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The Time Machine

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Alan West

Herbert George (H.G. Wells (1866-1846) The family had a small (not very successful) shop, and the family income was augmented by Wells’ father’s income as a professional cricketer. When the father (Joseph) broke is leg it meant hard times financially and the mother (Sarah) sought employment from a former employer; she had been a housemaid at Uppark before her marriage and now (1880) was hired as housekeeper. She was there until 1893. Sarah’s employment there is significant for a number of reasons. One is the obvious social gap between aristocratic employers and servants. Another is the fact that the kitchens and some other buildings were separate from the main house. The house if quite exposed to the elements. Consequently they had underground tunnels running from the kitchens to the main buildings which were used by the servants to bring meals to the aristocracy. (The tunnels had ventilation shafts.) Uppark also had a large library, and Wells availed himself of it during his stays with his mother. While trying to better himself through education, Wells took a number of jobs, including retail assistant, pharmacists’ assistant, and teacher. He won a scholarship in 1884 to a science college, where he attended lectures given by T. H. Huxley but failed one of his final exams in 1887. (He finally gained a BSc in 1890). He returned to work as a teacher (One of his pupils was A. A. Milne) while selling magazine articles, until illness cut short his teaching career. He also wrote one school science textbook co- wrote another. His big breakthrough was the success of The Time Machine, first as a short magazine serial in 1894, then as an extended and improved serial in 1895, and finally a novel later in 1895. Wells was incredibly prolific; he wrote about 100 books (fiction, non-fiction, collections of short works)over his sixty-year writing career. Background: Fin de siècle pessimism amongst intellectuals; • Archaeology showed that even the most powerful can be extinct. • Evolution only connoted survival of the best adapted, NOT inevitable progress of the species. • The arts (Oscar Wilde et al.) themselves as decadent and symptomatic of degeneration (see Max Nordau’s Entartung [1892/1895]). • F/ears of Atavism (throwbacks to an earlier stage of evolution). E.g. Atavism visible in criminals? (Cesare Lombroso’s L’Uomo Delinquente [1876/1891]). • Idea that Victorian period was ending (sense of emotional attachment to aged Queen, monarch for almost 60 years by 1895). Then what? All in all, then – decline/degeneration seemed at least a possibility. Wells’ Beliefs: Evolution theory; Scientific thinking; Social management His Concerns: Class inequality; Utopian socialism; Social and biological degeneration There was a belief of the masses in continuing British progress, exemplified by British government minister (late to be Prime Minister) Joseph Chamberlain. In 1895 (by which time Britain controlled about 25% of the globe) Chamberlain stated of the British, “this race, which neither climate nor change can degenerate, … will infallibly be the predominant force of future history and universal civilization.” The appendices in the Broadview text indicated the following ideas: • Lankester’s biological study Degeneration (1880) showed that lack of challenges lead to decline from too much security. • Lord Kelvin had proposed in the 1860s that our sun will eventually cool down (225-227). • In an 1870 study, Balfour Stewart & P.G. Tait proposed that the planets will drift toward the sun (228-229). • According to George H. Darwin’s theories, tidal drag would eventually stop the earth’s rotation (231-232). • T.H. Huxley believed that true human progress- social and biological – (required (ethical) management. (See 169-172) • Wells wrote himself papers indicating that any species can degenerate and/or become extinct (ex. Buffalo), even humans (See “Zoological Retrogression” 162- 167; “On Extinction” 173-176, and The Extinction of Man” 181-183). • Wells also rejected William Morris’s communist utopia News from Nowhere (1890) as a fairy tale; no challenge, too little organization. [p.182- Crabs having to stay close to the water…] In the Time Machine Wells addresses all these concerns and beliefs. He does so in a dystopia (and anti-utopia) in which a scientist travels to the far future and discovers by observation and analyze what Things to Think About • Why choose this narrative structure (frame/embedded)? o Narrator used rather than Traveler himself because truth of the Traveler is uncertain. o The air of mystery at the end of the story would be lost (we would know what happened to the traveler). • Frame Characters: o Professions or social positions?  Upper middle class (Medical field, media, mayor). Belongs to the class that Wells believed should have been running the country instead of the aristocracy. Would have managerial expertise. Being in charge on their own merits rather than lineage.  Narrator must be a scientist as he was at a meeting of scientist’s with the time traveler. o Attitudes toward the Traveler and his claims?  Skepticism and disbelief • Typical of logic of time travel stories – see the gap between the time that has
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