Looking At TONGOBUNGAY What Is

Looking At TONGO-BUNGAY What Is “the Condition Of England” In Wells’ Opinion And Does He See Any Hop Essay, Research Paper

H.G.Wells was a prolific writer throughout almost five decades spanning a period stretching from the last few years of the nineteenth century right up until his death in 1946. Throughout this time he produced work in a variety of different genres, the main ones being short stories such as Twelve Short Stories and a Dream, science fiction romances, such as The Time Machine and The Island of Dr.Moreau, and longer novels such as Tono-Bunqay. His writing was a major departure from the traditional styles of the day, and in many ways was very different from even that of his contemporaries in modernist circles such as D.H.Lawrence and Henry James with whom he disputed frequently over the purpose of the novel and its writer. They condemned his artless usage of language and his preoccupation with content at the expense of style. However, he is reputed to have asserted in answer to their criticism that he was “a journalist rather than an artist” and that “the business of the novelist is facts” rather than art as the aforementioned writers tended to propose. The facts that Wells wished to report in his work undoubtedly sprung from the exciting age he was living in. At the turn of the century England was in a period of great change. One hundred years of peace with Europe and an ever expanding Empire of over thirteen million square miles and four hundred million people meant that the country was enjoying an unprecedented sense of security coupled with booming trade due to a constant source of raw materials and an expanding market for British manufactured goods. Queen Victoria’s reign had meant a long period of social stability with its own intrinsic set of moral and behavioural expectations. This seemingly happy and prosperous set of circumstances created something of a context for idealism and future hopes of a more equable, rational society in which better administration, educational progress and scientific and technological advances would play a part. It was hoped by many that improved rights and standards of living for everyone could be achieved through socialism and universal suffrage. There was a ‘feeling of continuity’(Collected Essays) according to George Orwell, which was further reinforced by the then thriving institutions of the Church, the Monarchy and the State. However, in contrast to this, the recent death of Queen Victoria had already begun to have an effect upon the consciousness of the nation, and combined with the revolutionary claims of Darwin’s evolutionary theory which fundamentally challenged Christian beliefs and the humiliation of the British Army in the Boer War in 1899 which called into question the military security of the Empire, had begun to sow the seeds of the uncertainty and change that was to spread rapidly in the ensuing decades. The expansionist aims of the German Kaiser were also becoming more and more obvious and brought the threat of war back onto the agenda. The security of the Victorian Age was looking more and more fragile as the years passed. A country that struggled to defend its Empire from new threats would inevitably lose it and a great deal of prestige into the bargain, as had already been witnessed in the Boer War. Indeed, Beatrice’s aunt in Tono-Bungay who is frequently described as ’shocked’, ‘disapproving’ and even more tellingly as ‘Victorian’ in her attitude towards the behaviour of the younger people can be seen as representative of the ‘ancients’ who are in conflict with the ‘moderns’ of the day, feeling especially challenged by technology. Importantly, despite her attempts to control Beatrice, and her quotations from the Bible such as “Upon his belly shall he go…all the days of his life”(III,i,226) in horror at George’s attempts to fly, she is presented as being completely powerless; Beatrice makes faces at her admonitions and commands, she has lost all the power of her forerunners, the matriarchal figures of Bladesover. It was then, a time when every rule and standard was being challenged. It is this change in the power structure and the expectations of society that Wells wishes to report, but not for its own sake. He is most concerned with what is replacing it and what this new society will become. Throughout his work there is a conflict between the radical optimism of his mind that can be seen in such work as A Modern Utopia and The Shape of Thinqs to Come with their portrayals of an egalitarian, fairer society and an underlying imaginative pessimism that pervades such novels as The Island of Dr.Moreau and The Time Machine with their visions of a breakdown of human culture and imminent self-destruction. In Tono-Bunqay we meet George as a young boy, being brought up by his mother who is housekeeper at Bladesover, a country house which is in decline. It is a thinly-veiled allegory of England, in fact George goes on to say that it was his ‘clue’ to the country. He says that: ~In that English countryside of my boyhood every human being had a “place.” It belonged to you from your birth like the colour of your eyes, it was inextricably your destiny. Above you were your betters, below you were your inferiors, and there were even an unstable few, cases so disputable that you might, for the rough purposes of every day at least, regard them as your equals. Head and centre of our system was Lady Drew, her “leddyship,” shrivelled, garrulous, with a wonderful memory for geneaologies and very, very old….” (I,i,16) Even here,however, Lady Drew is described as being shrivelled and old, she is nearing the end of her reign and Bladesover House is now just “…a shell that had once been gaily full of fops, fine ladies in powder and patches and courtly gentlemen with swords….” (I,i,16) George realises that Bladesover may not be all it appears. He challenges the system in his childhood games with the son and daughter of a viscount, and physically attacks the son when he proclaims that George cannot be a “gentleman.” Even the future ownership of Bladesover is in doubt; Lady Drew is childless and there are ~innumerable~ candidates for the “ultimate possession of Bladesover.” George’s victory over his upper class playmate is a taste of things to come. Archie does not know how to fight ‘dirty’ as George does, as a product of his upbringing; he knows only the ‘proper’ manner in which to box and although he is good at this he ultimately loses the fight. It is clear, then, that the old order that he and Bladesover represent is dying. Wells sees this as no bad thing; after all it is a power structure based on inequality and disenfranchisement of rights and property. However, as was mentioned before, it is what is replacing it that concerns Wells. He sees an opportunity with the passing of the old order for the implementation of a more just, desirable society of the kind he portrays in A Modern Utopia for example, but fears that thisChance will be wasted and that an even worse state of affairs will ensue. In Tono-Bunqay we see his dislike of the new capitalist society that is gaining an ever stronger hold of the country. George says ~’It is all one spectacle of forces running to waste, of people who use and do not replace, the story of a country hectic with a wasting, aimless fever of trade and money making and pleasure seeking.1′ (IV,iii,l) It is a society based on false promises, which are typified in the marketing claims Edward Ponderevo makes for Tono-Bungay. It is a society built on shaky, dishonest foundations like Crest Hill. Everything about it is a deception. The financing of Teddy Ponderevo’s business empire is a sham based on confidence trickery and his success is based upon making people believe that his patented “medicine” can do things for them that it categorically cannot. It is worse than useless, it is addictive and it may even cause harm. The fact that it is a medicine “to cure all ills” is also significant; it is frequently suggested that illness, rot and decay are spreading throughout society, and modern capitalism cannot cure them any more than Tono-Bungay can cure baldness. The protagonists of a utilitarian, economically based society are as guilty of deceiving the public as Ponderevo. Growth has become decay and not only in the financial sphere; George proclaims that his uncle’s financial dealings are only slightly more impudent bluffs than the banks’ claims to a reserve or a policeman controlling a crowd. They are based on manipulating people’s trust, as Ponderevo himself admits: “We mint Faith George.”(III,iii,174) George states that his uncle’s business affairs were “…all a monstrous payment for courageous fiction, a gratuity in return for the one reality of human life-illusion.” (III,iii,174) Everything is false, an illusion; people and objects are claiming to be something they are not throughout the novel. We meet Marion who wishes people to think she is an art student when indeed she is not, and who tries to make her parents home (unsuccessfully) into a grander, more ‘respectable’ place than it is. She has trained them only to speak when she allows it in order to try to make them appear more ‘cultured~than they are. The fact that they are frightened of her is yet another role reversal; as parents they ought to engender respect and at least have some authority over her. Even her name gives us a clue to her nature; the similarity between Marion and marionette may be no accident. Her whole life is a sham; she acts out the motions of a wedding and a marriage with George, but never questions or thinks, and most importantly she is devoid of any real emotion or passion of any kind until George has an affair and leaves her. She appears to be little more than a puppet going through the motions of a false existence. Only material things seem to matter to her; she is desperate to have a big, showy wedding and a large house in Ealing and she will not marry George until he can provide these. She abhors sex and is not interested in intimacy; she even wears her old clothes around the home despite the fact that they are in no financial difficulties so that she can preserve her better ones for the all-important outside world. She takes no care of her appearance within the home because only outward appearances matter to her. Wells sees this within a society which is becoming more and more materialistic at the expense of the spiritual and the mind. Not surprisingly, George and Marion’s marriage fails and only when it is too late does she realises how much she regrets it. In her desire for all things material that demonstrate wealth and ‘respectability’ she is guilty, along with Ponderevo and even the servants at Bladesover of aping the upper-classes. Rather than replacing the old order and values with something better, these nouveaux-riches are simply intent on creating a commercialised form of Bladesover House. As was mentioned earlier, the style of wedding that Marion so desires is an allusion to the ridiculous attempts to keep traditions of a bygone era alive in the corrupted hubbub of London. George recalls that (against his better judgment): “Under the stress of tradition we were all of us trying in the fermenting chaos of London to carry out the marriage ceremonies of a Bladesover tenant or one of the chubby middling sort of people in some dependent country town.”(II,iv,4) It is a sham, a poor imitation of another way of life that the protagonists cannot seem to see beyond. Even the servants at Bladesover mimic their ‘betters’ when socialising; George shows us his mother, the butler and another housekeeper taking afternoon tea and speaking in affected attempts at upper-class accents, repeating anecdotes that they have heard their employers saying in a competitive fashion with the preface “they say…” They aspire to this kind of lifestyle and set of values, as does Marion and Uncle Ponderevo; they can imagine nothing better as Wells would wish them to.In Book I George reports a latter-day visit to Bladesover which is now inhabited by a rich financier named Lichtenstein. He bemoans the fact that: “The Lichtensteins and their like seem to have no promise in them at all of any fresh vitality for the kingdom. I do not believe in their intelligence or their power-they have nothing new about them at all, nothing creative or rejuvenescent, no more than a disorderly instinct of acquisition, and the prevalence of them and their kind is a phase in the broad slow decay of the great social organism of England.”(I,ii,8) He describes them as “saprophytes,” they contribute nothing positive to society, much as Tono-Bungay does nothing to improve the quality of human existence. They merely feed on the masses parasitically. They have become a worse version of the old Bladesover system. George says: “When I came back at last to the real Bladesover on an inconsequent visit, everything was far smaller than I could have supposed. It was as though everything had shivered and shrivelled a little at the Lichtenstein touch.”(I,ii,8) The grandeur of the old system has faded for George;there are not even the old books that he used to read left. They have been replaced with “artistic bric a brac.” It has become a part of the general decay he sees around him. His uncle also aspires to this kind of lifestyle. He makes an attempt to ennoble trade; he talks of “The Romance of Commerce” as though it were a quest rather like those the knights of the old aristocracy would have engaged in. However George makes sure we are aware that there is nothing romantic about Teddy’s quest. He wishes only to become rich and ‘respectable’ at virtually any cost. He is desperate to become part of ‘Society’ and sets out deliberately to learn the etiquette of the ruling classes and becomellOh Fay.” His wife is just beginning to settle in to her home when she is whisked off again to Lady Grove, a stately home very similar to Bladesover in which an old aristocratic family has died out altogether. However, Ponderevo is not even satisfied with that, he goes on to build Crest Hill which he sees as a concrete testament to his success, significantly “a Twentieth Century house” (III,ii,lO) and epitomises his inflated wealth, illusions of grandeur and most importantly, his irresponsibility. He can never be quite the heroic figure he wishes to be though like the knights of old. This is foreshadowed even in the naming of the rooms of his house in Beckenham. He names them after his heroes; there is Napoleon, Caesar, and Clive but his wife expresses a desire to name the broom cupboard “Old Pondo” after him. He can only achieve a second-rate fame due to his means of doing so. He holds many “little people’s” savings in his trust under false promises that he cannot realise when it is demanded of him and they are ultimately ruined along with him when he over-expands and becomes too sure of himself. Eventually Aunt Susan becomes a part of the society that Wells mocks even in the language he uses to describe it. She “retaliates” visits to her neighbours(III,i,185)and throws garden parties, although always in a partially facetious way. She is never totally sucked in by her husband’s social climbing. The garden party is described as an uncomfortable experience by George who is wearing “ill-cut city clothes.” These are patently people going awkwardly through the motions of something that is not natural to them. His inane conversation with one of the neighbours demonstrates the pointlessness and artificiality of the situation. Similarities can be seen between their behaviour and that of Dr.Moreau’s humanised beasts in The Island of Dr.Moreau. Wells bemoans the farce of this ridiculous behaviour and people’s striving to be part of it. Even George condemns himself for agreeing to Marion’s notions of what dress is correct for a garden party that she has seen in a paper’s report of one where the King was present. He says he “..finally capitulated-but after my evil habit, resentfully..” (II,ii,186) He realises that he should have resisted something which was unnatural for him, but didn’t. The merchant classes were, he felt, implementing a false “..moralised version of the afternoon life of the aristocratic class. They hadn’t the intellectual or moral enterprise of the upper-class woman, they had no political interests, they had no views about anything….”(II,ii,186) In George’s view, (and, it follows, in Wells’ opinion) it is an even more pointless society than the one it has replaced. We see the ultimate futile society in the lives of the Eloi in The Time Machine. Here we witness Wells’ pessimism concerning the future of humanity. He fears the saphrophytic society that is forming and feeding on the decay of the social organism of England may eventually become as despicable as this. Even in this very alien society we can see images of the England Wells lived in. The pathetic hedonistic life that is all the Eloi are now capable of bears a striking resemblance to the afternoon lives of the new middle class epitomised in the garden party scene in Tono-Bunqay. They are already described as being almost incapable of intelligent conversation and independent thought and they lead lives which feed on other people’s toil and contribute very little to society; they produce nothing of any use. According to David Lodge in his critical essay “Tono-Bunqay and The Condition of Enqland” the underground world of the Morlocks can also be seen to have its forerunner in the below ground living and working conditions of the servants in houses such as Up Park where Wells’ mother was housekeeper and he spent much of his childhood. Wells hopes that characters such as George Ponderevo with their enthusiasm for science and search for something better may be able to provide some alternative to the wretched state of affairs we witness in The Time Machine but fears that they may not be capable of stopping the relentless advance of the destructive battleship that portrays the kind of ‘progress gone wrong’ that Wells felt was being made at the time he was writing and which he chillingly depicts at the end of Tono-Bunqay. The search for some meaning pervades much of Wells work, accompanying the sense of waste and pointlessness that is frequently given a voice in central characters. George says at the end of Tono-BunqaY: “It is, I see now that I have it all before me, a story of activity and urgency and sterility. I have called it “Tono-Bungay,” but I had far better have called it “Waste.” I have told of childless Marion, of my childless aunt, of Beatrice wasted and wasteful and futile. What hope is there for a people whose women become fruitless?”(IV,iii,300) George’s pessimism about the future of humanity is repeatedly displayed. He takes an interest in the newly formed groups of socialists that his friend Ewart is so enthusiastic about but eventually states that “It’s all so pointless….because people are slack and because it’s in the ebb of an age.”(II,i,90) This view can be seen to correspond with Wells’ own contact with The Fabian Society with which he was initially very excited but about which he abruptly changed his mind and left. He decided it was not the answer to the search for meaning which pervaded his life and much of his work, and which George Ponderevo vocalises in Tono-Bungay: “All my life has been at bottom, seeking, disbelieving always, dissatisfied always with the thing seen and the thing believed, seeking something in toil, in force, in danger, something whose name and nature I do not clearly understand, something beautiful, worshipful, enduring, mine profoundly and fundamentally, and the utter redemption of myself; I don’t know-all I can tell is that it is something I have ever failed to find.”(II,iv,161) The fruitless search for something better by both the individual and society as a whole; an idea, “something to hold on to”(I,iii,67) seems to contradict the optimistic and generally credible vision of the future portrayed in A Modern Utopia for example, which shows us a picture of a world united politically and economically, and although it is by no means perfect; there are still criminals and drunkards, it is a world which affords a far greater degree of equality and justice to its citizens:it is not an escapist dream but appears to be an almost accessible world order which we could be forgiven for believing that we could achieve; this revelation would seem to be Wells’ motivation for writing the piece. This optimism of Wells’ thoughtful reasoning stands in opposition to the pessimism we see in relation to the future of the human race in The Island of Dr.Moreau. This novel, which appears at first glance to be an outspoken condemnation of “science run riot” really says far more about Wells’ view of human behaviour and civilization. Dr.Moreau’s beasts are painfully transformed into creations which appear to be human and behave as though they are civilized, with a basic system of rules resembling our law, and worship of the doctor serves as a base religion. However, when this order starts to break down, instigated by Prendick’s rhetoric and subsequently by Moreau’s death, we see how close they really are to their bestial roots, and how quickly they revert to behaving as the animals they really are. When Prendick gets back to civilization at the end of the novel, he states that “…I look about me at my fellow-men. And I go in fear. I see faces keen and bright, others dull and dangerous, others unsteady, insincere; none that have the calm authority of a reasonable soul. I feel as though the animal was surging up through them; that presently the deqradation of the Islanders will be plaYed over aqain on a larqer scale.” (Ch.22 pg.l90) Wells would appear to believe then, from this evidence, that civilization and social order are necessarily a thin veil over our more bestial instincts and that order could very easily break down. There appears, then, to be little to save us from the “degeneration after security” that Wells spoke to Huxley about; we are likely to end up as despicable as the Eloi and the Morlocks. Even in the dying world of The Time Machine the rhetoric of apocalypse overshadows that of the physical entropy of the Earth. Wells was anxious to find out what would happen to humanity; he was impatient with the present and wanted to advance to the future as quickly as he could. His work, in relation to the future, seems to be a constant battle between the optimistic, rational thought of a man who wanted to believe that there was a real alternative to the society of the day, and that improved education, administration and scientific research could help humanity achieve it at this exciting crossroads in its history, and a pessimist with a sense of foreboding about the future of such a weak, destructive species. Wells is most disappointed, possibly, that the chance for far reaching, positive social change is being largely wasted-the prevalent mood of avarice and utilitarian economics is pervading and decaying everything; we find a direct metaphor in the quap that George steals in Tono-Bunqay and which subsequently makes the whole crew ill and rots the bottom out of the boat in which it is being carried. Science is a mixed blessing; it certainly provides truths to hold on to and believe in and provides a possible means to the ultimate triumph of humanity over Nature as we see in George’s attempts to fly in Tono-Bunqay. However, it is doubtful whether science can provide a means for Man to triumph over his own nature which will surely be his downfall. Despite this, we cannot help but notice how likeable these examples of doomed humanity are. Teddy Ponderevo, a man who dupes the public into buying useless and potentially harmful ‘medicine’ quite knowingly in order to make his fortune and then goes on to wipe out the savings of hundreds of small investors when his confidence trickstering goes wrong is portrayed as quite an endearing if blundering character in Tono-Bunqay and the Eloi in The Time Machine are far from a despotic ruling class, they are childlike in their innocence and playfulness. The narrator of the story says at the very end of the novel “…even when mind and strength had gone, gratitude and a mutual tenderness still lived on in the heart of man.”(Epil.pg 102) The beasts too, in The Island of Dr.Moreau are on the whole rather likeable, with the exception of one or two such as the Ape Man for example, who represents the ministers of the Church, in Wells’ opinion another body preventing people from thinking freely and rationally. We cannot help but feel sorry for them in their suffering and pathetic attempts to live something resembling a ~civilized~ life. Wells does not believe that mankind is inherently evil, but that circumstances have corrupted him. He is not sure whether it is too late for beleaguered humanity to save itself; he cannot say what the future will hold, as the narrator says at the end of The Time Machine: ~’But to me the future is still black and blank-it is a vast ignorance…..~(Epil.pg 102) Wells sees the destroyer making its relentless progress through all England; this paradox of the height of human achievement which will ultimately destroy it, and he also sees a possible chance to alter things, if only we could see it. He doubts we ever will, in his heart, but it may be that Teddy Ponderevo’s cries of ~ ‘Wake up Wimblehurst!’(I,ii,56) may indeed be meant for a far wider audience.BIBLIOGRAPHY Bergonzi,B (ed.)/H.G.WELLS (Prentice-Hall Inc.) Doughty,F/H.G.WELLS EDUCATIONIST (Cape) Hammond,J/AN H.G.WELLS COMPANION (MacMillan) Nicholson,N/H.G.WELLS (Arthur Barker) Wells,H.G./A MODERN UTOPIA (Odhams) Wells,H.G./THE ISLAND OF DR.MOREAU (Penguin) Wells,H.G./THE TIME MACHINE (Penguin)


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