Development of H. G. Wells’s Conception of the Novel, 1895 to 1911
Court, Andrew John
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In his writing on the nature and purpose of the novel between 1895 and 1911, Wells endorses artistic principles for their social effects. His public lecture on “The Contemporary Novel,” written in 1911 in response to a debate with Henry James, is the most lucid articulation of his artistic principles, and his later autobiographical reflections on the debate obscure the clarity of the earlier version. Wells’s artistic principles emerge in his reviews of contemporary fiction for the Saturday Review (1895–1897), where he extends Poe’s concept of “unity of effect” to the novel and justifies his preference for social realism with a theory of cultural evolution. His views develop further in the context of sociological and philosophical debates between 1901 and 1905. Wells commenced the century with a sceptical view on the social effects of literature, but his exposure to British Pragmatism encouraged him to revive the principles developed in his reviewing. The view on Wells’s conception of the novel presented in this thesis challenges the prevailing view that he began his career with a set of purely artistic principles, adding sociological and intellectual apparatus after the turn of the century.