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Tono-Bungay

Bildungsroman, Tono-Bungay

george social uncle novel

a novel by H. G. Wells, published in 1909. Described by its author as a Balzacian ‘social panorama’, this is Wells's most ambitious and sweeping indictment of Edwardian England. Its form is that of a Bildungsroman narrated by George Ponderevo, the son of the housekeeper at Bladesover House in Kent. George studies science in London, but his prospects are transformed when he joins his uncle Edward in exploiting the latter's invention of a patent medicine, Tono-Bungay, which takes both men to fame and fortune. Edward's swaggering career as a manufacturer, tycoon, swindler, and eventual bankrupt parallels his more puritanical nephew's growing experience of social and moral disillusionment. The tale of the Ponderevo's rise and fall is accompanied by George's astringent sociological commentary, exposing both the corruption of the old ‘organic’ English class system by the new forces of corporate wealth and greed, and the confusion and unhappiness of individuals caught up in a degenerate society. But if the England of Tono-Bungay appears ripe for revolution, the novel is far from offering any blueprint for an alternative social organization. George's detailed confession of his moral compromises and sexual entanglements shows his inability to detach himself from the life he rejects. Leaving his uncle's business in disgust, he turns to aeronautical engineering, designing and building the airship which enables his uncle to escape from his creditors. As a last irony, this novel with its vivid representation of social history concludes with a symbolic vision of the passing of traditional England, as seen from the bridge of a naval destroyer.

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