- Reviewed by
This was a good book when it first appeared in 1967, and it is a good book now. Then as now it managed, within the constraints of the Twayne series, concise biography, helpful summary of texts, and intelligent criticism. In 1967, Costa was bold in asserting the uniformity of Wells's career, demonstrating that the so-called pessimism of the early science fantasies was consistent not only with the gloomy last works but also with the balanced but basically hopeful publications [End Page 805] that earned Wells the label of utopianist.
The revised version of H. G. Wells remains a sound introduction to Wells's writings, though some faults should have been corrected. The artilleryman in The War of the Worlds is "courageous" only in his words; in fact, he is an obvious remnant of the selfish society being extinguished. Artie Kipps does not marry Helen Walsingham but is only engaged to her. And in The Island of Dr. Morceau, Prendick, an admitted amateur, can scarcely be referred to as a "creative man of science."
The main changes in this revised edition are a substantial discussion of Wells and feminism, a treatment of Wells and the art of the novel, and a survey of recent critical approaches, especially to Wells's science fiction. There are some minor adjustments as well. Costa has dropped out-of-fashion references (to Romain Rolland's Jean Christophe, for example) and added comparisons of Wells's work to more prominent novels such as Middlemarch and The French Lieutenant's Woman. The treatment of Wells's sexual adventures is also more elaborate, though Costa's book appeared too soon to take advantage of Wells's recently published autobiographical supplement specifically dealing with his numerous affairs.
Costa is generally up-to-date on the abundant literary criticism that has appeared since 1967, though he does not seem to have been much affected by it in his readings of Wells's books; the summaries of them remain essentially unchanged, with here and there a reassessment—for example, his favorable evaluation of The Passionate Friends. To me, the slight mention of Frank McConnell's work undervalues one of the best critical assessments of Wells's science fiction in recent years. It may not have been the wisest decision to publish a revised study of Wells in 1985, just before the outpouring of new work designed to coincide with the 1986 centennial of Wells's birth. Much new critical material is appearing now, and a new biography is scheduled for publication within a year. This means that Costa's book may quickly seem outmoded. Nonetheless, the book will remain what it was in 1967—a sane, valuable introduction to Wells.