The War of the Worlds

HG Wells is mainly famous as a writer of science fiction, but his novels on domestic subjects, although rather more tied to their period (the early 1900s), are worth reading still. He wrote of course as a Socialist, of the Fabian kind. A work of his that has come to my mind as I prepare, nervously, for the American Presidential election, is his 1908 novel Tono-Bungay, featuring a crooked salesman who reminds me of one of the two contenders in the current race. 

The villain of Tono-Bungay – George Ponderevo – comes a cropper in the end, as wicked capitalists so often do in Victorian and Edwardian novels. One American historian some years ago (Martin Weiner, English Culture and the Decline of the Industrial Spirit, 1850-1980) suggested that this literary tradition was one of the factors that held British capitalism back in the twentieth century, by contrast with America. Thatcher loved that; it encouraged her artistic philistinism. The USA must have a similar tradition of anti-capitalist novels; but nothing I imagine powerful enough to take on Ayn Rand. Which is why I’m not at all confident of Trump’s career following the trajectory of George Ponderevo’s; and will have my bottle of Southern Comfort close at hand to give me – well, comfort – as I follow the results over the next few hours, days, weeks or months on TV. 

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