Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 442
Tono-Bungay, by H.G Wells, is the story of George Ponderovo, which he narrates in the first person. The book uses literary devices that include comedy, science fiction, and social commentary to weave together an interesting narrative that is actually a semi-autobiographical account of Wells's life.
George's mother is the housekeeper at Bladesover House, and the time George spends there makes him aware of the clear distinctions between the various social classes in Edwardian England. George's fight with Archie Garvell (the half-brother of Beatrice Normandy), results in George being banished from Bladesover House. He is sent to Chatham where he works in a bakery owned by his maternal uncle, Nicodemus Frapp.
George finds it difficult to accept the Frapp family's faith in religion and the squalor that they live in. He runs away from Chatham, and ends up with his paternal uncle Edward Ponderovo. George begins studying for a degree in science. He falls in love with a young woman named Marion, but the couple cannot hope for settled married life until George achieves some kind of financial security.
The opportunity for financial independence presents itself when Uncle Edward sends George to manage his company that markets a patented medicine: Tono-Bungay. George realizes straightaway that the product is spurious and the company is only kept afloat through aggressive advertising. Yet he agrees to join hands with his uncle because he wishes to marry Marion.
George works hard to promote his uncle's business which soon grows to include different rejuvenative products. George marries Marion, but the two soon grow apart because George finds Marion to be unexciting and staid in her attitude to life. Feeling increasingly uncomfortable due to the fakery involved in his professional life as well as his boring romantic life, George begins to flirt with other women and develops an interest in aeronautics.
George gets reacquainted with Beatrice, and they profess their love for each other. However, Beatrice is engaged to a rich old man. George divorces his wife, but Beatrice refuses to marry him, stating that George would be unable to provide her with the lifestyle that she's grown accustomed to. Additionally, George has lost money after the sudden collapse of his uncle's business.
Uncle Edward's financial speculations leave him in debt, and George is caught up in the messy affairs by association. To escape creditors and the law, uncle and nephew escape to France in George's airship. In France, Uncle Edward falls ill and dies in Bayonne.
George returns to England. His experiences in life have left him a bitter critic of the materialistic mores that plague English society. He turns his attention to the development of destroyers.