"Let us be clear about one thing: that socialism means revolution, and it means a change in the everyday texture of life. It may be a very gradual change but it will be a very complete one. You cannot change the world, and at the same time not change the world. You will find socialists about, or at any rate men calling themselves socialists, who will pretend that this is not so, and who will assure you that some little jobbing about municipal gas and water is Socialism, and backstreet intervention between Conservative and Liberal is the way to the millennium. You might as well call a gas jet in the lobby of a meeting-house the glory of God in heaven."Perhaps I should get back to my socialist roots.
His 1905 novel Kipps is a masterpiece. Henry James also loved it: in 1909 he called it "the best novel in the last forty years." Think David Copperfield crossed with fairy tales and socialism. But Wells's writing, unlike that of the expansive Dickens, is spare and almost contemporary.
Artie Kipps, the hero of Kipps, lives a nearly idyllic life in a small town, New Romney. His toy-shop owner uncle and aunt are sometimes cranky, but he and his best friend Sid play enjoy rich imaginative games of Red Indians and shipwrecks.
At 14 he is yanked out of school and sent to the city to be an apprentice to a draper. And for awhile the novel is not comical at all. Wells, who also worked in a draper's shop, portrays the world in painful detail. Kipps's boredom and bewilderment as he faces the long hours at this unfulfilling job are heartbreaking. His seven-year apprenticeship rewards him with dreary meals of bread and margarine and a bed in a dorm.
"His round began at half-past six in the morning, when he would descend, unwashed and shirtless, in old clothes and a scarf, and dust boxes and yawn, and take down wrappers and clean the windows until eight. Then in half an hour he would complete his toilet, and take an austere breakfast of bread and margarine and what only an Imperial Englishman would admit to be coffee, after which refreshment, he ascended to the shop for the labors of the day. Commonly those began with a mighty running to and fro with planks and boxes and good for Carshot the window-draper, who whether he worked well or ill, nagged persistently, by the reason of chronic indigestion, until the window was dressed."
And so it goes on. After his apprenticeship, he stays on. What else is he to do?
A playwright runs his bicycle into Kipps and the two become friends. The playwright gets him fired--they get drunk and Kipps misses his curfew--but then finds an ad in the paper searching for Kipps, who has inherited a fortune from his "natural" grandfather.
What will happen to Kipps? Society, parasites, and a lowering of self-esteem. But I will tell you right now: you can trust the members of the lower middle class. It is the upper- and genteel middle you have to watch out for.
This is one of those "un-put-downable" books.
Kipps is in print, and there are also many used out-of-print copies for sale. You can read it free at Project Gutenberg.
Does anyone know a good biography of Wells? What a fascinating character. By the way, he had affairs with three of my favorite writers, Elizabeth von Arnim, Rebecca West, and Dorothy Richardson. Apparently he was irresistible.