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61 H. G, WELLS AND THE WORLD STATE. By W. Warren Wagar. New Haven: Yale U P, 1961. $6.00. Not since Van Wyck Brooks wrote THE WORLD OF H. G. WELLS in 1915 has there been a book-length study of Wells' thought as comprehensive, scholarly, and readable as W. Warren Wagar's H. G„ WELLS AIiD THE WORLD STATE- Fortunately, the title of Mr. Wagar's book is inaccurate» Wells himself disapproved of the term "world state," as Mr. Wagar points out in a footnote; in addition, the book is more comprehensive than its title indicates, Mr. Wagar begins his discussion of Wells' thought with a short biographical account of his prophetic career, followed by an exposition of his diagnosis of the twentieth century world crisis, In one of the most useful chapters in the book, he writes a detailed exposition of Wells' fundamental assumptions about nature, man, knowledge, government, and religion. After analyzing the ideas on which V/ells' social philosophy was based, he shows how they functioned together in his program for the new world order which V/ells hoped would be brought about through an "Open Conspiracy." Finally, he appraises Wells' successes and failures as a prophet. Unlike many studies of V/ells1 thought, this one makes relatively little use of his fiction. Mr. Wagar proceeds under the commonsense assumption that a man's thoughts will emerge most clearly in his pamphlets, textbooks, manifestoes, and other equally forthright pronouncements rather than in his imaginative work. The soundness of Mr. Wagar's book testifies to the general utility of this assumption. However, as one reads this anatomy of Well's thought, the bumptious, impatient, fractious Wells that emerges so vividly from his fiction is only dimly perceived. It is as if Mr. Wagar were re-telling the story of TONO-BUNGAY with Uncle Teddy omitted—or at most reduced to a minor role. Thus Mr. Wagar attributes Wells' failure to exert a deeper and more lasting influence to his "unwillingness or inability to concentrate his energies on a conspicuously direct and systematic appeal to elite groups who would, ultimately, have to manage a Wellsian world revolution," But is this an explanation? One wonders why he was unwilling or unable to make such an appeal, and this reviewer would contend that V/ells has given us a generous supply of clues in his science fantasies and novels. Wasn't Wells—like the Time Traveller, Hoopdriver, Kipps, Mr. PoMy, and Uncle Teddy—driven, above all, by a powerful urge to escape the entangling limitations of his environment? The fact that the urge to escape and the almost hysterical exhilaration with which the Wellsian hero hurtles over the bounds of of his environment are invariably rendered with greater authority and emotional force than Wells' vision of the new world toward which the hero struggles suggests that Wells was more deeply moved by the prospect of escape than by the outlines of an ideal society. One could also argue that V/ells' limitations as an artist parallel his limitations as a prophet: his fiction, like his prophetic visions, is enlivened with numerous vivid details which too often have not been fused into a coherent, orderly structure. But if Mr. Wagar has slighted the fiction, he has taken an uncommonly perceptive look at V/ells' tracts, treatises, and utopias. Wells' growing concern with the 62 need for a world order is fully documented from its appearance in his earliest work through its powerful upsurg after 1914. The discussion of THE OUTLINE OF HISTORY is admirably thorough and effectively related to its author's ruling passion for the demolition of the present nationalistic world order. From A MODERN UTOPIA (1905) to WORLD BRAIN (1938) Wells' vision of the future was governed, according to Mr, Wagner, by the notion of a slowly evolving creature that would be higher than man» As V/ells put it in A MODERN UTOPIA: Ever and again..,come glimpses of a comprehensive scheme... the scheme of a synthetic wider being, the great State, mankind, in which we all move and go, like blood corpuscles, like nerve cells, it may be at times like brain cells, in the body...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 61-62
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Archived
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