Souls of Men under Capitalism: Wilde, Wells, and the Anti-Novel

Jed Esty

in Unseasonable Youth

Published in print November 2011 | ISBN: 9780199857968
Published online January 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199919581 | DOI:

Series: Modernist Literature and Culture

Souls of Men under Capitalism: Wilde, Wells, and the Anti-Novel

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  • Literary Studies (20th Century onwards)


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This chapter analyzes Wilde's Dorian Gray and Wells's Tono-Bungay as antidevelopmental novels that reveal, from the perspective of the metropole, the increasing displacement of national by global frames of reference for the British novel. Wilde and Wells embed the motif of broken Bildung in a wider story of the disjunction between capitalist dynamism (consumerist lust, rampant financial speculation, bottomless energy needs) and national tradition. Wilde's cosmopolitan decadence and Wells's global marketing give us what we might call the two faces of post-national narrative, rendered in terms of an overt crisis in the allegorization of the maturing soul linked to the modernizing society. In these two novels of endless youth, modern consumer culture fully penetrates the plot of socialization, unraveling the culture-commerce compromise of the classic bildungsroman with particular clarity and throwing overboard the heterosexual marriage plot as the presumed center of social reproduction.

Keywords: oscar wilde; h.g. wells; tono-bungay; the picture of dorian gray; consumption; production; metropolitan; anti-novel; arrested development; decadence

Chapter.  11287 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (20th Century onwards)

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