VIRGINIA WOOLF (essay date 1919)
If we speak of quarrelling with Mr. Wells, Mr. Bennett, and Mr. Galsworthy it is partly by the mere fact of their existence in the flesh of their work has a living, breathing, everyday imperfection which bids us take what liberties with it we choose. . . .If we tried to formulate our meaning in one word we should say that these three writers are materialists. It is because they are concerned not with the spirit but with the body that they have disappointed us, and left us with the feeling that the sooner English fiction turns its back upon them, as polite as may be, and marches, if only into the desert, the better for its soul. Naturally, no single word reaches the centre of the three separate targets. In the case of Mr. Wells it falls notably wide of the mark. And yet even with him it indicates to our thinking the fatal alloy in his genius, the great clod of clay that has got itself mixed up with the purity of his inspiration. . . .It can scarcely be said of Mr. Wells that he is a materialist in the sense that he takes too much delight in the solidity of his fabric. His mind is much too generous in his sympathies to allow him to spend much time in making things shipshape and substantial. He is a materialist from sheer goodness of heart, taking upon his shoulders the work that ought to have been discharged by Government officials, and in the plethora of his ideas and facts scarcely having leisure to realise, or forgetting to think important, the crudity and coarseness of his human beings. Yet what more damaging criticism can there be both of his earth and of his Heaven than that they are to be inhabited hereafter by his Joans and his Peters? Does not the inferiority of their natures tarnish whatever institutions and ideals may be provided for them by the generosity of their creator? (pp 208-10)If we fasten, then, one label on all these books, on which is one word materialists, we mean by it that
Works Cited: Haining, Peter, ed. _The H. G. Wells Scrapbook_. London: New English Library, 1978. -------------------._Twentieth-century Literary Criticism_. 50 vols. Detroit: Gale Research, 1978- Locations in volumes: 6:523, 533-34, 538, 547-55, 12:487-88, 501, 506, 508-11; 19:420, 424, 428-31, 434, 436-39, 441-42, 446-50, 452.