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The characteristic ending of a Wells novel is of a questioning, a deliberate ambiguity that is at once stimulating and disturbing. To compare the final paragraph of a novel by Austen, Trollope or Bennett with the ending of almost any Wells novel is to appreciate the contrast between realist fiction and what might be termed the novel of indeterminacy. It is rare in Wells's fiction to find a neat tidying up of loose ends. It is much more common to find an ending on a note of uncertainty or irresolution: Hoopdriver 'vanishes from our ken' , George Ponderevo cleaves through the sea in a destroyer, Mr Polly ceases to admire the sunset and announces 'we can't sit here forever'.

In identifying himself with all that is creative and forward-looking in contemporary criticism, by contrast with the sterile formality of academic scholarship, he foreshadows in unmistakeable terms the battle lines of his dispute with James. Wells and James met in 1898 and began corresponding in the same year. Wells was then 32, a promising young writer who had produced a number of striking novels and romances and some engaging volumes of short stories. James was 55, the author of Washington Square and The Portrait of a Lady and already a famous, if perhaps not widely read, novelist.

18 October 1912) Despite its superficial politeness it is apparent that James is being even more brutally candid than in his lecture on The New Machiavelli. To admit that the only way in which he can read a Wells novel is to abandon all his critical principles is tantamount to saying that Wells's novels are formless, that they cannot be regarded as works of art. His use of the phrase 'the sacred laws of composition' encapsulates all that divided the two men: Wells consistently declined to acknowledge the existence of such laws, believing, on The Great Debate 33 the contrary, that the novel could not be subject to prescriptive criteria and that its only limitations were those of the writer's imagination.

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