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THE STRUCTURE OF H. G. WELLS'S TONO-BUNGAY Kenneth B. Newel 1 Near the beginning of TONO-BUMGAY, George Ponderevo—H. G. Wells's hero and personapromises that the rest of the book will be only a comprehensive agglomeration." Apparently he fulfills this promise. V.'ritten in the first person, the entire book is nothing less than the complete story, with long reflective analyses, of George's disorganized life, The chronological order of the story may, of course, be considered a device of structure; but then any fictional biography contains some semblance of chronology almost inherently. In other respects, the novel seems to lack a definitive organization= However, several ideas recurrent throughout the novel do appear related to one another. As ideas, expressed either metaphorically or abstractly, they do not obtrude as "structure." Yet they act as "structure" nonetheless. One of these metaphorical ideas is the flight of a skyrocket; another is the life cycle of an organism. Each metaphor parallels a third idea—the transformation of reality into illusion—and all three manifest the over-all and unifying idea of Change. The rise of a skyrocket becomes a fall; the growth of an organism becomes a decay; reality becomes illusion; and each process evidences Change. The structure of ΤΟΕ Ο-BUNGAY, then, is based on the idea of Change and its several manifestations. The first metaphor applicable to the entire novel is the flight of a skyrocket. To it George specifically compares his uncle Edward's career (a "comet-like transit of the financial heavens") and his own subsidiary one. Being the story of those careers, the novel is the story of that flight—of the rocket-like rise to a zenith and the subsequent fall to ruin: "Astraddle on Tono-Bungay," Uncle Edward "flashed athwart the empty heavens—like a comet—rather, like a stupendous rocketl—and overawed investors spoke of his star. At his zenith he burst into a cloud of the most magnificent promotions.... I was hanging on to his coat-tails all the way through.... I was ... the stick of his rocket; and after our tremendous soar, after he had played with millions, a golden rain in the sky, after my bird's-eye view of the modern world, I fell again" (l.i.l). In another passage, instead of the two businessmen, their business is compared to a skyrocket, "a thing on the go—a Real Live Thingi" Uncle Edward makes "alluring expanding circles in the air with his hand" in order to suggest their expanding the business, making it climb to zenith, "Wooshing it upl Making it buzz and spin" (ll.ii.l). The flight metaphor often becomes literal, for George constructs and flies experimental aircraft and navigable balloons. His flying represents a figurative "soaring" in his own spiritual life--a soaring above the mean commercial dealings of his business career into aeronautical experimentation. To him, the experiments constitute the one real and redeeming grace in an otherwise wasted life. But actual flying is financially made possible by the mean commercial dealings, and so the growth and subsequent decline of his experiments are inescapably but the results of the rise and fall of the business venture. Moreover, his flying brings him—literally and figurât!veiy--to the zenith of his unspiritual career as a financier: "It was more, you know, than a figurative soar. The zenith of that career was surely our flight across the channel" (l.i.l) in a balloon, in order to help Uncle Edward escape prosecution for embezzlement. One over-all idea in the novel, therefore, is a sequence of rise, zenith, and fall. As the flight of a figurative skyrocket, the sequence represents variously the business venture of George and his uncle, the scientific experiments and actual flying which that business venture makes possible (and, in the end, compels them to use for escape), and the spiritual well-being which George derives from the search for aerodynamic truths. Moreover, the very novel itself is a "skyrocket," for its sequence also is one of rise, zenith, and fall: The second, third, and last books are entitled respectively "The Rise...," The Great Days...," and "The Aftermath of Tono-ßungay." The...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 1-8
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Will Be Archived 2021
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