Tono-Bungay is very possibly H. G. Wells' finest novel, bringing together so many strands of his work: that of the novelist, the scientific romancer, the humorist, the historian, and the prophet-like sociologist. It was published in 1909, and although Wells was disappointed by its poor sales, Arnold Bennett praised it thus: "When with the thrill of emotion that a great work communicates I finished reading Tono-Bungay, I was filled with a holy joy because Wells had stirred up the dregs again and more violently than ever.... Human nature - you get it pretty complete in Tono-Bungay."
George Ponderevo is the novel's first person narrator, his mother the housekeeper of Bladesover House, a great country house in Sussex, that Wells uses throughout the novel to embody the decline of England, its certainties and its values. Tono-Bungay is Dickensian in stature, broad in its social panorama, taking George from childhood in the 1860s, to Chatham in Kent, to teeming London, to Africa and France: His life unfolds warts and all, as he rubs shoulders with every class, goes to live with his aunt and uncle, a Wimblehurst chemist, who goes on to invent a patent medicine of dubious efficacy, that he names, for no obvious reason, Tono-Bungay.
George goes up to London to study, falls in love, goes to work for his increasingly wealthy uncle, abandons academia, marries, returns to the study of aeronautics (theory and practice), eventually attempting to dig the crumbling family business out of a very deep hole, by prospecting illegally for a nastily radioactive substance called quap on Mordet Island, and even attempting a moonlit flit in the Lord Roberts beta flying machine. George Ponderevo is a mass of contradictions, seeking truth in science, truth in romance, mourning the passing of old England, chasing the new and the novel.