Friday, 5 January 2018

The Bulpington of Blup (1932)



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Going through Wells more-or-less systematically as I'm doing has unearthed all sorts of things I didn't know before. For instance, I hadn't previously realised that Wells was friends with Carl Jung. From the 1920s onward the two of them met, talked and corresponded. Jung's published work several times makes reference to ‘my friend H G Wells’; and Wells in turn gave Jung a walk-on part in The World of William Clissold (1926). Wells's Experiment in Autobiography (1934) frames his whole life-story by distinguishing between his actual self and the self he is prone to narrate into existence, ‘what Jung would call my persona’ [Experiment, 9].

Which brings me to The Bulpington of Blup, a book with surely the most catastrophically ill-judged title of any Wells publication, more like background sound-effects in a David Attenborough documentary about toads than the name of a novel. (I know it's supposed to be comical. That doesn't excuse it, I feel). But a very interesting, and profoundly Jungian, work nonetheless.

Now: I hypothecate, though without hard evidence, that Jung confided to Wells something private and personal about his young life in Switzerland, and Wells then used this as the core idea of his novel.

Confided what? The wider world finally learnt of Jung's childhood secret in 1962, when Jung collaborated with Aniela Jaffé on his autobiography, Erinnerungen, Träume, GedankenMemories (it appeared in English in 1963 as Memories, Dreams, Reflections). Here Jung recalls his childhood in near misery-memoir terms. Jung's mother was a difficult woman, unpredictably alternating remoteness with over-intimate affection. His mild-mannered father was chaplain to a nearby mental hospital and Jung agonized that his own shyness and awkwardness were actually manifestations of ‘hereditary taint’. In John Kerr's words, young Jung was
an asocial miscreant, rejected by his peers. Home was no better—the atmosphere was ‘unbreathable’— ... To relieve periodic choking fits he took to visualising golden angels against a blue background. And there were spaces inside spaces where one might be safe. He carved a tiny mannikin, hid it beneath the attic floorboards, and for a year ritually presented the little man with miniature scrolls written in a secret language. Guilty in his demeanour when challenged, Jung was a natural target at school. His teachers punished him, the other boys tormented him, and he could find no better solution than to fake dizzy spells so that he might stay at home. He was so convincing in this role that the doctors worried his father into believing he might be incurable. [John Kerr, ‘Madnesses’, LRB 17:6 (1995), 3]
Memories, Dreams, Reflections details the psychological defense mechanism Jung developed to handle this situation. He became convinced that he was two people: ‘Personality No 1’ and ‘Personality No 2’. The former was an insecure schoolboy, the individual the world knew; the latter a secret inner identity, a distant, immensely grand and old being, ‘close to nature’ and above all ‘close to the night, to dreams, and to whatever “God” worked directly in him’ [Memories, Dreams, Reflections, 45]. Jung wasn't always able to maintain an intimate relationship with Personality No 2, and in later adolescence he actively concentrated on his ‘ego’ version, Personality No 1, so as to do as well as possible at school, with No.2 receding into his background and being more associated with his depressive moods.

The two were distinct (for example: when Jung planned to go to college, his Personality No.1 wanted to study science and No.2 comparative religion and philosophy) but not schizophrenic, in either the clinical or layman's sense of the term. It seems that No 2 had a name—beyond, that is, ‘Personality No 2’—but Jung didn't disclose it to Jaffé. John Kerr thinks the name was Goethe, and that young Jung might have believed himself Geothe's reincarnation (Jung family legend identified the great man as, supposedly, a distant ancestor). Memories, Dreams, Reflections doesn't say so, perhaps because older Jung was a little embarrassed by this too-obvious lineage, or because his theories had developed past mystic notions of simple reincarnation—although the autobiography has many praising things to say about Goethe otherwise. At any rate, Jung argued that we all, to one degree or another, carry these two sorts of souls within us.

And Wells? The Bulpington of Blup is a novel about shy, troubled youngster called Theodore Bulpington, the only child of a forceful, difficult mother and ineffectual father (a poet with a weak chest). Theodore is conscious of a much grander version of himself within himself. This is how the novel opens:
There had been a time when he felt that he ought not to call himself The Bulpington of Blup. Though it was only in his own mind that he called himself the Bulpington of Blup. He never called himself the Bulpington of Blup to any other human being. But to himself he did it continually. And the effects of doing it spread about in his brain. Sometimes it seemed to help things; sometimes to hinder them. For some years he made a great effort not to be The Bulpington of Blup any more, to be simply and really what he was—whatever that might be ... He had determined to look facts in the face—squarely in the face. He would go for walks whispering, “I am just Theodore Bulpington, a commonplace youth.” Even so he would find himself putting it in phrases that betrayed him. “It ill becomes the Bulpington of Blup to shirk the harsh visage of reality.” [Blup, 1:1]
If this premise was based on Jung's childhood experiences (and Jung is mentioned in the novel, though only in passing [3:2]) then Wells can only have learned of those experiences via Jung's personal confidence.


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Theodore grows up in the English seaside town of Blayport, a version of Folkestone. But his pinching, mundane Edwardian existence there encourages his mind to imagine a more impressive alternative. Since his real life is ‘full of boredom, obligation and frustration’ [1:3], his Personality No 2 inhabits a grander locale. His history teacher tells the class that Brighton was originally called Brighthelmstone, and London Londinium. Theodore invents the idea that Blayport's ancient name was ‘Blup’:
Blup hit upon Theodore’s fancy, hit his fancy indeed, extremely. Blup. It sounded like a great cliff, a ‘bluff’; it sounded like the smack of waves; it made him think of a horde of pirates, desperate fellows, harbouring there, Bulpingtons all. And among them a leader, one, head of the clan, spite of his tender years, the best of the breed, The Bulpington himself. [Blup, 1:1]
Blup soon detaches itself from the reality of Blayport:
It made itself a tortuous rocky harbour like a Norwegian fiord. It retreated up formidable gorges. And then it went inland and became a strange mountainous country where there were dense very green forests and the white roads wound about like serpents. One saw it usually from very far off and particularly about the time of sunset. It had walls and pinnacles of a creamy sort of rock that glittered micaceously, and there were always very still and watchful sentinels upon its ramparts. And at the sunset gun the great embroidered banner of The Bulpington fell down fold upon fold, fold upon fold, gold thread and shining silk, and gave place to the little storm flag that fluttered through the night.

And sometimes Blup receded altogether beyond the visible horizon and The Bulpington thereof, mysteriously in exile, went unsuspected and misunderstood, a slight dark boy going for an apparently aimless walk, a schoolboy treated contumeliously by women teachers of mathematics, a scornful saunterer amidst the vulgar antics of excursionists upon the beach, biding his time for the signal that would change all that. [Blup, 1:2]
Micaceously is a great word, though, isn't it? Jung, in landlocked Switzerland, also imagined a rocky port and romantic medieval castle as the location (‘this is my home’) of his ‘Personality No. 2’.

Not unlike Mrs Jung, Theodore's mother, Clorinda, is a difficult woman, alternating remoteness with over-intimate affection. She disappears to London for many days, and reappears unexpectedly: ‘when she returned she would relapse into her languorous art gowns and her affection for Raymond would be exceptionally ostentatious and abundant’ [1:3]. A handsome young man comes to visit, has hearty academic discussions with Raymond (Theodore's father) and converses with Clorinda in quieter tones. He is as uninterested in Theodore as everybody else is.
In the living-room he came upon Clorinda and the fair young man. They were on the Empire sofa. Their lips were pressed together and the young man’s hand (and half his arm) was thrust in a searching manner into the ample décolletage of Clorinda’s gown. Theodore’s presence was only remarked as he departed.

It was after this that he was given boots instead of sandshoes and told by Clorinda to carry himself manfully and not to “sneak about” so much. She said it got on her nerves. And the relationship of Theodore of Blayport to The Bulpington of Blup took on a new aspect.
Theodore befriends Teddy Broxted, who owns a microscope, perusal through which fills Theodore with wonder. Then he develops a crush on Teddy's sister Margaret, an ordinary Blayport schoolgirl, convincing himself she is a reincarnation of the Sibyl of yore. The three grow through adolescence together, Theodore quoting Henry James about art and form, Teddy announcing that he plans to dedicate his life to ‘science and socialism’ and Margaret insisting ‘I want the Vote,’ (she says this ‘with her eyes askance scrutinizing Theodore’ [3:4]). Margaret and Theodore kiss at a New Year's Eve party.

Then Theodore goes up to London to study art at the Rowlands School. He stays with his Fabian aunt, sees George Bernard Shaw speak, and disagrees with the socialists he meets: ‘“Why talk and work for a Social Revolution if it’s bound to happen?” That was a great point to make’ [3:7]. He decides he is in love with Margaret, but nonetheless he has an affair with one of his fellow students, Rachel Bernstein (‘in some magic fashion sex had lost all touch of obscenity. Rachel had so filled his mind with herself and her lithe vitality’ [4:1])—a betrayal he justifies by arguing that though Theodore loves Margaret, it is the Bulpington of Blup ‘that great figure, full as ever of the love and appreciation of life’ who is dallying with ‘the untidy, eager little Jewess’. It was not really he, but ‘the great young man, so reminiscent of the youthful Goethe, [who] toyed with her’ [4:2].

Goethe, see?

Theodore's father dies, and Wells gives us a very nicely written chapter about the High Edwardian funeral that ensues, touching and absurd at once. Then war breaks out, and Theodore, in an access of patriotism, enlists (‘“Dear England,” he whispered. “My England”’ [6:2]). Socialist-pacifist Teddy and Margaret are both disgusted with him. In contrast to the wartime-penned Joan and Peter (1918), which mocks pacificism roundly, Wells here has a deal of sympathy for the movement. Theodore's reflex patriotism is merely a function of the Bulpington of Blup personality overwhelming his other self: ‘the Bulpington of Blup, built up upon romantic, noble, historical and literary material, accepted the war and his own necessary participation in it as inevitable, and fought down all those mute instinctive objections of the circumambient Theodore’ [6:5].

Wells says the novel is going to skip the war itself:
Our story concerns the brain of Theodore and has no interest in describing the backgrounds of his experiences, except in so far as they changed the tenor of his mind. So here we will not repeat what has been told wonderfully and for all time, out of the richness of their intense personal impressions, by Aldington, Blunden, Graves, Gristwood, Stephen Graham, Ralph Scott, Montague, Sassoon, Tomlinson, Nevinson, Hodson and their peers; the tale of our gently civilized, none too thorough Britons coming out, or being dragged out, of the easy, regular, comfortable, three-meals-a-day-and-a-bed-at-night life in which they had been moulded, to the brutalities and hardships of the barrack yard, to the coarse clothing, to the reek and creeping dirtiness of crowded humanity, to the mean indignities of subjection and petty tyranny, to the exhausting route marches and exercises, to the bayonet training and the bombing school, the brief respite of leave, the sentimental farewells to home and friends, the crowded journey in darkened ships across the water to France, the halts and uncertainties, the shifting from rat-infested billet to louse-infested billet, the first vibration of the guns, the steady journey towards that muttering monster, always muttering louder, the sudden flash and concussion of batteries near at hand, the mud, rain, exposure, the carrying of heavy weights on slippery tracks, the increasing detonations and concussions, the flares at night, the first glimpse of air raids, the first shell-bursts. And so at last, with all the poor habitual decency and convenience of civilization left behind, to the stench and mud, the smashed protections and flimsy shelters, the thundering, rattling, glaring black suspense of the trenches, where in uproar, filth and fatigue they were to meet at the same time the alpha and omega of human evil, the renascent savagery of animal combativeness in alliance with such a mechanical destructiveness as no other age ever conceived. [Blup 6:6]
He doesn't skip it, though:
Quick march. He was told to keep to the right. Everybody was swerving to the right past a blood-bespattered patch of broken-up roadway. Something slippery was under his foot. Bah!—a red smear, and something. He stopped agape. Close at hand was a human body mainly denuded, torn in half. An indescribable mangled mass of red viscera trailed away from it in the dust. The head was lying away from him, seemed to be staring at him. He recognized the contorted face. He had known the man. There was a crumpled figure a few yards further on; what had happened to it? It was as if it tried to conceal its own indignity. God! And again among the weeds—was that an arm? A human arm torn off and flung aside!

“Get on there! Get on! They’re done for. There’s no helping them.”

But before Theodore could get on he had to be sick. He staggered out towards the roadside away from all that.

“Hurry up!” cried a sergeant. “Get it over!”

Theodore wanted to lie down and end. He was punched in the back, shaken by the shoulders and thrust forward. He stumbled along, staggering and still retching, after his section. He was weeping. “My God!” he repeated, “My God!” over and over again. He had never thought it would be anything like this. [Blup, 6:7]
Theodore is promoted, on account of infuentual family friends rather than any personal merit, and posted behind the lines for a while to work on aerial mapping. Here he injures his knee—wrenching it ‘taking a jaunty step down where there was no step outside the drawing office’ [7:1]—and goes to England to recuperate. When the time comes to return to his battalion Margaret and his ailing mother Clorinda urge him not to go. He goes back anyway, although reluctantly. En route to the front he learns that his mother has died. Heartbroken in Paris, he sleeps with an Algerian prostitute and in his postcoital guilt writes a highly-wrought letter to Margaret confessing his infidelity and his feelings of cowardice.

Back at the front for the final push, he has a pacifist epiphany: ‘Teddy had been right. Margaret was right. This is the last insanity of mankind. All these men, the men about him and the men against him, these fantastic men in masks, are mad, mad to have obeyed, mad to have marched to this, lunatics to go on with it. Before everything else he must get out of this nightmare, away from these maniacs’ [7:10]. He deserts, in a kind of fugue state, is captured, and is lucky to avoid execution. The young doctor who examines him is disinclined to send another fellow to the firing squad, and files the patently absurd report that Theodore was ‘leading [his] men splendidly and a shell exploded’ which ‘blew [him]—about a mile and a half to the rear’ [7:10]. Hospitalised with shell shock, Theodore sees out the rest of the war, and afterwards returns to London to try and pick-up the threads of his life. But Margaret has not forgiven him for the Parisian prostitute, and now has a fiancé called Laverock, who turns out, coincidentally, to be the doctor whose lie saved his life in France. Theodore sells his London flat and goes to live in Paris.

The final chapter is set ten years later. Theodore has carved out a new life for himself under the name ‘Captain Blup-Bulpington’ (‘—he never specified his regiment’) as part of the Parisian literary scene, ‘the editor and part owner of a brilliantly aggressive little magazine, called The Feet of the Young Men’ (printed ‘entirely without punctuation marks, merely with gaps of varying length, and all the capital B’s and P’s put backside foremost’):
He was now, it became more and more definite, the only surviving scion of an old English Catholic family, which had diverged from the Roman communion only after the later developments of doctrine—Infallibility and the Immaculate Conception—in the nineteenth century. He was a conservative even among Catholics. He was saturated with ripe, old traditions, a fine and gallant gentleman picking his fastidious way through the bulks and noises of a crude mechanical age. [Blup, 9:1]
This reinvention means that he entirely forgets Teddy and Margaret. A decade of this and he quarrels with the magazine, sells his share and returns to England. On the train home he has a long conversation with a young man, a socialist certain new strategies of education can change human nature and bring about a world utopia. Theodore is startled to learn that this fellow is a student of Teddy Broxted: his former childhood friend, now a eminent Professor and leading socialist agitator.

But if Teddy is going from strength to strength, Theodore retreats into parochial obscurity. He goes to live with his elderly aunt in her Devonshire cottage, and becomes a feature of that provincial world, spinning heroic mendacities about his war-service at dinner parties. At one he invents the tale that, during the final advance, he personally captured the Kaiser, but, recognising his royalty and honorableness, let him go again. His audience of old maids and aunts is very impressed. Later, as he walks home under starlight, the uneasy half-awareness that he has been lying encroaches upon him: ‘this feeling that he had not been telling the truth increased’ [9:7].
Was he a liar? Was he becoming an outrageously careless and preposterous liar? The sort of liar who isn’t even believed? The Headlong Romancer? He questioned himself with an unwonted and unrestrained brutality. [Blup, 9:7]
But as he hovers on the edge of realising the distortion the Bulpington of Blup has effected on his life, he reels back, haranguing the silent night sky with his self-justification:
He considered: “I am that I am.” That was still not quite correct, not quite his intention, and he wished to state his intention very plainly. And besides—come to think of it—it was a quotation.

“No—not what I am, that’s your affair, perhaps. No, I am what I choose to be. See?”

He whispered that over again. “What I choose to be.” That was better. That was right. Thereby he asserted precisely the power of his Will. [Blup, 9:7]
Back home he pours himself several large whiskies, and salutes his grandfather clock as a fellow old-soldier. The last lines of the novel are: ‘A most satisfying evening. Refined intelligent women—ladies. All his values sang together within him.’


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By 1932 Wells's fiction sales had been sliding for a while. Ernst Benn, who carried all the late 20s fiction, had declined to publish The Autocracy of Mr Parham (1930), citing as many as 10,000 unsold returns on previous Wells titles. Heinemann agreed to publish Parham, but they lost £900 on it and weren't interested in The Bulpington of Blup, which was instead acquired by Macmillan. Wells himself thought highly of this novel, or at least thought that its protagonist Theodore was as good a piece of characterization as Kipps (he said this in letters as he was writing it, and repeats the judgement in his Experiment in Autobiography). Contemporaries did not agree. The Kirkus Review (20 Jan 1933) was particularly cutting:
A disappointing endeavor to get back into the stride of Tono-bun-gay and The Adventures of Mr. Polly. The hero is of the stuff of which literary characters are made, but instead of having flesh and blood and bones and sinews, he is a lay figure, which the author exposes successively to the onslaughts of science, adolescence, religion, the new art, sex in the raw, socialism, communism, death, war, the aftermath of war, and the ultimate supremacy of his fantasy self. Artificial, self-conscious, full. We cannot congratulate Macmillan on re-acquiring him.
That egregiously hyper-hyphenated Tono-bun-gay, there, is a nice piece of trolling; and the final dig at Macmillan really quite catty.

Later critical opinion has tended to concur with the negative assessment, if not the cattiness. Although some brave critics have tried to mount a rearguard defence. Robert Bloom, for instance, argues that in The Bulpington of Blup ‘Wells has devised an intriguing form—an anti-Bildungsroman.’ The failure of Theodore to grow into any constructive social role derives, Bloom argues, from ‘such special and dubious forms of the arts as fin de siècle aestheticism, escapist romanticism, and the reactionary poetics of the twenties’ (as per the satire on Modernist Little Magazines, quoted above). According to Bloom, the novel contrasts the forward-looking science-based action of Teddy and Margaret Broxted with the backward-looking romantic-conservative and mendacious passivity of Theodore himself: ‘Wells' whole career is based on the idea that the world can be, must be, changed for the better by the application of science and good will’. [Bloom, Anatomies of Egotism: A Reading of the Last Novels of H. G. Wells (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1977), 57; Christiane Gannon takes a similar line in ‘H. G. Wells and the Aestheticized Individual: Critiquing the Bildungsroman in The Bulpington of Blup,’ Modern Philology 112:3 (2015): 503-521]

It's certainly a wrongfooting novel, but I take that to be, in part, its point. Still, I think Bloom is wrong about it. The anti-Bildungsroman aspect is not that The Bulpington of Blup is not a Bildungsroman. Clearly it is a Bildungsroman: the main character grows and evolves, changes, such that he is not the same person at the end of the novel as he was at the beginning. No: a better argument is surely that this novel works against the grain of the Bildungsroman by inverting the assumptions of its traditional trajectory. I'm talking about the classic form of emotional and existential maturation, the Emma Woodhouse or David Copperfield line—a trajectory, that is to say, away from a lower (less aware, more foolish) subjectivity and towards a higher authenticity of lived experience. Wells instead minutely traces a character who, led by his secret Jungian Personality No.2, grows and changes into a less authentic, less wise human being. And sticks there. Which, now that I am older myself, and as I look around the people who have grown up around me, strikes me as ... well, quite a penetrating observation about human nature, actually. Appropriately enough for the author of The Time Machine, it is a novel not of character evolution but of character devolution. And in this respect The Bulpington of Blup is a remarkable character study. I can understand why Wells thought it worthy of comparison with Kipps.

Theodore is, in plain language, a liar. Insofar as he imposes his lies on the people around him, he's a kind of confidence man. Posing in Paris as Captain Blup-Bulpington, rather than cowardly Bulpington the deserter, is a pretty con-artist manoeuvre, after all. Wells's originality is in telling the story of a liar from the inside, and in a way that avoids the scylla-charybdis of harsh moral judgement on the one hand, or ironic-satiric diabolical celebration on the other. There's no shortage of  liars (from Chaucer's Pardoner through Iago to Melmotte and Merdle) in literature, and no shortage either of trickster figures, from Anansi and Loki through to Melville's Confidence-Man, or (to pick an example more contemporaneous with Wells) Bulgakov's Professor Woland. But in all those cases the trickster owns their trickery; they are, we might say, confident in their confidence-man games. By switching his focus about, and tracing the way an otherwise unremarkable boy grows into an adult defined by his self-deception, Wells is attempting something unprecedented in fiction, I think.

It is a book, to coin a phrase, about truth and lies in a non-moral sense. We don't despise Bulpington, even at the end: bragging impossible feats to an audience of gullible old women. In a letter to Watt, his literary agent, Wells wrote that Theodore was ‘an acutely differentiated character’ adding that ‘there is something of all of us in his mental tangles, and though he is an unfaithful lover, an outrageous liar and narrowly escapes being shot for cowardice, he keeps more of our sympathy to the end than perhaps some of will care to admit’ [26th Aug 1932; quoted in Smith, 301-02]. I think that's right.

That's because the novel is a study not in the morality but in the psychology of lying, and this brings us back to Jung. Several times in his writing Jung argued that any lie, howsoever semantically mendacious, cannot help but be psychologically and imaginatively true. This is Jung's key (just as a for instance) to organised religion:
Every psychic process is an image and an ‘imagining’, otherwise no consciousness could exist and the occurrence would lack phenomenality. Imagination itself is a psychic process, for which reason it is completely irrelevant whether the enlightenment be called ‘real’ or ‘imaginary’. The person who has enlightenment, or alleges that he has it, thinks at all events that he is enlightened … Even if he were lying, his lie would still be a psychic fact. Indeed, even if all the reports of religious experiences were nothing but deliberate inventions and falsifications, a very interesting psychological treatise could still be written about the incidence of such lies. [Jung, Psychology and Religion (1938); in Jung: Collected Works (translated by R F C Hull; 20 vols, Routledge 1953-91), 11: 5428]
The emphasis in that last sentence is on the psychological.

Bulpington's ‘Personality No 2’ toys with religion at various places—when he leaves England for France following his postwar rebuff by Margaret, his plan is to join the Jesuits—but in the end he is drawn to a more secular, if mythic-magnified, version of things. I suppose we are likely to bracket ‘telling stories’ about saints and angelic miracles as a quite separate sort of perjury from ‘telling stories’ about purely imaginary battlefield heroisms. And Wells is not trying to downplay the socially destructive wickedness that can result from lying. It's that his focus is on the ways we lie to ourselves, rather than on the ways we lie to other people. Even the final dinner party scene here, in The Bulpington of Blup, has more to do with Theodore constructing a version of himself that satisfies himself. Earlier in the novel he lies to impress women because he wants to go to bed with them; but by this stage in the story the old biddies listening, amazed, are a sort of mirror to the glamour of his own mendacity.

Why, this novel asks, do we lie to ourselves? Usually when we lie to other people we are trying specifically to fool them, often for a specific advantage. But why do so many of us lie to ourselves? How can we hope to get away with it? Since the person we are lying to is also the person doing the lying the former surely knows the mendacity of the latter?

The commonsense answer to that question, I suppose, would be: to align our desiring self with the constraints of social acceptability as such, or perhaps more to the point, with those constraints as we have internalised them. Frank Cioffi recounts a story about Samuel Pepys:
Consider a remark which Pepys confided to his journal: ‘Up and at my chamber all the morning doing business and also reading a little of L’Escolle des filles, which is a mighty lewd book, but yet not amiss for a sober man once to read over to inform him in the villainy of the world.’ Let us put aside the question of how Pepys could have been oblivious of what is comically transparent to us and ask instead just how his rationalisation disadvantaged him. He might have made a fool of himself by sporting the book openly and then proffered his absurd justification when challenged or even have offered to lend it to some pious friend on the same ostensible ground that he was reading it himself.

That he did neither of these things was not a matter of luck. We are later told that, having finished the book, ‘I burned it that it might not be among my books to my shame.’ So Pepys was intermittently aware that the motive he gave himself would not be credited by his wife or heirs. His capacity for self-deception thus gave him the best of both worlds. He was able to enjoy his perusal of pornography without self-reproach and to take prudent steps at the same time to protect his reputation. [Frank Cioffi, ‘Porky-Talky’, LRB 16:18 (1994), 16]
Cioffi wonders if this sort of thing is, actually, very widespread; and I daresay it is. But Wells's book is suggesting something rather different, something, in fact, more Jungian: that the real point in lying to ourselves is not to make ourselves feel good, but to make ourselves feel grander—more important, more noble, more sublime. This is where the mythic self-elaboration that turns Theodore into the Bulpington of Blup blurs into religious faith. Wells's friend William James's Varieties of Religious Experience, in Adam Phillips reading, is a work exploring the place where truth flows into creativity. ‘The truth of your beliefs is what they can do for you, James says,’ is how Phillips put it. ‘Truth is the name you will give to whatever turns out to have been good to believe’ [Phillips, Side Effects (2006), 78]. The Bulpington of Blup is a story about the psychological territorial demands that self-oriented sense of good entails.

That inevitably means it becomes a story about storytelling, about Wells's own profession. Indeed, one of the problems of the novel, I think, is that it only touches on this metafictional critique glancingly. Despite being a book of made-up-stories about the psychological perils of made-up-stories that includes occasional satires of the literary world, Wells doesn't dilate upon any of that. My suspicion is that Wells wants to separate out ‘socialist made-up-stories about the coming World State’ from ‘conservative made-up-stories about the sheet-anchor of the dead past’ (on his final return to England Theodore plans to become a writer: ‘He would do for the nineteenth century what Sir Walter Scott had done for the eighteenth ... He would make Queen Victoria the goddess of the story, no Virgin goddess but better, almost symbolically prolific and beneficent. The Prince Consort would be the King Arthur of that romantic galaxy’ [9:4]). It's the partial nature of this that doesn't quite work, I think. If writing neo-Scottian romances is mendacious, then what about other kinds of made-up fiction? What about writing per se?

Although perhaps I'm being unfair. Wells was increasingly defining himself as a writer of non-fiction, after all, and his output of novels certainly thins out over the decade and a half remaining of his life. And, more, he grasps the appeal of Theodore's fantasying, he knows the draw of the lie. There's a Les Murray poem I like that paradoxically (doubly paradoxically for a Christian poet) celebrates lying as the Apollo 11 moon-landing of Blakean experience: ‘Like The Joy At His First Lie’ (1990):
Paradises of limitation, charm
of perpetual doughy innocence—
how quickly the reality
scrubs such stuff from mind.
Today, at eleven and a half,
he made his first purchase:
forty cents, for two biscuits, no change
but a giant step into mankind.
We might say: oh that's a trivial sort of lying, and I suppose it is. But I think Murray is saying something different in this little poem; not the triviality of the lie, but the complicated importance of the step it represents. Not that innocence is to be despised, or abandoned as we move on; but that experience is its necessary corollary for adult living. Just so long as you don't abandon innocence's paradisical limitations altogether. And I think, in its different way, The Bulpington of Blup is saying the same thing. That the moon is beautiful, and a worthy object of man's striving. But you wouldn't want to live there.

2 comments:

  1. A fun fact from the history of soviet sf (which may or may not be of interest to you) : in his memoir called "Commentary to the gone" ("Комментарии к пройденному") Boris Strugatsky remembers that he and his brother actually made up a term "bulpingtonism-blupskism" which to them meant "a writer's hopeless loss of plotting energy and living fantasy, full victory of grey slice-of-life writing and gloomy realism". He says that the fear of said "bulpungtonism-blupskism" was the cause of them never finishing one of their novels, "Days of the Kraken".

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