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89 H.G. WßLLS'3 TONO-BUNGAY REVIEW OF NEW STUDIES1 By Richard Hauer Costa (Purdue University) In his deservedly famous essay, "Technique As Discovery," Mark Schorer declares that art will not tolerate the writer who eschews technical refinements to accommodate the private novellstlc materials of autobiography, social Ideas, personal passions. That art reverses Gresham's Law—good driving out bad—is proved, for Schorer, by the case of H.G. Wells, "whose enormous literary energy Included no respect for the techniques of his medium" (p. 378). Schorer follows with a brief but savage reductlo of Tono-Bungay, which Is generally believed Wells's best novel. He finds that Wells's high hopes for a galvanic fictional chronicle of the Intellectual and moral history of England at the close of the 19th Century were betrayed by his failure to meet the demands of craftsmanship. Schorer places what he considers an 111 (or, at least, Inadequately) conceived novel like Tono-Bungay at the opposite pole from A Portrait of the Artist, which is also autobiographical but which, unTlEë" the Wells novel, "analyzes Its material rigorously [defining] the value and the quality of Its experience not by appended comment or moral epithet, but by the texture of the style" (p. 382). All this—everything In the essay—is extraordinarily well said. Schorer makes an undeniable case for technique as the only means a writer has "of discovering, exploring, developing his subject, of conveying Its meaning, and, finally, of evaluating It" (p. 375). This synthesis moves Schorer--and rightly so—to an elevation of the Joyce of Portrait and Ulysses as the Instance nonpareil of technique as discovery, but leads him also—and wrongly, I believe— to a dismissal of the Wells of Tono-Bungay as the phlllstlne advocate of tools better suited to the polemicist. By a kind of negative capability, the essay has thrust Schorer to the forefront of prevalent critical opinion which for more than a generation has discounted Wells; has taken to heart Wells's last words to Henry James about his preference for being Journalist over artist;2 and has remembered only the Image presented by the last half of a career almost as long as Shaw's in which, as Schorer says, he escaped "from literature Into the annals of an era" (p. 378). This Is not the place to examine the evidence that the Wells who wrote Tono-Bungay for publication In the maiden issue of Ford Madox Ford's the Sngllsh Review In 1908 was in the midst of a fifteen-year production which has been ranked by George Orwell as among the richest of the Edwardian period. The hollow fecundity of his later years cannot dispel the truth that throughout the decade 90 which ended with the book publication of Tono-Bungay and The History of Mr. Polly, H.G. Wells was wrestling with the dilemma implicit In his testamental First and Last Things (1908): the Intellect of the man trained In science versus the Intuition of the man fitted by nature to be an artist. When, In 1922, Wells prepared special prefaces for the Atlantic Edition of his works, he acknowledged that, with one exception, "It Is far truer to call [my books] Journalism than Art."3 That exception was the novel he finally titled Tono-Bungay. Critiques like Schorer's appear to assume that Wells exercised no more care on Tono-Bungay than he did on later novels in which the teaching-preaching mission Is pervasive. However, when a novelist as little given to aesthetic claims can say that he Intended Tono-Bungay to be a full-length novel "on Dickens-Thackeray lines,"*'' It Is clear that he held high artistic hopes for it. He records that the book occupied him fulltlme for nearly three years, a one-book effort unmatched In his career.* The novel was well received when It appeared In book form In February, 1909; Ford Madox Ford and D ,H. Lawrence were notable among many who termed It a great book.6 Although almoet never out of print in nearly sixty years (Houghton Mifflin's Riverside Edition, 1966, now joins the Signet Classics Edition, I960, with an...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 89-96
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
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