(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.)