The New Machiavelli
|Author||H. G. Wells|
|Published||1911 (Lane, Bodley Head)|
|Preceded by||The History of Mr Polly|
|Followed by||The Country of the Blind and Other Stories|
The New Machiavelli is a 1911 novel by H. G. Wells that was serialized in The English Review in 1910. Because its plot notoriously derived from Wells's affair with Amber Reeves and satirized Beatrice and Sidney Webb, it was "the literary scandal of its day."
The New Machiavelli purports to be written in the first person by its protagonist, Richard "Dick" Remington, who has a lifelong passion for "statecraft" and who dreams of recasting the social and political form of the English nation. Remington is a brilliant student at Cambridge, writes several books on political themes, marries a wealthy heiress, and enters parliament as a Liberal influenced by the socialism of a couple easily recognizable as the Webbs, only to go over to the Conservatives. Remington undertakes the editing of an influential political weekly and is returned to parliament on a platform advocating the state endowment of mothers, but his career is wrecked by his love affair with a brilliant young Oxford graduate, Isabel Rivers. When rumors of their affair begin to circulate, Remington tries to break off the affair, but then resolves to abandon wife, career, party, and country and live abroad in Italy, where he writes the apologia pro vita sua that the novel constitutes.
The novel's principal themes are politics and sex, both abiding preoccupations of the author. Biographer David Smith called The New Machiavelli "Wells's most autobiographical novel." The development of political and sexual passion in the protagonist is traced in intricate detail. The artificiality of Victorian and Edwardian morality is the novel's chief target: "Thank God! I'll soon be out of it! The shame of it! The very savages in Australia initiate their children better than the English do to-day. Neither of us was ever given a view of what they call morality that didn't make it show as shabby subservience, as the meanest discretion, an abject submission to unreasonable prohibitions! meek surrender of mind and body to the dictation of pedants and old women and fools. We weren't taught—we were mumbled at!"
Some critics have considered The New Machiavelli "the beginning of the retreat of Wells the story-teller. . . . It was the first ominous eruption of those magnificent moments of self-assertion which were to disintegrate the novelist in him." But the novel has had many prestigious admirers. Joseph Conrad called it a "master-work," Upton Sinclair considered it Wells's masterpiece, and D.H. Lawrence called it "awfully interesting"; another admirer, Henry James, regarded Wells's use of the first person an artistic mistake.
Beatrice Webb called The New Machiavelli "very clever in a malicious way," but did not sue, saying that the novel "lays bare the tragedy of H.G.'s life—his aptitude for 'fine thinking' and even 'good feeling' and yet his total incapacity for decent conduct." Some libraries banned the book, and the Spectator did not review it. Reviewers were receptive to Wells's political argument, but hostile to its sexual message.
- David C. Smith, H.G. Wells: Desperately Mortal: A Biography (Yale University Press, 1986), p. 113.
- David C. Smith, H.G. Wells: Desperately Mortal: A Biography (Yale University Press, 1986), p. 112.
- H.G. Wells, The New Machiavelli Book IV, Ch. III, §4.
- Vincent Brome, H.G. Wells: A Biography (Longmans, Green, 1951), p. 113.
- Michael Sherborne, H.G. Wells: Another Kind of Life (Peter Owen, 2010), p. 211-12.
- Norman and Jeanne Mackenzie, H.G. Wells: A Biography (Simon and Schuster, 1973), p. 270.
- Michael Sherborne, H.G. Wells: Another Kind of Life (Peter Owen, 2010), p. 211.