Tony Grist (poliphilo) wrote,
Tony Grist

H.G. Wells- An Overview

Wells was an artist who got tired of his art. It happens. I can think of many other examples- with Shakespeare and Tolstoy leading the field. Art is time consuming and difficult and involves digging deep- and to what end? Wells was always primarily interested in ideas and once his art had gained him a platform he eased up and used his story-telling skills as a vehicle for preaching and teaching.  Most of the later novels (there may be exceptions- I haven't read everything) feel like they've been skimped.

Novels that are works of art cherish ambiguity and invite interpretation. They are complex,  they have multiple (even contradictory) meanings . They contain characters with something of the complexity of real human beings and/or wonderfully imagined grotesques. In Wells's later novels the characters tend to be types- and only types. I say "tend" because there are exceptions. Rud Whitlow, the hero/villain of The Holy Terror is a tremendous creation- surrounded by cardboard cut-outs. 

I suppose I should now say, "what a shame", but I don't really feel it. Wells later books are sufficiently entertaining. They do what he wanted them to do- which is dramatise the ideas that were important to him. And how much more have we the right to expect?  In his most productive decades, from roughly 1895 to 1915, Wells produced at least ten novels that deserve to be called masterpieces.  This collection includes (of course) the SF stories on which his current reputation rests, but also brilliant social comedies like Kipps and The History of Mr Polly and landmark state-of-the-nation novels like Tono-Bungay and the (woefully neglected) Wife of Sir Isaac Harman. Ten is more than E.M Forster- another great novelist who got tired of his art- ever managed.  Maybe those ten- or is it eleven or twelve?- exhausted him. When you've written a truly great novel do you really need to go on repeating the trick? The worst thing about the merely adequate fictions of the later decades is that they obscure the greatness of the work that went before. 

  • Outside Jobs

    The sun came out yesterday. So I... Swept the garage, swept up the leaves that had accumulated and turned sodden in various nooks and…

  • The Days Of Our Years...

    A big party had been mooted for my 70th. It would probably have involved everyone dressing up as pirates. But then the pandemic happened. There…

  • Entering The 8th Decade

    When I was young I used to picture myself at 70 as a tweedy old scholar with leather patches on my elbows. But nobody wears leather patches any…

  • Post a new comment


    default userpic

    Your reply will be screened

    When you submit the form an invisible reCAPTCHA check will be performed.
    You must follow the Privacy Policy and Google Terms of use.