The third in a series of 13 book reviews I wrote in my pre-blogging years.
KIPPS – The Story of a Simple Soul by H.G. Wells (1905)
The excellence of this novel is not sustained to the end. Book III (Kippses) comes as quite a disappointment with its excursion into the domestic problems of the newlyweds (Anne & Kipps). Other events like the birth of their son are merely sketched in as the story drifts towards an anti-climatic conclusion.
Books I and II are, however, quite wonderful. Firstly, the plight of Kipps as he is forced into a dead-end job and sent out into the world in a state of complete innocence are superbly described.
Wells’ touches of irony are almost always effective, for example he describes the pitifully short amount of leisure time Kipps has at the end of the day as follows: “the rest of the day was entirely at his disposal for reading, recreation and the improvement of his mind”.
The confused dreams of Kipps are very believable. He, for instance, longs to be more learned but knows nothing about books, It is another irony that at the end of the novel he acquires a bookshop.
If confusion without money is bad enough, confusion with a windfall of £1200 a year proves to be just as bad. One feels for Kipps as he struggles to learn the “manners and rules of good society” and is taken advantage of by the so-called respectable classes.
The way he tries to cope with these problems is both funny and sad. Our sympathies are with him because he is the victim of an unjust social system.
Kipps briefly becomes a socialist but once he has ‘rescued’ Anne he rejects this political philosophy. Instead, he muddles on exclaiming from time to time what a “rum world” it is. In this respect he reminds me of Stephen Blackpool in Dickens’ ‘Hard Times’ – simple, ineffectual and lacking in personality.
Wells’ message is a little trite – money can change our external situation but not our inner selves.It is a pity the author did not have the courage to show more explicitly how such a ‘simple soul’ can be manipulated and destroyed by the ruthless demands of a capitalist society.
It is refreshing when Wells occasionally displays anger towards the “respect pampered souls” who squander their wealth on trivial indulgences.
Probably the demands of the novel-reading public led him to temper such rage and pander to the taste for light-hearted stories with uncomplicated morals.
This novel is flawed but immensely enjoyable, particularly if you stop reading at the end of Book II.