Ji Eun Lee, “Wooshing London: Unsettling Acceleration in H. G. Wells’s Tono-Bungay” (pp. 455–490)

This essay reads H. G. Wells’s Tono-Bungay (1909) in the context of “wooshing” London—I take the word from the story—to see how the unsettling effect of this rapid urban mobility translates into the generic form of the novel. At the turn of the twentieth century, London was wooshing—that is to say, people and things in the city were moving by being displaced into a rushing flow, unprepared and unconnected, as the city was taken by revolutionary forms of urban transportation such as pneumatic and electric tubes, trams, elevators, escalators, motor buses, and cars. The word “woosh,” which was first used around the time that this mobility came into being, denotes a quick rushing movement based on hydraulic flow, and linguistically it functions as an interjection or a void in the semantic and syntactic flow of a sentence. Tono-Bungay shows different modes of unsettlement pervading London such as the whirlpool, passing stream, and flood. Yet it presents “woosh”—the way in which the patent medicine Tono-Bungay works and moves in commerce—as the ultimate mode of unsettlement that disconnects and displaces the locus of movement. Likewise, in Tono-Bungay, there is no locus of agency in the process of urban walking or in the reading process disrupting the narrative syntax. By emptying out the individual locus in the disconnecting, accelerating flow of his narrative—as London does in its urban mobility—Wells revises the genre into a form that embodies the city’s unsettling power.

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