H. G. Wells is one of the most widely-read writers of the twentieth century, but until now the aesthetics of his work have not been investigated in detail. Maps of Utopia tells the story of Wells's writing career over six decades, during which he produced popular science, educational theory, history, politics, prophecy, and utopia, as well as realist, experimental, and science fiction. This book asks what Wells thought literature was, and what he thought it was for. H. G. Wells formulated a literary aesthetics based on scientific principles, designed to improve the world both in the present and for future generations. Unlike Henry James, with whom he famously argued, Wells was not content simply to let literary art be, for its own sake: he wanted to make art instrumental in improving the lives of its readers, by bringing about the founding the World State that he predicted was man's only alternative to self-destruction. Such a project differed radically from the aims of Wells's late-Victorian and his Modernist contemporaries - with consequences for the nature both of Wells's writing and for his subsequent critical reception.
Maps of Utopia begins with the late-Victorian debate about the uses of effect of reading, especially reading fiction, that followed the mass literacy of the 1870-71 Education Acts. It considers Wells's best known scientific romances, such as The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds, and important social novels such as Tono-Bungay. It also examines less well-known texts such as The Sea Lady, Boon and Wells's journalism and political writings. This study closes with his cinematic collaboration The Shape of Things to Come, and The Outline of History, Wells's best-selling book in his own lifetime.
Reviewed by Patrick Parrinder in Modernism/modernity November 2012, vol 19, number 4
1: Of Art, Of Literature, Of Mr. H. G. Wells
2: The History of the Future: The Scientific Romances
3: The Uses of Literacy: Reading and Realismin Wells's Novels
4: The Idea of a Planned World: H. G. Wells's Utopias
5: Education and Catastrophe: The War and the World