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Utopia di Mezzo: Strategie compositive in When the Sleeper Wakes di H.G. Wells.

Nicoletta Vallorani. Utopia di Mezzo: Strategie compositive in When the Sleeper Wakes di H.G. Wells. Torino: Editrice Tirrenia Stampatori, 1996. 133 pp. 14,000 Lire.

WHEN THE SLEEPER WAKES: A Story of Things to Come (1899) remains a rarity of sorts, a scientific romance from H.G. Wells that has never achieved popularity. Nor has critical assessment of its artistic value been especially flattering: "Considered simply in terms of literary virtue," as Frank McConnell had occasion to observe in 1981, When the Sleeper Wakes "is a fairly shoddy performance for a writer of Wells's skill, and certainly a falling-off from the subtleties of narrative technique achieved in The Time Machine, The Island of Doctor Moreau, The Invisible Man, and The War of the Worlds" (The Science Fiction of H. G. Wells. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1981). But Wells, of course, was never all that much, or simply, concerned with the niceties of aesthetic design. He had bigger fish to fry, more practical matters to ponder. Again in the words of McConnell, When the Sleeper Wakes is a novel "not simply about a possible future for mankind, but about the future course Wells's own writing would follow." Certainly for latter-day students of the Wellsian oeuvre as a whole, the story of Graham the awakened unnatural sleeper retains its value as an important prelude" to the "seriously utopian novels" Wells would produce after 1899. The fact that he "thought enough of the story to revise and reissue it in 1910 as The Sleeper Awakes" provides some measure of its enduring importance of place in the progress of his oeuvre (150).

Nicoletta Vallorani's Utopia di Mezzo: Strategie compositive in When the Sleeper Wakes di H.G. Wells works further to establish that importance, by tracking some of the signs of difference and growth between those two versions. And what that tracking indicates is a Wells very much in transition, a man "in the middle," as it were, caught up or suspended in a web of paradox. The oxymoron of "scientific romance"--"un procedimento di ibridazione involontaria"--figures the grammar of "un'opera di transizione": "Wells e interessato piu alle contraddizioni interne del discorso scientifico-tecnologico e alle loro conseguenze non solo sul tessuto sociale ma anche sull'apparato tematico, linguistico e strutturale del romanzo" (19, 15). The now long-recognized story of the romancer and social engineer, utopian and doomsayer, and scientist scornful of science that Vallorani recounts surely stands in "un universo narrativo duplice" (15). Attentive though it is to the substantial "frattura" that Wells sought to mend and, understandably, never quite fully came to heal in his utopias, Vallorani's study has the virtue of an old-fashioned, linear narrative. This very long article or very short book proceeds along an unbroken conceptual line, from beginning--"Uno dei pregi di WSW--e al tempo stesso il motivo principale del disamore mostrato dai critici nei confronti di quest'opera--e appunto la fedelta con cui viene riprodotta quella che Wolfgang Iser definisce `doubling structure of fictionality': la rappresentazione fratturata di una realta storicamente definita, e localizzata nell' antefatto del romanzo, giustapposta al mondo del testo, di necessita `bracketed off from the world it represents'" (15-16)--to end: "Secondo Wolfgang Iser, la qualita estica della narrativa nasce dalla combinazione di quelli che il critico definisce due `mutually exclusive realms.' Questa combinazione genera una rappresentazione ambigua; essa consente di mantenere la differenza dei due campi che vengono combinati put realizzando, attraverso la rappresentazione, una mediazione temporanea" (103). No wonder, then, Wells travails in suspension.

The Bibliography behind the so neatly constructed Utopia di Mezzo accordingly shows the respect for traditional scholarly, even scientific, care. And to list the typographical errors in this monograph would do nothing much more than serve the venerable instinct to niggle. Vallorani's study shows genuine scholarship and a conscientious engagement with the conundrum that continues to abide in and inform its subject, for better or for worse.

Camille R. La Bossiere University of Ottawa
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Title Annotation:Review
Author:La Bossiere, Camille R.
Publication:Utopian Studies
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 1999
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