John Reed is professor of English at Wayne State University. His most recent books include Victorian Conventions (1975) and The Natural History of H.G. Wells (1982), both published by Ohio University Press.
Attitudes toward punishment and forgiveness in English society of the nineteenth century came, for the most part, out of Christianity. In actual experience the ideal was not often met, but in the literature of the time the model was important. For novelists attempting to tell exciting and dramatic stories, violent and criminal activities played an important role, and, according to convention, had to be corrected through poetic justice or human punishment.
John R. Reed, author of Victorian Conventions, The Natural History of H.G. Wells, and Decadent Style, has published a new critical study examining nineteenth-century British attitudes toward free will, determinism, providence, and fate. His new book, Victorian Will, argues for the need to understand a body of literature in its broadest historical and intellectual context.
In Decadent Style, John Reed defines “decadent art” broadly enough to encompass literature, music, and the visual arts and precisely enough to examine individual works in detail. Reed focuses on the essential characteristics of this style and distinguishes it from non–esthetic categories of “decadent artists” and “decadent themes.” Like the natural sciences and psychology, the arts in the late nineteenth century reflect an interest in the process of atomization.
This new study offers a general reassessment of H. G. Wells as a writer and thinker. It concentrates upon the close relationship between Wells’ developing philosophy and his literary techniques. The early chapters examine Wells’ treatment of such subjects as confinement and escape, sex, the nature of human identity, the relationship of individual to race, human progress, and the importance of education.