Monday, April 26, 2021

H.G. Wells

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The father of modern science fiction, Herbert George Wells, lives a life of poverty and wealth, writing stories (or Bildungsromans) like Tono-Bungay, and relates life questions and experiences to various themes and motifs throughout most of his works. Born into a working class family, Wells struggles to alleviate his family through difficult times after the collapse of his father's business ("Herbert George Wells", Twentieth- Century Literary Criticism, Vol. 1, 418). Wells' first breakthrough came from a conjunction between himself and his mentor; T. H. Huxley based on the theory of evolution. As Wells' developed as an esteemed writer, he published which is now regarded as one of his most insightful works, Tono-Bungay, a novel which served as a relation between his character and expository fiction ("Herbert George Wells", Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism, Vol. 6, 5). Throughout Wells' substantial array of fiction and non-fiction works, the themes and ideas he considers and explores range from life on other planets to man playing God. Wells acquires an interest in literature at the age of seven, after becoming bedridden with a broken leg ("Herbert George Wells", Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism, Vol. 6, 5).

Born in Bromley, a suburb of London, England on September 1, 1866 Herbert George Wells came into the home of Joseph and Sarah Wells as their third son. Wells' father, Joseph Wells, owned a china shop while his mother worked as a lady's maid (Bloom, ed., 167). The first struggle Wells encountered occurred between his two older brothers, Frank and Fred, "My childish relations with my brothers varied between vindictive resentment and…aggression,...I made a terrific fuss if my toys or games were touched…I bit and scratched my brothers and I kicked their shins, because I was a sturdy little boy who had to defend himself." the grown-up Wells recalls (Nardo, 8). While Wells grew, his parents as well as his siblings all ingrained in him British customs, ideas, and values of the Victorian Era, such as the class structure of British society which determined people's worth as humans by how much money they have, job classification, and family lineage (Nardo, 11). This idea explained his family's poverty, yet Wells wondered why his family accepted this concept of social structure, despite their poverty. Wells found it strange that his parents never desired a better way of life as he did. At the age of fourteen, Wells left school to attend to family financial troubles, and for two years held a job as an apprentice to a draper. ("H. G. Wells Background", 1). Though Wells acquired little education, at seventeen, he became an assistant teacher at the Midhurst Grammar School. A year later, Wells gained a scholarship to learn biology at the Normal School of Science in South Kensington London, England, where he found a mentor, T. H. Huxley, who brought Wells' attention to the theory of evolution. (Bloom, ed., 167). Wells graduated in 180 with a B. Sc. ("H. G. Wells Background", 1-). Some years later, Wells marries his cousin, Isabel Mary Wells, but that marriage soon turned sour. Distraught, Wells elopes with a former pupil, Amy Catherine Robbins in 185 (Bloom, ed., 167). The presentation of the ideas of evolution to Wells by Huxley leads Wells to develop works based on a subject very controversial in the Victorian Era.

Wells' introduction to Huxley had a profound effect on his induction to the literary field, "I believed then he was the greatest man I was ever likely to meet,... And I believe that all the more firmly today. The year I spent in Huxley's class was, beyond all question, the most educational year of my life." (Nardo, 1-0). Wells' first novels were motivated by Huxley's ideas of evolution. Since evolution occurs through thousands upon millions of years, Wells ponders what the future could hold for the human race. Wells envisions humans as having huge brains and shrunken bodies, floating in tubs of liquid nutrients under a great crystal dome, and even people adapting to absorb chemicals and sunlight as plants do. With these new and strange ideas running through Wells' mind, he wrote The Man of the Year Million. The minor success of Wells' first story let him know that he had a knack for storytelling. Wells took this as a sign of good fortune and a way to escape his distressing childhood (Nardo, 1). In the midst of the 180's, Wells wrote one of his most successful fiction works called, The Time Machine. Incorporating the ideas of how man might evolve, Wells creates a satire of the English class structure with the Elois, representing the lower class, and the Morlocks, representing upper, mentally and physically superior class ("H. G. Wells", 1). The Morlocks symbolize the evolution of the impoverished, uneducated industrial workers of Great Britain, while the Elois signify the descendants of the rich, well-educated upper classes. (Nardo, ). This social structure in The Time Machine concerns the evolution of man, assists in Wells' criticizing life and society for its intricate difficulties (Magill, ed., 80). Though Wells forte seemed to encompass the science fiction genre, his most insightful novel, Tono-Bungay, demonstrates to the literary society that he can write something more akin to Charles Dickens.

In 10 Wells publishes Tono-Bungay, a novel that holds many parallels with Wells' own life. The plot revolves around a young man named George Ponderevo who ascends from the lower classes of Britain and discovers a healthier life (Nardo, 58). The novel begins by describing George's life, coming from an impoverished family, to obtaining a scholarship to London University. George leaves school in order to assist his uncle, Edward Ponderevo, a chemist. Edward and George develop a medicine which they patent called Tono-Bungay. Edward becomes rich and soon after gets into financial troubles. Edward then goes to trial for fraud and forgery, but before anything can escalate further, George hurries Edward off in a hot air balloon to Southern France, where, before long, he dies. George then goes to back to school where he creates a substantial reputation for himself. The novel ends with George working as an engineer for a shipbuilding company, overseeing the construction of destroyers ("H. G. Wells", Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism, Vol. 6, 540-1). The themes presented in this novel are typical of both Wells and the Victorian style.

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Like many of Wells' other novels, the theme of Tono-Bungay revolves around an individual (George Ponderevo) who battles to establish himself in a world more comfortable for the unquestioning, unadventurous, follower rather than the rebel ("H. G. Wells", Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism, Vol. 6, 546). George battles poverty through his discovery of Tono-Bungay, a medicine that makes him rich beyond his dreams. Since the novel plays out Wells' life, the characters experience the same things Wells experienced. Bernard Bergonzi states

Wells suggests further that the author has no emotional

or logical right to objectivity. Certainly he has no moral

right. For Wells, the author's personal involvement in his

novel is a moral obligation. Once he identifies within the

events of his own life the sources of the social, moral, or

political problems he is to treat, he must realize that they

also exist in his readers. Logically, if the characters, episodes, themes are drawn from life, they must be fixed in structures

which resemble life as closely as it is possible for the written

word to do so. To do otherwise is not to confer life on the work,

but death. Life is loose, formless, unpatterned, filled with irrelevancies, discursive, and lacking completeness.

("H. G. Wells", Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism, Vol. 6, 546).

Bergonzi writes that Wells can not object to these happenings (that take place

In the story) and that for a story to become successful it must reflect reality (unpredictability) to identify with the reader. Another theme depicted in the novel stems from Wells' anthology of science fiction works that concern the advancement of medicine, as seen through "Tono-Bungay", the mysterious, bogus herb that heals the sick. As with The Time Machine, Wells criticizes English society with the financial rise and fall of Edward Ponderevo, as shown with George Ponderevo's amazement with how society allows his uncle, Edward, to wield so much power because of his vast riches ("Tono-Bungay", 1). Like with many authors, Wells' themes venture deep into the human psyche.

The many themes and motifs throughout the works of H. G. Wells emerge from many of life's age old questions, while others transpire from Wells' imagination and with warnings of things to come. An example of life's age-old questions materializes in The War of the Worlds, which bears the question Are there other life forms besides men in the universe? The answer is, yes. Martians, as Wells calls them, come from Mars and intend on conquering Earth. Just as the Martians finish reducing the human race to but a few, the Martians reveal a vulnerability, bacteria. The common cold seems to kill the remaining Martians left on Earth and humanity triumphs ("Herbert George Wells", Twentieth- Century Literary Criticism, Vol. 1, 4-4). In The Invisible Man, Wells explores the dangers of scientific experimentation. Dr. Griffin makes himself invisible and goes insane, killing anyone he wants. Wells shows the reader what could go incredibility wrong with a risky scientific experiment ("H. G. Wells Programme Outline", ). Another theme deals with man playing God in, The Island of Dr. Moreau. A scientist, Dr. Moreau sets about creating the ultimate human- creature hybrid. Once again, Wells begs a question Is it ok for man to play God? This question serves as a warning to man not to play with nature. Another theme circulated in the novel deals with respect. Dr. Moreau forces respect from the human- creature hybrids through fear, while Kate, the leader of the human- creature hybrids earns her respect through admiration and love for the her fellow creatures. Another example of respect becomes apparent from the beginning of the novel, the lack of respect for life. Dr. Moreau experiments on innocent animals without regard for pain he causes, which leads to his eventual downfall ("Discussion The Island of Dr. Moreau", ). Herbert George Wells leads a revolution toward writing, not only in terms of content, but in the use of his creativity.

In short, Herbert George Wells experienced a life of poverty and wealth, published the critically acclaimed book, Tono-Bungay, and journeyed deep within himself and pose questions about life on other planets and man playing God. Even as a young lad, Wells worked hard to sustain his family as well as himself. His works like The Man of the Year Million and The Time Machine make him a pioneer for the Victorian Era and make the reader use their imagination to think about the future. Tono-Bungay, shows Wells' boldness in his satirical portrayal of societies ills with his past as the plot. Through many of his books, such as War of the Worlds and The Island of Dr. Moreau, Wells invites the reader to ask questions about the direction of society, to tell the reader more about themselves, and imposes that the future lays in the hands of the people. All in all, Herbert George Wells captivates the mind with his futuristic ideas of science and makes the reader What if?

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