters and themes, as well as its form (tragic) and style (ironic), to investigate fundamental ethical aspects of business as a personal occupation, as a form of organization, and as an element of modern social order. We show how personal lives and the institutionalization of business concerns are entangled and inseparable in everyday human action. The novel�s value lies in its ability to bring the �ethical� to the fore in its �untidy�, confusing complexity. H.G. Wells explores, in rich tragic form, the relationships between the pursuit of profit, family life, and social integration. This problematic is not simply of historical interest. Rather, it has become intensified and more acute over the last century. However, most texts in the subfield of �business ethics� tend to �hide� the complicated entanglement of ethics, history and culture behind a simplistic search for transcendental, ahistorical frameworks. : The novel (one amongst countless examples) stimulates reflection upon the purposes of �businesses� (as institutions) and of �business people�. It is a new source for historical understanding of key aspects of business ethics by relating domestic life, entrepreneurial behavior, and social responsibility at the beginning of the 20th century. This approach can thus be useful both for research and pedagogy.