Edwardian everyday: the problem of escape in H.G. Wells and Arnold Bennett.
Edwards, Ryan John
This thesis examines the concept of escaping the everyday in the Edwardian novels of H.G. Wells and Arnold Bennett. Both are interested in the ordinary lives of overlooked individuals but differ profoundly on what constitutes the everyday; both presage subsequent important theoretical critiques of the everyday. The first chapter indicates theoretical problems with the everyday as articulated by various approaches to its potential significances, and the logics underpinning its apparent stability. The issue of escape is implicit in many of these approaches, particularly Marxist critiques of capitalism’s colonisation of day-to-day routines. Rather than simply examine the everyday as it is represented by Wells and Bennett, the logic of exodic critiques, those that mandate escape, offers a lucid means of exposing their perhaps irreconcilable evaluations of the quotidian. Wells’s approach is predicated upon the necessity and feasibility of escape. His Edwardian futurological speculations of post-everyday possibilities can be read in conjunction with the novels’ itemisation of miserable everydays produced by the otiose structures of capitalism. The consolidation of this predicate means that escape appears as wholly necessary to agency and individuality, and the novels outline increasingly individuated, and implausible, escape attempts. The viability of these efforts reveals Wells’s ideological misconception of petit bourgeois agency. However, Wells’s failure to cogently outline what or where the post-everyday might be is also partly a problem of escape. In the final instance, he recognises that the escape attempts of his approach to the everyday involve a terminal and interminable problem: endless prospects of escape. Bennett dissents from Wells in three important ways. Firstly, he indicates that escape offers insufficient alterity: holidays involve massifying consumption, are superintended by capitalism, involve a return to wage-labour, and are invariably constituted by someone else’s occluded everyday. For Bennett, everyday regularities provide a means of orientating oneself, consolidate identity, and provide meaning – traits which might be found in work. Secondly, the epistemic precarity which saturates Bennett’s novels inhibits the confident projection of post-everyday felicity. Whereas Wells, confidently outlined an improved, if ductile, futurity, Bennett implicitly recognises that such speculations are ideologically conditioned and prone to the reinscription of anterior suppositions. Thirdly, Bennett posits that the everyday is axiomatically constituted by individuals whose agency is not coeval with escape. This is manifest in Bennett’s conception of historical agency denied by critical accounts, such as Henri Lefebvre’s, which pose the everyday as a hegemonic, disciplinary force. Bennett’s conception of ordinary individuals’ purposeful, meaningful praxis as the very fabric of the everyday undoes the necessity of escape. The everyday is not the denial of agency but the plane upon which history is immanent and constituted by ordinary people. The thesis concludes with a brief coda outlining a foundational tenet shared by Bennett and Wells that has implications beyond their Edwardian work.