Phoenix from the Ashes: The Literature of the Remade World

By Carl B. Yoke | Go to book overview
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"'as much me as this hand that beats the arm of my chair. And as little me,'" because for him all of them are a part and a manifestation of the immortal spirit of human achievement. 53

Thus Karenin, official proponent of the submersion of the individual into the collective, finds his own peace in his certainty that, even though he ceases to exist, the "common mind" of which he is a part--the "informal and dispersed kingship" of which the narrator has already spoken 54--will go on. And indeed, although the surgery is successful, Karenin dies about a week later of a blood clot brought on by his immobilization. 55

Wells ends his novel optimistically even though his protagonist dies. He has begun by recognizing the persistence of the speculative mind throughout human history, at the outset showing it isolated from most of humanity. The isolation, portrayed most vividly in Hoisten, is, Wells argues, inevitable so long as most minds are oppressed by the need merely to survive. Benumbed by such oppression, the common people are scarcely able to perceive what happens to them, much less to respond effectively. But these people rely on their leaders--leaders who are not, in the ordinary course of things, great thinkers themselves, but practical, active people with a strong sense of public duty. Crisis, Wells contends, forces the visionary potential of these people to emerge. Working together with others of like mind, they can not only resolve the crisis but also revive the deadened intellect of those they lead, if they are willing to take action drastic enough and if the crisis has been terrible enough to jar their followers into receptivity. And when such revivification of mind occurs, the intellectual is no longer isolated but can take his or her place in humanity as a part of a common mind far stronger and more self-assured than that of any single individual.

H. G. Wells, The World Set Free: A Story of Mankind ( New York: Dutton, 1914), p. 11. Subsequent citations refer to this edition. Because of the frequent complexity of distinguishing Wells himself from his primary narrator in this novel, for brevity's sake I shall normally speak only of Wells himself. Portions of this chapter appear in "The First Atomic War: H. G. Wells' The World Set Free," Wisconsin Dialogue, Spring 1985, and are included here by permission.
In a radio broadcast from Australia in 1939, Wells admitted the extravagance of the utopian vision, contending that the "Utopian writer . . . is not a realist, no, but he is serious. His 'If only--if only you would' is wistful" ( H. G. Wells, "Utopias," ed. Robert M. Philmus, Science-Fiction Studies 9 [ July 1982], p. 118).
Wells, The World Set Free, pp. 33-39.
Frederick Soddy, The Interpretation of Radium, Being the Substance of Six Free Popular Experimental Lectures Delivered at the University of Glasgow, 1908 ( London: J. Murray, 1909), p. 253.


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