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The Wheels of Chance by H. G. Wells

The Wheels of Chance

by H. G. Wells

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1273147,448 (2.97)3
The comical Wheels of Chance was written in 1896 at the height of the golden age of the bicycle, when practical and affordable bicycles led to profound social shifts in England. Suddenly people of modest means could travel greater distances for work or even for pleasure, without the limitations of rail schedules, weakening England's rigid class structure and strengthening the movement towards the liberation of women. In the novel, the poorly-paid draper's assistant Mr...… (more)
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Utterly charming with a female character who is an early version of Ann Veronica. ( )
  laurenbufferd | Nov 14, 2016 |
Personally, I consider this one of Wells' lesser efforts, in that it fails to utilize his unparalleled ability to produce great works of science fiction. Wells' story telling ability is always top notch. So to with this quaint book, although the actual content is dated and the story line hardly captivating.

Ostensibly, the novel concerns the quaint holiday adventure of a working class Englishman who decides to venture out on a bicycling adventure- at the time, a novel but highly popular activity. On a deeper level, Wells' writes about the societal restrictions of the 19th century class system- we encounter this in the main character's interaction with a lovely young lady of higher social standing he meets during his trip. ( )
  la2bkk | Mar 12, 2014 |
Originally published in 1896; [The Wheels of Chance] was Wells' first social comedy in novel form. It followed closely on the heels of [The Time Machine], [The Wonderful Visit] and [The Island of Doctor Moreau], however the only fantasy in this new novel is in the head of its hero: Mr Hoopdriver

Wells subtitled his novel "A Bicycling Idyll" which reflected both his own interest in cycling and the new craze which swept the country when bicycles became affordable and people of all classes could take to the open road. Hoopdriver is an indentured drapers assistant, who is a keen novice cyclist in what little free time he has and so when his two weeks holiday comes round he takes off on his bike on a tour of the South of England. This is a time of unpaved roads where the horse and cart/carriage ruled and our Mr Hoopdriver soon comes to grief cycling up Putney Hill, his bid for freedom temporarily ending in a dusty and painful tumble, but this proves to be only one of many as the shin barked Hoopdriver struggles with his 43lb machine. On the second day of his adventure he stumbles upon a female cyclist "the lady in grey" and their paths continue to cross as the day proceeds. It soon becomes apparent that "the lady in grey" is being held under some compulsion by her companion: the lecherous Bechemel. Hoopdriver despite his misgivings becomes involved, but his inexperience of life is almost on an equal footing with that of the "the lady in grey": the 17 year old Jessie Milton, however Hooopdriver gets to play the Knight Errant and rescues Jessie from Bechemel, only to find that the couple are then pursued by Jessie's Aunt and her three sycophants. There is a marvellous chase across the South of England before the couple are eventually brought to heel, but in the meantime Hoopdriver discovers a few things about life and begins to dream of a better position for himself.

H G Wells himself spent a short period locked into the world of a drapers assistant and so is able to empathise with Hoopdrivers dilemma and conveys wonderfully well the sense of freedom that the early cyclists must have experienced when they took to the road for the first time. Hoopdrivers journey through the South of England can still be followed on a map today and Wells' descriptions of the small towns and villages with their inns and tea houses is evocative of a time now difficult to imagine. There is humour and pathos in Wells writing and much social commentary on the class system that the cyclists of his day would help to erode little by little, as they made their way around the country that was beginning to open up for them. It is too early for Hoopdriver and although there is a glimmer of hope for him at the end of the novel, the reader is left with the idea of a suffocating class system that will grind on and be too much for the likes of a drapers assistant. H G Wells escaped of course, but then he had a special talent, unlike Hoopdriver who needs to screw up all his courage just to stay free for his two weeks holiday.

Wells is secure in his own abilities and at the start of Wheels of Chance after describing Hoopdriver to the reader he says:

"But real literature, as distinguished from anecdote, does not concern itself with superficial appearances alone. Literature is a revelation. Modern literature is indecorous revelation, it is the duty of the earnest author to tell you what you would not have seen - even at the cost of some blushes"

Wells feels comfortable enough to name drop fellow authors such as George Gissing and George Bernard Shaw and Jessie's aunt is featured as a popular author of melodramatic novels, which is obviously based on a novelist at the time. There is also a short rant on the advantages of socialism, although this passes way over the head of Hoopdriver and Jessie, however it is the light hearted comic touch that Wells brings to this story that makes it swing along so entertainingly. There is charm, there is wit and underneath it all a sense of a world beginning to change. An excellent read which I rate at 4 stars. ( )
5 vote baswood | Jul 2, 2013 |
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If you (presuming you are of the sex that does such things)—if you had gone into the Drapery Emporium—which is really only magnificent for shop-of Messrs. Antrobus & Co.—a perfectly fictitious “Co.,” by the bye—of Putney, on the 14th of August, 1895, had turned to the right-hand side, where the blocks of white linen and piles of blankets rise up to the rail from which the pink and blue prints depend, you might have been served by the central figure of this story that is now beginning.
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