Kipps

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Kipps: The Story of a Simple Soul
Author H. G. Wells
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Genre Social novel
Publisher Macmillan
Publication date
1905
Pages 380
Preceded by A Modern Utopia
Followed by In the Days of the Comet
Text Kipps: The Story of a Simple Soul at Wikisource

Kipps: The Story of a Simple Soul is a novel by H. G. Wells, first published in 1905. Humorous yet sympathetic, this perceptive social novel is generally regarded as a masterpiece, and was the author's own favourite work.[1]

Plot[edit]

The protagonist of Kipps is Arthur "Artie" Kipps. In Book I ("The Making of Kipps") he is raised by his aged aunt and uncle in New Romney, on the southern coast of Kent. He attends the Cavendish Academy ("a middle-class school," not a "boarding school"[2]) in Hastings, in East Sussex. "By inherent nature he had a sociable disposition,"[3] and Kipps befriends Sid Pornick, the neighbour's boy. Kipps falls in love with Sid's younger sister Ann, and Ann gives him half a sixpence as a token of their love when at the age of fourteen he is apprenticed to the Folkestone Drapery Bazaar, run by Mr. Shalford. But the Pornicks move away and Kipps forgets Ann. He becomes infatuated with Helen Walshingham, who teaches a wood carving class on Thursday nights. When Chitterlow, an actor and aspiring playwright, meets Kipps by running into him with his bicycle, their encounter turns into an inebriated evening that leads to Kipps's being "swapped" (dismissed). But before he leaves Mr. Shalford's establishment, Chitterlow brings to his attention a newspaper advertisement that leads to an unsuspected inheritance for Kipps from his grandfather of a house and £26,000.[4]

In Book II ("Mr. Coote the Chaperon"), Kipps fails in his attempt to adapt to his new social class while living in Folkestone. By chance he meets a Mr. Coote, who undertakes his social education; this leads to renewed contact with Helen Walshingham, and they become engaged. But the process of bettering himself alienates Kipps more and more, especially since Helen has in view taking advantage of Kipps's fortune to establish herself and her brother in London society. Chance meetings with Sid and then Ann (now a house servant) lead to a decision to abandon social conventions (and his engagement to Helen) and marry his childhood sweetheart.

In Book III ("Kippses"), the attempt to find suitable lodging precipitates Kipps back into a struggle with the "complex and difficult" English social system. Kipps and Ann quarrel. Then they learn that Helen's brother, a solicitor, has lost most of their fortune through speculation. The loss of most of Kipps's money leads to a happier situation, however, when Kipps opens a branch of the Associated Booksellers' Trading Union (Limited) in Hythe, and they have a son. The success of Chitterlow's play, in which Kipps had invested £2000, restores their fortune, but they are content to remain shopkeepers.

Themes[edit]

Kipps is a rags-to-riches study in class differences, and the novel's chief dramatic interest is how the protagonist negotiates the intellectual, moral, and emotional difficulties that come with wealth and a change of social station. Kipps is the only character in the novel who is fully developed, and all events are narrated from his point of view. A restrained Wellsian narrator's voice offers occasional comment, but only toward the end of the novel does this voice speak out in a page-long denunciation of "the ruling power of this land, Stupidity," which is "a monster, a lumpish monster, like some great clumsy griffin thing, like the Crystal Palace labyrinthodon, like Coote, like the leaden Goddess of the Dunciad, like some fat, proud flunkey, like pride, like indolence, like all that is darkening and heavy and obstructive in life."[5]

Kipps's friend Sid becomes a socialist and houses a boarder, Masterman, who argues that society "is hopelessly out of joint. Man is a social animal with a mind nowadays that goes around the globe, and a community cannot be happy in one part and unhappy in another. . . . Society is one body, and it is either well or ill. That's the law. This society we live in is ill."[6] But while Kipps admires Masterman and is in part receptive to this point of view, he tells Ann that "I don't agree with this socialism."[7] At one time Wells intended to develop Masterman into a major character (and indeed convert Kipps to socialism) and wrote several versions in which he played an important role at the end of the novel, but in the end he eliminated Masterman altogether from the novel's conclusion.[8] It is a critical commonplace to see in this an example of Wells's inner struggle between the roles of artist and prophet.

The speech of Artie Kipps is a careful rendering of the pronunciation of the English language as Wells first learned it. Kipps never does master another way of speaking, and after much effort reverts to the manner of his upbringing. An example: "'Speckylated it!' said Kipps, with an illustrative flourish of the arm that failed to illustrate. 'Bort things dear and sold 'em cheap, and played the 'ankey-pankey jackass with everything we got. That's what I mean 'e's done, Ann.'"[9]

Redaction and publication[edit]

Wells worked on Kipps for seven years, completing a draft entitled The Wealth of Mr Waddy in January 1899 and finishing the novel in May 1904.[10] He was eager for the novel to succeed, and harassed Macmillan with unorthodox ideas for publicity like sandwich men in the West End theatre district and posters saying "Kipps Worked Here" outside Portsmouth railroad station.[11]

Reception[edit]

Though Kipps eventually became one of Wells's most successful novels, at first it was slow to sell. But 12,000 copies had been sold by the end of 1905, and by the 1920s more than a quarter of a million.[12] The novel earned high praise from Henry James, but Arnold Bennett complained that the book showed "ferocious hostility to about five-sixths of the characters.".[13] Biographer David C. Smith called the novel "a masterpiece," and argued that with Kipps, The History of Mr Polly, and Tono-Bungay Wells "is able to claim a permanent place in English fiction, close to Dickens, because of the extraordinary humanity of some of the characters, but also because of his ability to invoke a place, a class, a social scene."[14]

Adaptations[edit]

Kipps has been adapted for other media several times. In 1921, a silent film version set in Folkestone, and (for the final scene) shot on location in Canterbury and partly at the Savoy Hotel. Wells was an extra in the film. The 1941 adaptation starred Michael Redgrave in the title role. It was adapted as an eight-part television serial by Granada Television, with Brian Murray as Kipps, and shown on the ITV network between 14 October and 2 December 1960; this version no longer exists.[15]

Kipps was adapted into the stage musical Half a Sixpence by David Heneker and Beverley Cross. It was originally mounted on London's West End as a star vehicle for Tommy Steele, and transferred to Broadway (with Steele) in the 1965–1966 season. It was filmed in 1967, again with Steele in the starring role.

References[edit]

  1. ^ back cover blurb, Fontana edition, 1961
  2. ^ H.G. Wells, Kipps, II, 1, §2.
  3. ^ H.G. Wells, Kipps, I, 1, §1.
  4. ^ H.G. Wells, Kipps, I, 6, §5.
  5. ^ H.G. Wells, Kipps, III, 2, §5.
  6. ^ H.G. Wells, Kipps, II, 7, §4.
  7. ^ H.G. Wells, Kipps, II, 9, §3.
  8. ^ Norman and Jeanne MacKenzie, H.G. Wells: A Biography (Simon and Schuster, 1973), pp. 193–94.
  9. ^ H.G. Wells, Kipps, III, 3, §1.
  10. ^ Norman and Jeanne MacKenzie, H.G. Wells: A Biography (Simon and Schuster, 1973), pp. 187, 192.
  11. ^ Norman and Jeanne MacKenzie, H.G. Wells: A Biography (Simon and Schuster, 1973), p. 187.
  12. ^ Michael Sherborne, H.G. Wells: Another Kind of Life (Peter Owen, 2010), p. 167.
  13. ^ Norman and Jeanne MacKenzie, H.G. Wells: A Biography (Simon and Schuster, 1973), p. 194.
  14. ^ David C. Smith, H.G. Wells: Desperately Mortal: A Biography (Yale UP, 1986), pp. 202; 199–200.
  15. ^ The Kaleidoscope British Independent Television Drama Research Guide 1955–2010, page 2307 (Simon Coward, Richard Down & Christopher Perry; Kaleidoscope Publishing, 2nd edition, 2010, ISBN 978-1-900203-33-3)

External links[edit]