Book Review: Tono-Bungay by H.G. Wells

Advertising sketch from Tono-Bungay by H.G.Wells

Advertising sketch from Tono-Bungay by H.G.Wells

Zzzz . . .thinking, thinking, thinking . . .zzzz, thinking, snap!
That’s the thought process of George Ponderevo’s Uncle Edward. The uncle’s
nickname is “Teddy” and when he meets him, George thinks there is a certain
amount of “teddiness” about him—-a sense of “teddidity”. He had an
“nimbleness without grace, an alertness without intelligence.” Snap! An idea
would pass through his head and he’d be off on a new tangent, always
wanting to start a new project, make some money.

When the novel begins, George is the child of a housekeeper who lives and works
at Bladesover–a fine estate which still has all the trappings and customs
of 18th Century England. This is where George grows up, and he thinks that
the whole world must be like Bladesover—-a perfect English world of chintz-
covered chairs and fine furniture, and proper manners.

This novel by H.G. Wells proves George wrong. Wells writes it as narrative,
leading us through as if he’s writing George’s journal, and giving us accounts
of his young manhood–the ups, the downs. To tell you the truth, it was
really quite witty in the beginning of the book—I thought I might have
been reading P.G. Wodehouse instead of H.G. Wells. But I guess Wells
decided he’d better get on with the story, and things quieted down.

It begins to dawn on George while he’s young that perhaps the whole world
is not open to him. Certain professions will be closed to him because of
his low class, unfairly he thinks.

So when he is sent to live with his uncle, he is open to the money making
schemes of Uncle Edward. We are reminded of Dickensian characters as we
read about proud, blustering Uncle Edward. “Snap! Tono-Bungay!” shouts
the uncle–touting a tonic . . .”sure to sell as a cure for . . .whatever!
It won’t be a drug or a medicine, but a regimen!”

The accompanying sketch is one of Uncle Edward’s early advertising posters,
promising Health, Beauty, Strength. When young George wonders if this might
be fraudulent, Uncle Edward says, “It’s the sort of thing everybody does.
After all, there’s no harm in the stuff–and it may do good . . .
I grant you Tono-Bungay may be–not quite as good a find for the world as
(quinine), but the point is, George,–it MAKES TRADE! And the world lives
on trade.”

We are swept along as Tono-Bungay becomes successful–along with Edward
and George! The early advertising ploys are worth the price of the book.
A friend of George’s is going to make one of the first posters. And he’s
an ardent fan of advertising. He gives George an example:

“Advertisement has revolutionized trade and industry; it is going to
revolutionize the world . . . (the new merchant) takes mustard that is
just like anybody else’s mustard, and he goes about saying, shouting,
singing, chalking on walls, writing inside people’s books, putting it
everywhere, ‘Smith’s Mustard is the Best.’ And behold it IS the Best!”

I told you the novel is written about the ups and downs of George’s
young life. So there are ups and downs, and strange little twists in
the plot. Near the end, Wells seems to leave the story and go off on
a tangent of his own, but we all circle back to wind up the story.

The novel was written in 1908, but doesn’t really seem dated, and to tell
you the truth, we still walk around and talk about how things have changed
since the “old days”. George isn’t alone in being dismayed at how
England seems turned into a country of “greedy trade, base profit-seekers,
bold advertisement”. (And not just England!)

Zzzz . . . Snap!

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2 Responses to Book Review: Tono-Bungay by H.G. Wells

  1. booksilver says:

    So you liked it after all! Glad you read it.

    • Who would think I’d enjoy H.G.Wells? No doubt it’s because growing up, we
      had the Outline of History on the bookshelves . . .not that I read it! But,
      I’m glad I was open-minded and read the book with the funny title.

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