Mr. H. G. Wells has felt the necessity for a new approach to his rostrum, an impressive, unpoliced approach that will at once command unusual attention and leave him freer than ever to expatiate upon the human spectacle. In The Outline of History he had to deal dutifully with many matters of transient and undisputed consequence. Moreover, history is but the gradient leading up to Mr. Wells' deepest concern, the future of mankind after its scientific emancipation. In his pseudo-scientific novels, several of which he laid in that far future, he felt the cramp of plot and character relations. So while he calls his latest creation* a novel, it stays little closer to the usual kind of thing meant by that term than did James Joyce's Ulysses.
The Approach. Perhaps it was that colossal, utterly abandoned effort by Mr. Joyce to glut up and put on paper the total sensory-esthetic experience of a handful of slovenly Dubliners during 24 hours that encouraged Mr. Wells to cast pattern to the winds and glut up the entire experience, in ideas and emotions, of a British scientist reminiscent on and after his 59th birthday.
It happens that Mr. Wells will be 60 next Tuesday. It happens that his character, William Clissold, enunciates a prodigious amount of Wellsian philosophy. But the "vulgar" reader and reviewer are asked to understand that the book is not Mr. Wells' autobiography, but William Clissold's. The latter is merely a "relative" of Mr. Wells, a mineralogist whose promoter-father committed suicide on the way to prison, leaving the mother free to remarry and the boys, William and Dickon Clissold, to make their own lives.
William Clissold is in London on his 59th birthday. It is dismally wet, so he falls to writing down what it feels like to realize that one's life is some four-fifths finished. Later he writes on and on, mostly in the mas (villa) in Provence where he lives with a young woman named Clementina, trying to make plain to himself and the world the nature and origin of his beliefs, metaphysical, theological, political, social, economic, ethical, etc. To make this writing wholly natural, Mr. Wells permits William Clissold to mention encounters with Dean Inge, Dr. Jung, George Bernard Shaw and many another real person whom a fairly eminent scientist could scarcely help meeting. (English reviewers have been choking fretfully over this feature.) The Mottoes. There are two mottoes for this book. One is quoted from Heraclitus: "πavra pεi All things change (flow)." The other is inadvertently inserted by Author William Clissold-H. G. Wells: "This book, at any rate, is not going to be a home of rest for the tired reader."
This second motto is self-explanatory. Here is no light Wellsian fantasy with a happy ending. Having written two volumes, William Clissold dies in an .automobile smash, as related by his brother in the epilogue.