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H. G. Wells: Problems of an Amorous Utopian By John Huntington University of Illinois at Chicago H. G. Wells is probably the most significant Utopian voice of the twentieth century. From 1901, with Anticipations, to almost the very end of his life, he worked to promote education, science, socialism, the world state, the Declaration of Human Rights, and the open conspiracy of rational and well-intentioned people. And it is the utopianism at the heart of his project that has occasioned some of the most severe criticism of Wells. F. R. Leavis speaks to a broad audience when he uses "Wellsian" as an adjective denoting all that is shallow in scientific culture; for Leavis it is sufficient to call C. P. Snow "Wellsian" to show that he is not a novelist.1 George Orwell, in "Wells, Hitler, and the World State" (1941), while acknowledging the importance of Wells's liberating intellect early in the century, could denounce his "onesided imagination" which could treat history simply as "a series of victories won by the scientific man over the romantic man." "Wells," Orwell declares, "is too sane to understand the modern world."2 For such critics, and they are common, the terms "Wellsian" and "utopian" are synonymous with a thin hyperrationality . An admirer of Wells has difficulty responding to such criticisms because Wells himself declared that such rationality was the necessary and only salvation of the world. Yet, if Wells is proud of his rationality, we would not be denigrating him or his work if we observed that he is not as purely rational as he believes he is. On the contrary, Wells's work shows signs of a difficult struggle with a deeply selfish and irrational component of himself, and it is for that struggle, rather than for the neat conclusions he champions, that Wells's Utopian work may be of greatest interest. To put it somewhat differently , Wells is greater than he himself understood, not because he achieved a pure rationality, but on the contrary, because he describes for us, if we can learn how to read him in this regard, a deep conflict between an ideal rationality and a much less admired, though not therefore contemptible, emotionality which, however much he will try to smother it, will not be quiet. Such a reading of Wells, while it clearly opens up dimensions of his understanding that he tried to repress, is not entirely antithetical to Wells's own consciousness. In the meditation on Machiavelli which begins The New Machiavelli , for instance, he advocates just such a reading of the author of The Prince. Wells appreciates the human, even disreputable qualities revealed in Machiavelli's letters. For Wells, "these flaws complete him."3 411 Huntington: Problems of an Amorous Utopian I Let us begin with the ideal that so offends many humanist critics. Toward the end of A Modern Utopia what Wells calls the "Voice" urges clear and bold will and imagination. The new things will be indeed of the substance of the thing that is, but differing just in the measure of the will and imagination that goes to make them. They will be strong and fair as the will is sturdy and organised and the imagination comprehensive and bold; they will be ugly and smeared with wretchedness as the will is fluctuating and the imagination timid and mean.4 This is a voice that Wells in 1905 had already practiced for a number of years and which he would continue to perfect for many more. It speaks in bold adjectives of a comfortable, efficient, tolerant, and undemanding world with understood rules. And controlling this world would be the Samurai, who would, in the slightly ironic vision of Marjorie Trafford in Marriage, lead lives of hard discipline and high effort, under self-imposed rule and restraint. They were to stand a little apart from the excitements and temptations of everyday life, to eat sparingly, drink water, resort greatly to self-criticism and self-examination , and harden their spirits by severe and dangerous exercises .5 Our reading of such passages may be affected when we consider that throughout the period when Wells was publicly developing the idea of his harmonious Utopia...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 411-422
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
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