MR. BRITLING, OR ‘WAR AS INNER EXPERIENCE’

Bernard Loing

Abstract


Abstract. For the centenary of the First World War, we rediscover Mr. Britling Sees It Through (1916), a rare novel in which H. G. Wells powerfully delivers his ‘inner experience’ of the real world catastrophe, so often announced by this expert in imaginary wars. From the heart of the fight, Ernst Jünger the fierce warrior had sung his Kampf als inneres erlebnis. With Britling written far from the front, Wells shows how deeply a man of peace can be involved. For the first time, he does not treat a war novel as a literary game. He understands the war as a global event but knows that with Britling, the message to be delivered must come from the soul and be deeply personal. The novel is largely autobiographical, the inner experience being enlarged through the heart-breaking death of Hugh, an imaginary son, parallel to that of Heinrich, the German preceptor and friend. Emotion is at its deepest in the dramatically decisive scene between Britling and his wife. This emotion is built gradually through the art of the writer, from a narrative timeline to a vortex; through analogies and contrasts between Matching’s Easy’s Flower Show and echoes of the coming war in the distance; with the long drive in the quietness of the night; by describing how war, so far totally unknown on British soil, gradually invades ‘the common texture of English life’. With the night scenes as echoes of Britling’s inner plunge into his experience of war, the novel has a poetic flavour, reminding us that night was always for Wells a great source of inspiration.


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