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Mr. Britling Sees It Through by H. G. Wells
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Mr. Britling Sees It Through (1916)

by H. G. Wells

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This is a a wonderful jumble - part domestic novel, part philosphy, part rather profound musings on war and peace. I thoroughly enjoyed it and am now a little in love with HGW, like, it seems, many women before me. ( )
  laurenbufferd | Nov 14, 2016 |
This is a surprisingly powerful novel, but not one with aliens or fantastic machines or representations of utopian futures, which are the things for which H.G. Wells is most noted. This is not that kind of book. There isn’t a driving plot that requires resolution. It falls firmly into the ‘literary’ genre, exploring how people react to events that threaten to change their view of the world. The event, of course, is World War I, and the story is a personal and very human account of the war’s first years, not from one of the combatants, but from a father who provides a broader yet still intimate perspective. When it was published in 1916, it would be considered contemporary fiction. Now, it might be seen as historical fiction.
The first quarter of the book sets a scene of tranquil Essex in 1914, relatively untainted by the hustle and bustle of nearby London or by the changes going on throughout the rest of the world. The main character, Mr. Britling, is a fairly well known writer of essays and articles. He is an optimist. He believes in reason and in humanity’s ability to exercise good judgment. His worldview is about to be challenged. (I got the distinct impression that much of Mr. Britling was an autobiographical representation of Mr. Wells.)
As fiction, this book humanizes the experience of WWI in a way that history cannot. It shows the initial disbelief, denial, outrage, grief, and attempts at rationalization that Mr. Britling experiences. It comments on politics, ideology, religion, and the stupidity and waste of war from the perspective of a person detached enough to observe it rationally while involved enough to experience it emotionally. It’s a powerful combination. It stimulates the readers’ minds as well as their feelings.
I won’t summarize the story. Others have done that. If you wish, you can view the Wikipedia entry. One overriding theme of the book is how the characters perform mental gymnastics to adjust the reality of the war with their understanding of the world. Mr. Britling observes that the war is incompatible with the idea of God promoted by the Church, so he imagines a different one, which still allows him to retain his optimism about humanity. In this way, he carries on. He sees it through.
I can’t honestly recommend this book for everyone, but I would suggest it to fans of H.G. Wells and those with an interest in WWI. I enjoyed it immensely.
( )
1 vote DLMorrese | Oct 14, 2016 |
In 2014 I set myself a reading challenge that, on the centenary of events in the First World War, I would read the relevant book out of a pile I have had accumulating unread over the past twenty years. This challenge has expanded a bit and, to add to the military, economic, and political history, I've been reading novels, poems, and plays written by those who lived through the war. Lately I've been assisted in this by the publication by Casemate of its Classic War Fiction series of which this book is part.

Published in September 1916, mid way through the battle of the Somme, this must be one of the first novels about World War One. This has its drawbacks. The book feels rather like an early draft. Much that would have been excluded with more reflection is left in making for an occasionally bloated, lumpy read. If Mr. Britling is an alter ego for Wells, then the lengthy extracts from letters written by his son in the trenches are, quite possibly, simply copied in from letters Wells was receiving at the time. It also leaves much unresolved. What did Mr Direck do when the United States entered the war in April 1917?

But, at the same time, it does convey a evocative picture of England during the war. Some passages are almost unbearably powerful; the death of Mr Britling's aunt in a zeppelin raid, the death of his son, Hugh, and his reflections on the fate of Heinrich, his pre-war German lodger. While many of the books about combat in the war convey an immediate experience, Mr Britling Sees it Through conveys a deep sense of the emotional pain caused by the war.

This is an obscure and atypical book about the First World War now thankfully back in print. It is well worth reading to connect with the pain of those who experienced it. ( )
  JohnPhelan | Oct 4, 2016 |
When is a novel not a novel? That is a question that readers may well ask of [Mr Britling Sees it Through] as Wells seems more intent in depicting the life of a family in Essex (England) in the early years of the first World War than in developing a story line with a plot that might capture our imagination. This is more like a slice of Literary Realism with Mr Britling as a stand in for H G Wells. The book is still a work of fiction, but for most of the time is does nor read like one. It is a platform for Wells to expound his ideas on the state of the Nation, religion, world war and world peace.

Published in 1916: [Mr Britling Sees it Through] was an enormous success, generating good sales and plenty of critical acclaim and today can be enjoyed as a valuable document from a literary man of affairs who had never been afraid to voice his opinion on what was wrong with his country and how he might improve things. H G Wells hated the war and he hated the war mongers, but there is still an underlying tide of optimism in Mr Britling that in the end “sees him through.”

Like Many of H G Wells novels [Mr Britling Sees it Through] gets off to a slow start and I wonder if this had anything to do with H G Wells method of writing. He was prolific: publishing on average three books a year and while I can’t imagine that when it was time to write his next novel he would sit down with a blank sheet of paper and just let his thoughts flow, it strikes me however, that he may have had only an outline plan of what he wanted to say and was content to let his books develop organically. Take Mr Britling as an example. It starts with an American (Mr Direck) coming over to England in early 1914 to meet Mr Britling with a view of securing publishing deal/lecture tour with this notable man of letters. The reader sees England and the Britling family from Mr Direck’s point of view as he travels through London to Matching Easy; a village in Essex to stay with the Britlings as a house guest. First impressions of Mr Britling are of a rather comic character bumbling his way through the world; most notably in one of the early motor cars which is proving to be difficult to control. There are crashes, mishaps and missteps as Mr Direck tries to get a toe hold into the family and into his conversations with Mr Britling. American efficiency and business acumen is contrasted with the more laid back approach of the Essex man. Suddenly there is a change of gear as the point of view shifts to Mr Britling and Mr Direck is sent away to the continent. Now H G Wells wants to write about the first world war, how it began and it’s immediate effects on the lives of the community in Essex.

We get Mr Britling’s views on how the war started, how the politicians were at fault, the general state of British unpreparedness, the muddled thinking, in short; H G Well’s views. In book 2 of the novel Wells concentrates on the family circle and how they as individuals came to realise that their world was changing rapidly and they must become part of the war machine. Seen through the eyes of the now thoughtful and serious Mr Britling, the reader finds that decisions that would have been impossible just a few months earlier now have to be made, amid confusion and unreliable reporting. A world in turmoil which does not as yet have much of an inkling of the horrors to come; is brilliantly portrayed. Throughout it all Mr Britling/Wells reflects; for example after reading about the atrocities committed by the Germans:

“And in the case of these Germans and the outrages they had committed and the retaliations they had provoked, he perceived that always there was an element of a perceptible if inadequate justification. Just as there would be if presently he were to maltreat a fallen German airman. There was anger in their vileness. These Germans were an unsubtle people, a people in the worst and best sense of the words; plain and honest; they were prone to moral indignation; and moral indignation is the mother of most of the cruelty in the world. They perceived the indolence of the English and Russians, they perceived their disregard of science and system, they could not perceive the longer reach of these greater races, and it seems to them that the mission of Germany was too chastise and correct this laxity. Surely they argued, God was not on the side of those who kept an untilled field.”

Here lies the strength of this extraordinary novel in depicting the mindset of an intelligent Englishman faced with the inevitability of going to war.

This intelligent human being: Mr Britling because he is H G Wells also had to face problems concerning the breakup of yet another extra-marital affair. This pales into insignificance when he learns that his secretary and then his beloved son have volunteered to fight. Wells had long before predicted that modern warfare would be carnage for those involved in fighting and Wells is able to write about this through the medium of letters sent home from Hugh his son, who sooner rather than later takes his place on the front line. There is enough here to appreciate the other-worldly life and death situation faced by the men in the trenches, but really the focus of the novel is how this plays on the minds of the people at home. Wells rails against the ineptitude of the Military machine and of the ineptitude, or worse, of the politicians, he puts himself in the position of a man powerless to stop the dogs of war that have been unleashed. What can he do, what can anyone do in this situation and as readers we feel his anxieties.

There is a romance of sorts between the American Mr Direck (we had almost forgotten about him) and Cissie one of Mr Britling’s house guests that serves to demonstrates how desperate people were to go and fight and to encourage others to do so. As we leave the novel the war of course is still underway and Mr Britling having faced his own personal tragedies looks towards religion as a possible salvation, but the feeling is one of halfheartedness, perhaps that of a desperate man unable to make sense of the world at war.

Over the last couple of years I have read 25 books by H G Wells in chronological order, however the prognosis is not so good for the rest of his oeuvre. H G Wells went on to write another 60 odd books before his death in 1946, but the general view is that for the most part the polemics got in the way of his novel writing. I can see this happening in [Mr Britling sees it Through] and so 3.5 stars. ( )
2 vote baswood | Mar 17, 2015 |
Mr. Britling Sees It Through by H.G. Wells

This Wells book (my first Wells non-sci-fi) was first published in 1916 and is set in the summer of 1914. Our Mr Britling, is an eccentric writer who spends his days at house parties & socializing with many international guests. When he tires of this life he travels abroad to hook up with whichever mistress he is involved with at the moment.

Britling is married to his second wife (his first wife having died) & he and his family live in a village in Essex. He and his wife are no longer in love with one another but congenially carry on and the household appears to run smoothly. He is very fond of his eldest son Hugh by his first marriage and appears to me to yet be in love with his first wife. His family consists of Britling, his wife, their three sons, an aged aunt and a young German tutor. His secretary Teddy, his wife Letty, and her sister Cissie lived in a small house nearby.

A gentleman from America, Mr. Direck, arrives to do some business with Britling and as the book courses through the beginning what ho, what fun! Our Mr. Britling is just learning how to drive his automobile and takes Mr. Direck for a ride. Lumping & bumping down the lane, in and out of the ditches, etc and ending with the auto being stuck in a bank and Direck with a broken wrist. This requires him to stay with the Britlings for a time which he doesn't mind as he enjoys watching the family and their eccentricities, most often enabled by Britling. During his visit with the family he falls in love with the sister-in-law of the secretary, Cissie.

Our Mr. Britling thinks that war will never come to them. Surely Hitler would not be so foolish as to attack them. However, the clouds of war have started to set in as Germany marches into Belgium and Europe is no longer the safe and fun playground that it once was. It is soon brought home to Mr Britling that war is not just an inconvenience to his lifestyle but also a danger to the people he loves. What can he do though? All he’s ever done is write, travel or attend parties. Surely the world needs someone who has done more than that?

I really enjoyed the beginning of the book but it slowly petered out for me. However I am still glad I read it and perhaps on a second reading I will appreciate the latter part more. ( )
2 vote rainpebble | Apr 2, 2014 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
H. G. Wellsprimary authorall editionscalculated
Keeping, CharlesIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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It was the sixth day of Mr. Direck's first visit to England, and he was at his acutest perception of differences.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0766170985, Paperback)

Mr. Britling was one of the representative thinkers upon which society decided to inform itself. He did not appear like one would think such a distinguished English gentleman should. His mustache, his hair, his eyebrows bristled; his flaming freckled face seemed about to bristle, too. His little hazel eyes came out with a "ping." Mr. Britling was one of a large, but remarkable, class of people who seem at the mere approach of photography to change their hair, their clothes, their moral natures. No photographer had ever caught a hint of his essential Britlingness or bristlingness, but H.G. Wells certainly does in this fabulous novel.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:18:15 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

The "It" of this novel's title is World War I, as viewed through the eyes of its main character. Mr. Britling, an eccentric writer, never leaves England, but his armchair perspective on the conflict provides a finely wrought picture of the British home front and of changes in the national mood as the war dragged on.… (more)

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