(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

In Tono-Bungay, George Ponderovo has decided to tell his life history in the form of a novel. He has grown up in Bladesover, a great country estate, which he describes as a metaphor for the state of English society. As a boy, George sees the world of the wealthy through the eyes of the servants, a comic collection of men and women whose stultifying conversation mirrors the rigidity and unimaginativeness of their plight. Drawing on his memories of Up Park, Wells portrays these lower-class characters with affection, although he shows that the clichés they find so comforting are precisely what prevent them from appreciating life to the fullest.

George’s own feelings, as those of a servant’s boy, are kept on a tight rein, but he is liberated from the life below the stairs by Beatrice Normandy, a beautiful young lady of the house who demands that George be allowed to play with her. Exhilarated by her attention, George is gradually able to express himself and to develop a strong sense of his own worth, but then he is banished from Bladesover when he gets into a fight with her half brother.

After a series of misadventures resembling Wells’s own youth, George finds refuge with his Uncle Edward Ponderovo, an ebullient country chemist who dreams of huge commercial success. Unfortunately, Uncle Edward’s first foray in the stock market is a dismal failure, and George discovers that his mother’s small but essential fund of savings has also been depleted by his uncle’s speculations.

Nursing a grudge against his uncle, George turns to science, studying for a university degree and falling in love with a young woman, Marion, who refuses to marry him until he has a steady, adequate yearly income. Suddenly, George is summoned by his uncle, who has made a smashing success with Tono-Bungay, a patent medicine that promises rejuvenation. At first, George balks at his uncle’s plea that he needs George to run the new company, for George knows that the product is bogus, kept afloat by aggressive advertising and not by an inherent positive property. He is troubled by what he sees as modern life’s tendency to market goods of no intrinsic value, products that contribute nothing substantial to the economy or to the health of the country. He is smitten with Marion, however, and sees that, by the management of his uncle’s affairs, he will have the income that will convince her to marry him.


(The entire section is 992 words.)

Tono-Bungay Summary

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

George Ponderevo grows up in the shadow of Bladesover House, where his mother is the housekeeper. In that Edwardian atmosphere, the boy soon becomes aware of the wide distinctions between English social classes, for the neighborhood around Bladesover is England in miniature, a small world made up of the quality, the church, the village, the laborers, and the servants. Although George spends most of his time away at school, he returns to Bladesover for his vacations. During one of his vacations, he learns for the first time about the class of which he is a member—the servants.

His lesson comes as the result of the arrival at Bladesover House of the Honorable Beatrice Normandy, an eight-year-old child, and her snobbish young half brother, Archie Garvell. Twelve-year-old George Ponderevo falls in love with the little aristocrat that summer. Two years later, their childish romance ends abruptly when George and Archie fight each other. George is disillusioned because the Honorable Beatrice does not come to his aid. In fact, she betrays him, abandons him, and lies about him, depicting George as an assailant of his social betters.

When George refuses flatly to apologize to Archie Garvell, he is taken to Chatham and put to work in the bakery owned by his mother’s brother, Nicodemus Frapp. George finds his uncle’s family dull, cloddish, and overreligious. One night, in the room he shares with his two cousins, he tells them in confidence that he does not believe in any form of revealed religion. Traitorously, his cousins report George’s blasphemy to their father. As a result, George is called upon in a church meeting to acknowledge his sins. Humiliated and angry, he runs away, going back to his mother at Bladesover House.

Mrs. Ponderevo then sends him to live with another uncle, his father’s brother, Edward Ponderevo, at Wimblehurst, in Sussex. There George works in his uncle’s chemist’s shop, or pharmacy, after school. Edward Ponderevo is a restless, dissatisfied man who wants to expand his business and make money. His wife, Aunt Susan, is a gentle, patient woman who treats George kindly. George’s mother dies during his years at Wimblehurst.

George’s pleasant life at Wimblehurst is eventually brought to a sudden end. Through foolish investments, Edward Ponderevo loses everything of his own, including the chemist’s shop, as well as a small fund he had been holding in trust for George. Edward and Susan Ponderevo are forced to leave Wimblehurst, but George remains behind as an apprentice with Mr. Mantell, the new owner of the shop.

At the age of nineteen, George goes to London to matriculate at the University of London for his bachelor of science degree. On the trip, his uncle, now living in London, shows him the city and first whispers to him the name of Tono-Bungay, an invention on which the older Ponderevo is working. Instead of...

(The entire section is 1185 words.)