100 Years, 94 Books: ‘Mr. Britling Sees It Through’ by H. G. Wells (1917)

PWStaff -- March 26th, 2013

The following is an excerpt from Matthew Kahn’s project 100 Years, 94 Books–to review the bestselling books of the last 100 years and study what made them essential to their cultural moment.



Herbert George Wells (1866-1946) remains popular to this day, and is best known for his work as one of the fathers of science fiction. Wells was born in the county of Kent in England.  Growing up, his family had considerable financial trouble resulting in Wells’s placement in various harsh apprenticeship programs as a child and teenager, giving him experiences which lent themselves to some of his novels (e.g. Kipps).  He later became a teacher and, in 1895, wrote his first (and possibly most famous) novel, The Time Machine.  Between 1895 and 1901, Wells published three non-fiction books and eight more novels, including The Island of Dr. Moreau (1896), The Invisible Man (1897), The War of the Worlds (1898), and The First Men in the Moon (1901).

Wells wrote prolifically about social and economic issues, and put forth many volumes on better ways to organize the world.  He wrote extensively on the subject of utopias and authored many non-fiction works on popular history. Yet he is remembered for little else than his science fiction, despite having published over fifty novels at the time of his death, and even more non-fiction books.  Wells passed away due to undetermined medical causes in 1946.

So what’s this book about?

Mr. Britling Sees It Through can be best explained by this passage from the novel itself:

“This story is essentially the history of the opening and of the realisation of the Great War as it happened to one small group of people in Essex, and more particularly, as it happened to one human brain” (216).

The titular Mr. Britling is a writer primarily of essays and non-fiction books on social issues of the day and larger aspects of human nature. The novel begins with the arrival of Mr. Direck, an American who has come to ask Mr. Britling to give a lecture in Massachusetts.  Mr. Direck stays at Mr. Britling’s home in Matching’s Easy, along with Mrs. Britling, Mr. Britling’s secretary Teddy, his wife Letty and sister-in-law Cecily (whom Mr. Direck immediately falls for), Herr Heinrich (a German student), the Britlings’ two young sons, and Hugh Britling (Mr. Britling’s older son from his first marriage). The first section of the novel establishes these characters and focuses on the British attitude leading up to the outbreak of World War One. The rest of the novel focuses on how life and attitudes changed (or refused to change) while some characters left for war.

Read the full post on Kahn’s blog.

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