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That Wells is "under revision" will scarcely be surprising to cognoscenti: as novelist, journalist, prophet, scientist, sage, Wells restlessly revised his writerly identity. The essays in this useful collection explore whether Wells is best approached as a novelist who sold his talent for a "pot of message" or as a startlingly prophetic visionary and Utopianist. Brian Aldiss's witty opening essay traces the controversy to influential studies by Bernard Bergonzi and W. Warren Wagar, respectively. Although Aldiss prefers Wells the novelist, Wagar passionately defends Wells as prophet of the World State. But even his praise is muted by a recognition of Wells's "naive Victorian scientism." [End Page 600]
The section entitled "Wells and the Novel" will be the most rewarding to MFS readers. Bonnie Kime Scott insightfully analyzes Wells's feminism, which she finds shallow but still worthy of discussion for its treatment of marriage and gender relations; Christie Davies investigates Wells's satires of lower-middle class labor (Kipps, Mr. Polly). J. R. Hammond strives to make the case that Wells was really an experimental modernist, that his novels are pessimistic, self-conscious, and open-ended in the best modernist sense. Hammond's argument, although provocative, remains unconvincing (Wells is far less pessimistic than, say, Conrad), although (or perhaps because) he employs conventional definitions of modernism. But in accepting the distinction between Wells's "scientific romances" and his "novels," Hammond inadvertently shows both why Wells's reputation declined and why it is being rehabilitated: although only recently deemed to merit scholarly study, those romances constitute virtually a new genre and are thus in many ways as revolutionary and as significant as other modernist experiments.
The rest of the volume examines Wells as scientist and prophet. Leon Stover explores Wells's relationship with T. H. Huxley, persuasively showing that Wells departed significantly from his mentor's position toward Darwinism. Two other essays—John Huntington's excellent analysis of the contradiction between Wells's rationalist Utopianism and his amorous affairs, and Krishan Kumar's ambitious essay on Wells and sociology—highlight these sections. Kumar takes Wells's 1906 lecture as a starting point for a critique of contemporary sociology, finding in Wells's advocacy of historical narrative and Utopianism a model for current trends in the field. Finally, Robert Crossley demonstrates Wells's profound effect on popular notions of science and history in his fine treatment of Wells's relationship with "common readers."
Inconsistency and redundancy can be problems in conference collections, and this volume does not entirely escape them: Cliona Murphy's piece virtually duplicates Scott's conclusions, and the section on "Wells and Science" is weaker than the others, containing John R. Reed's rather murky account of law in Dr. Moreau and two other dispensable essays. Still, the volume contains much to engage both knowledgeable and novice Wells scholars: the former will be stimulated to return to the primary texts and perhaps revise their interpretations again; the latter will discover both a writer whose enormous, varied oeuvre is worthy of their continued study and a helpful introduction to Wells criticism. [End Page 601]