Optimism in the Edwardian Age
Wells is regarded as one of the most prominent champions of the early twentieth-century spirit of British liberal optimism—the belief that scientific advances have made life almost perfect and that there is nothing left to discover. At the Royal College of Science, Wells studied zoology with noted biologist T. H, Huxley, who instilled in the young scientist the belief in social as well as biological evolution that Wells later cited as the single most influential aspect of his education. His works are ranked with those of playwright Bernard Shaw as exemplary of the era's exuberant sense of release from strict Victorian convention and the belief in the escalating benefits of scientific progress.
"The Door in the Wall" was published at a time of great change in England: rapid cultural change had been taking place since the death of Queen Victoria in 1901, Victoria had ruled Great Britain since 1837. and her reign was known for its conservative outlook on sex. politics, and the arts. In the years following Victoria's death, the English people embraced the possibilities of a new, modern era.
The Schism between Art and Science
Great strides in art and science were taking place at the turn of the century. As inventions such as the automobile, the airplane, and motion pictures began to transform everyday life, the unsettling pace of progress began to affect the arts, which questioned the wisdom...
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Point of View
"The Door in the Wall'' is told from the point of view of Redmond, Wallace's friend. Redmond speaks in the first person ("I") as he relates Wallace's story. At first, Redmond does not know if he should believe his friend's wild tale: "But whether he himself saw, or only thought he saw, whether he himself was the possessor of an inestimable privilege, or the victim of a fantastic dream, I cannot pretend to guess." The reader is more willing to believe Wallace's fantastic story because it is filtered through the sensible, trustworthy voice of Redmond, the narrator. This particular point of view also allows the reader to find out about Wallace's demise, something that would not have been possible if Wallace told the story himself, although it prevents readers from knowing what Wallace's final thoughts were.
"The Door in the Wall" relies heavily on symbols. A symbol is something that is used to represent or refer to something else. Many of Wells's symbols are dreamlike and represent masculine and feminine forces: '"There was,' he said, 'a crimson Virginia creeper—all one bright uniform crimson, in a clear amber sunshine against a white wall. That came into the impression somehow ... and there were horse-chestnut leaves upon the clean pavement outside the green door. They were blotched yellow and green, you know, not brown nor dirty, so that they must have been new fallen."' The white wall is a feminine symbol...
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Compare and Contrast
1900s: "The Door in the Wall" is written in a time when the British are concerned with domestic matters. King Edward VII begins his reign following the death of Queen Victoria in 1901. In Parliament, the Conservatives are divided on several issues and the general election of 1906 puts the Liberals in power by a significant majority. As the ruling party, the Liberals create Britain's early welfare program. The Labour Party is formed during this time as well, with 29 original members.
1997: In May, after eighteen years of Conservative rule, the Labour Party wins the majority of seats in the House of Commons, and the Party's leader, Tony Blair, becomes Britain's youngest prime minister since 1812. The Conservatives, or Tones, suffer their worst defeat since 1906. Blair is said to represent a new Britain, a more liberal, multicultural society.
1900s: A prevalent attitude in Britain is one of liberal optimism, the belief that scientific advancements have vastly improved the quality of life, and that there is little, if anything, left to discover. In 1905, Albert Einstein publishes a paper that outlines his theory of relativity. The incandescent electric light bulb, invented by Thomas Edison in 1879, proves to have an enormous impact on how people spend their time by the turn of the century.
1990s: Scientific advancements are made in a number of fields, most notably in medical research dealing with cancer and...
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Topics for Further Study
Research three scientific advances of the first decade of the twentieth century, when Wells was at the peak of his popularity. How did these advances affect people's everyday life9 Write about other scientific advances that have been made since Wells's time.
Wells is regarded as one of the most prominent champions of the early twentieth-century spirit of British liberal optimism. Fmd out what British liberal optimism was. You may want to consult David Daiches's New Literary Values, (1936), specifically the chapter"Literature and Belief';
G. K. Chesterton's The Victorian Age in Literature (1912), especially the chapter "The Breakup of the Compromise"; or William H. Marshall's The World of the Victorian Novel (1967). What events have taken place since the early 1900s that have eroded British liberal optimism?
Do some biographical research on Wells You may want to consult your school's encyclopedias, H. G.. The History of Mr. Wells, by Michael Foot (1995), or The Importance of H. G. Wells, by Don Nardo (1992). How did Queen Victoria's political views influence Wells?
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What Do I Read Next?
Wells's 1895 novel The Time Machine gives a glimpse of the distant future, suggesting that the evolution of humankind is not necessarily progressing toward a more refined species.
Wells's nonfiction book A Modern Utopia (1905) established him as a leading proponent of socialism, world government, free thought, and free love, and as an enemy of the entrenched English establishment.
Charles Darwin's monumentally important study, The Origin of Species (1859), was a huge influence on Wells The book asserts that Homo Sapiens have evolved from other creatures.
Edward Bellamy's classic novel Looking Backward (1888) describes an ideal social and industrial system of the future. Wells was ambivalent about such notions of progress, at times embracing them and at other tunes suspecting that Bellamy's embrace of the concept of scienu'sm— progress driven by science—was shallow and not in balance with human nature.
"The Bungalow House," a story by Thomas Ligotti, published by Carroll & Graf in The Nightmare Factory (1996), concerns the fracturing of a man's mind and his preoccupation with a house he sees every day while riding the bus.
William Morris's famous novel News from Nowhere (1890) describes an idyllic Utopia of social and ethical progress. Wells felt the same way about this book as he did about Bellamy's.
Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden (1909) tells the...
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Bibliography and Further Reading
Batchelor, John H. G Wells, pp. 4-107. Cambridge Cambridge University Press, 1985.
Provides an overview of Wells's "The Door in the Wall," offering an interpretation of the door's symbolism and commenting on the narrative style of the story.
Huntington, John. The Logic of Fantasy H G Wells and Science Fiction, pp. 50-91. New York Columbia University Press, 1982.
Analyzes the imagery m Wells's "The Door in the Wall" and illustrates how the imagery contributes to the theme of opposition between reality and imagination.
Wood, James Playsted 1 Told You Sol A Life of H G Wells, pp 109-22. New York Pantheon, 1969.
Examines Wells's style of depicting the conflict between science and imagination, and contends that the theme of conflict between the two is paramount in "The Door m the Wall"
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