Empiricist political theory and the modern novel: The social contract and H. G. Wells

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H. G. Wells's diverse works of literature and political theory make him a test case for lines of intersection between modernity and the Enlightenment, a period concerned with the relations between the two genres. Traditionally, studies of Wells go back only as far as Victorianism; conversely, literary studies rarely consider empiricist political theory in contexts later than Victorian realism. Wells's works challenge these conventions by reflecting on the writings of Adam Smith and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Wells questions the social contract hypothesis that individual interests contribute to society's well-being and demonstrates the centrality of empiricist political theory for the modernist novel. Through close readings of The Invisible Man and Love and Mr. Lewisham, and broader discussion of Wells's oeuvre, his engagement with empiricist values, conflicts, and literary forms emerges.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)57-77
Number of pages21
JournalModern Language Quarterly
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Mar 2015

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 by University of Washington.


  • Adam Smith
  • H. G. Wells
  • Jean-Jacques Rousseau
  • Social contract

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Literature and Literary Theory


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