Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to investigate the way in which H.G. Wells' 1914 novel The Wife of Sir Isaac Harman might be interpreted as an “essay” illustrating some key aspects in the articulation of the ethos of business and management in the cultural context of early twentieth century capitalism. Design/methodology/approach – Approaching the novel as a piece of cultural history, the paper analyzes its characters and themes, as well as its form and style, to investigate fundamental ethical aspects of business as an occupation and form of organization. The novel (one amongst countless examples in the last century) stimulates reflection upon the purposes of “businesses” (as institutions) and of “business people”. Findings – H.G. Wells explores, in the rich form of a tragic novel, the relationship between the pursuit of profit, family life, and social integration. This problematic is not simply of historical interest. It has become intensified over the last century, yet is poorly represented in recent texts of “business ethics” which “hide” its complexity behind a search for simplistic, transcendental frameworks. Originality/value – This is a new source for a wide historical contextualization of key aspects of business ethics by relating domestic life, entrepreneurial behavior, and social responsibility at the beginning of the twentieth century.
Journal of Management History – Emerald Publishing
Published: Jan 16, 2007
Keywords: Business ethics; Literature; History; Entrepreneurs; Corporate social responsibility