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67 THE THING THAT IS AND THE SPECULATIVE IF: THE PATTERN OF SEVERAL MOTIFS IN THREE NOVELS BY H. G. WELLS By William J. Scheick (University of Illinois) When he wrote in a letter (February 8, 1902) to Arnold Bennett that "there is something other than either story writing or artistic merit which has emerged through the series of my books, something one might regard as a new system of ideas,"1 H. G. Wells anticipated, In a sense, an essay on the art of the novel which he would write ten years later, the decreasing artistry and increasing didacticism of his later novels, and the primary indictment to be cited against his stature by literary critics. In the essay, "The Contemporary Novel," he explains further that since, in his opinion, the novel is an instrument of moral suggestion and "leaves impressions, not simply of things seen, but of acts judged and made attractive or unattractive," it becomes the "social mediator, the vehicle of understanding, the instrument of self-examination, the parade of morals and the exchange of manners, the factory of customs, the criticism of laws and institutions and of social dogmas and ideas" by means of which "we can discuss the great majority of the problems which are being raised in such bristling multitude by our contemporary social development" (IX, 369, 368, 378, 373).2 To be sure, this didactic view of the novel often clashed with his artistic ability, resulting in a tension of which Wells was quite aware: "It scarcely needs criticism to bring home to me that much of my work has been slovenly, haggard and irritated, most of it hurried and inadequately revised"; "I had very many things to say and ... if I could say one of them In such a way as to get my point over to the reader I did not worry much about finish" (EA, pp. 5, 4·18). The inevitable result of this approach to his work is evidenced In its steadily decreasing dramatic and imaginative presentation of his ideas and its Increasing static and discursive didacticism. Although this declination has been generally regretted by Wells's literary critics, many of them would, in spite of reservations, agree with Arnold Bennett's observation that though Wells "would probably count himself as a preacher first and an artist second . . . his achievements in both fields are astounding and admirable .1^ In regard* to Wells's thought, commentators have justly expended considerable effort; but with the possible exceptions of certain of his earlier romances and, recently, Tjano-Bjingajr, they have, on the whole, either totally disregarded or passed over briefly his artistic achievement. In this essay, therefore, I hope to suggest that in In the Days o_f the Comet (I906), TonoBungay (1909), and The New MachlavelÃ-l' (Ι9ΪΪ), a series of re-" current motifs supports Wells's acknowledgment that he used symbols (EA, pp. 297· ^+l^+) and provides an approach to him as an artist. In dealing with the present condition and possible future of the world, these three novels are partially structured on Wells's mystical concept of the Spirit of Man and on the motifs of man's innate nobility, sense of beauty, creative imagination , and capacity for love - all of which find their genesis In this Spirit and their fulfillment In a creatively directed science. 68 Like most other novelists who write of social problems and their amelioration. Wells concerns himself fundamentally with a contrast between what he apprehends to be the deplorable conditions of his environment and those which he believes should replace them. For Wells this basic dichotomy is partially depicted through conventional and often archetypal imagery; in each of the three novels under consideration, he associates his contemporary world with the demonic Images of darkness, ugliness, fear, disorder, and confusion. Thus, In his depletion of a scene below a ridge (which represents a microcosm of civilization, for we are told that it gives "compendiously a view of our whole world"), William Leadford , the narrator of In the Days of the Comet, relates that "in a crowded darkness, about the ugly factories and work places, the workers herded together, 111 clothed, ill nourished, ill taught, badly and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 67-78
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Will Be Archived 2021
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