November 21st, 2017


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A Man of Parts, by David Lodge

Second paragraph of third chapter:
The best of his novels about men seeking to understand what was wrong with contemporary society, and to find some useful role for themselves in it, was Tono-Bungay, published in 1909; in fact he regards it as his best novel of any kind, judged by normal literary criteria. The novels that followed were more polemical and discursive, and, with the exception of Ann Veronica, which was centred on its heroine, their heroes were so humourlessly high-minded that he privately referred to these books as his 'prig' novels. The New Machiavelli, Marriage, The Passionate Friends, The Research Magnificent were some of their titles, all about men progressing from youth to maturity who were to some extent idealised versions of himself: taller, more handsome, from a higher social class, and considerably more punctilious in their relations with the opposite sex. These men invariably experienced a conflict between their personal sense of mission, whether intellectual or political, and their desire for union with a particular woman. Usually the woman proved to be an obstacle to the fulfilment of the mission, which could only be overcome by her being converted to it or by dying or by some act of renunciation by the hero.
This is a fictional biography of H.G. Wells, by David Lodge, many of whose novels I read in my early 20s and none since. Wells comes across as a well-meaning and very intelligent chap, not very self-aware, committed to his writing, to his politics, and to liberating women from the shackles of conventional sexuality; this last activity left several of them pregnant. Since it's a novel rather than a biography, it's a bit difficult to judge by the standards of biographies: all I can say is that I was entertained by it, I learned a lot about Wells' life and work from it, and I hope that most of what I learned was true.

This had bubbled to the top of my lists of books acquired in 2013 and non-genre fiction recommended by you. Next respectively on those lists are Planesrunner, by Ian McDonald, and Le Mariage de Figaro, by Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais. (I may have to read the latter in English when I get to it, but I'll try the French version first.)