Inventing Tomorrow

H. G. Wells and the Twentieth Century

Sarah Cole

Columbia University Press

Inventing Tomorrow

Pub Date: October 2019

ISBN: 9780231193122

392 Pages

Format: Hardcover

List Price: $35.00£30.00

Pub Date: October 2019

ISBN: 9780231550161

392 Pages

Format: E-book

List Price: $34.99£30.00

Inventing Tomorrow

H. G. Wells and the Twentieth Century

Sarah Cole

Columbia University Press

H. G. Wells played a central role in defining the intellectual, political, and literary character of the twentieth century. A prolific literary innovator, he coined such concepts as “time machine,” “war of the worlds,” and “atomic bomb,” exerting vast influence on popular ideas of time and futurity, progress and decline, and humanity’s place in the universe. Wells was a public intellectual with a worldwide readership. He met with world leaders, including Roosevelt, Lenin, Stalin, and Churchill, and his books were international best-sellers. Yet critics and scholars have largely forgotten his accomplishments or relegated them to genre fiction, overlooking their breadth and diversity.

In Inventing Tomorrow, Sarah Cole provides a definitive account of Wells’s work and ideas. She contends that Wells casts new light on modernism and its values: on topics from warfare to science to time, his work resonates both thematically and aesthetically with some of the most ambitious modernists. At the same time, unlike many modernists, Wells believed that literature had a pressing place in public life, and his works reached a wide range of readers. While recognizing Wells’s limitations, Cole offers a new account of his distinctive style as well as his interventions into social and political thought. She illuminates how Wells embodies twentieth-century literature at its most expansive and engaged. An ambitious rethinking of Wells as both writer and thinker, Inventing Tomorrow suggests that he offers a timely model for literature’s moral responsibility to imagine a better global future.
Sarah Cole transforms our view of H. G. Wells, not only seeing him as a pivotal figure in his own world but also, with subtlety and conviction, connecting him with his modernist contemporaries. Wells emerges in this detailed, cogent, and incisive study as a complex and fascinating thinker filled with contradictions, combining moral force with artistic restlessness. He was headstrong, engaged, combative, innovative, industrious, fearless, and prophetic. Inventing Tomorrow does justice to his vast range of work while emphasizing how Wells must be placed at the core of any consideration of intellectual life in the early twentieth century. Colm Tóibín, author of Brooklyn: A Novel
What if modernism met up with antimodernism, like matter and antimatter? In Sarah Cole’s fascinating and ambitious new study, she argues that H. G. Wells’s work was at once modernist and itself a critique of modernism, an explosive mix whose significance was missed both by his contemporaries and by literary critics who have taken his rivals at their word and mistaken their jealousy at his popularity for judgment of his merit. Jill Lepore, author of These Truths: A History of the United States
From the prehistoric to the posthuman, from the microcosmic to the cosmic, Wells wrote about everything under the twentieth-century sun. To see why he was the indispensable writer of the last century, we need a guide as skilled and authoritative as Sarah Cole, who gives to readers an eloquent vindication of modernism’s forgotten man. Jed Esty, author of Unseasonable Youth: Modernism, Colonialism, and the Fiction of Development
Sarah Cole restores a colossus to size, recovering the enormous importance of H. G. Wells in the literary and cultural history of a century that seems, until now, to have left him behind. No longer. Written with synoptic power and narrative flair, synthesizing an extensive archive of print and film, Inventing Tomorrow splendidly establishes Wells not just as a figure of primary importance, but as an attractive, indeed fascinating, imaginative personality. Vincent Sherry, Howard Nemerov Professor in the Humanities, Washington University in St. Louis
Full of illuminating argument, fresh perception, and lively polemic, Inventing Tomorrow makes an overwhelming case for the twenty-first century rediscovery of H. G. Wells. Patrick Parrinder, University of Reading
Sarah Cole’s fascinating literary investigation Inventing Tomorrow shows how H. G. Wells’s work is relevant and meaningful today. . . . The book’s scholarship combines literary criticism with biographical elements, explaining how Wells mixed details of his own life and his modernist philosophy into his work. Foreword Reviews (starred review)
Cole documents a thorough and thoughtful appreciation of Well's accomplishments and skills as a writer to argue for a revised estimate of his body of work. Library Journal
Acknowledgments
Introduction
1. Voice
2. Civilian
3. Time
4. Biology
Conclusion: The World
Notes
Bibliography
Index

About the Author

Sarah Cole is Parr Professor of English and Comparative Literature and dean of humanities at Columbia University. She is the author of Modernism, Male Friendship, and the First World War (2003) and At the Violet Hour: Modernism and Violence in England and Ireland (2012).