Wells, H. G.
H. G. Wells 1866–-1946
(Full name Herbert George Wells; also wrote under the pseudonyms Sosthenes Smith, Walker Glockenhammer, and Reginald Bliss) English novelist, short story and novella writer, essayist, lecturer, author of children's books, historian, autobiographer, and critic.
The following entry provides criticism on Wells's short fiction from 1990 through 1999. See also The Time Machine Criticism.
Wells is best known as a major progenitor of modern science fiction who foretold the development of such present-day realities as atomic weaponry and chemical and global warfare. Several of Wells's short stories are acknowledged as classics in the fields of science fiction and fantasy and have profoundly influenced the course of both genres. Critics generally concur that the appeal of his work stems from his ability to introduce exotic or fantastic elements into mundane situations, which often arise from institutional social pressures.
Wells was born into a lower-middle-class Cockney family in Bromley, Kent, a suburb of London. He was awarded a scholarship to London University and the Royal College of Science, where he studied zoology under noted biologist T. H. Huxley, who instilled in him a belief in social as well as biological evolution. After graduating from London University, Wells published his first nonfiction work, Text-Book of Biology (1893), and contributed short stories to several magazines. The serialization of his novella The Time Machine (1895) launched his career as an author of fiction, and his subsequent science fiction and science fantasies proved extremely popular with audiences and critics alike. Enabled by his growing fame to meet such prominent authors as Arnold Bennett and Joseph Conrad, Wells developed his own prose style while serving under editor Frank Harris as a literary critic for The Saturday Review. A socialist, Wells joined the Fabian Society in 1903, but left the group after fighting a long, unsuccessful war of wit and rhetoric over some of the group's policies with his friend George Bernard Shaw, a prominent Fabian and man of letters. Wells's socialist thought, coupled with a belief in the gradual advancement of humanity through evolution and scientific innovation, is expressed in his short fiction in the form of imaginative fantasies in which the innovative ideas of liberated individuals intrude upon conformistic society.
Most of Wells's short stories were published prior to World War I, a period when Wells was commonly regarded as an advocate of the new, the iconoclastic, and the daring. However, the war and its aftermath of widespread disillusionment upset his optimistic vision of humankind. Wells's postwar ideas on the perfectibility of humanity were modified to stress the necessity of education in bringing about progress. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, Wells's fiction became progressively less optimistic about the future of humanity. The advent of World War II increased Wells's despondency about the future, and his last book, Mind at the End of Its Tether (1945), predicts the destruction of civilization and the degeneration of humanity. Wells died in London in 1946.
Major Works of Short Fiction
Wells's canon of short fiction includes approximately seventy short stories and two novellas, most of which were originally published in five collections. His early sketches, many of which appeared in his first short fiction collection, The Stolen Bacillus, and Other Incidents (1895), are considered indicative of the exceptional descriptive skills, narrative prowess, and striking imagination that characterize his later stories and novels. The pieces in Wells's next major collection, The Plattner Story, and Others (1897), are generally considered indicative of the wide range of his talent and are often based upon seemingly absurd premises that have their basis in concrete theory. Tales of Space and Time (1899), a volume of science fiction tales, contains “The Star,” a critically acclaimed story that is regarded as exemplary of Wells's technique of building vivid imagery in poetic terms. “The Star” concerns the discovery of a bright planet that is eventually revealed to be a comet hotter and brighter than the sun. As the celestial body approaches the earth, Wells invests the narrative with detailed images of impending catastrophes such as tidal waves, escalating temperatures, and earthquakes. The stories in his next volume, Twelve Stories and a Dream (1903), are generally regarded as less consistent in range and quality than his previous tales. The volume contains “The New Accelerator,” in which a physiologist discovers a drug that stimulates the nervous system to function at several thousand times its normal rate. After taking a dose with a friend, he walks along Folkestone Leas in England, observing the world in a seeming state of suspended animation.
Wells wrote successively fewer short stories after 1910, preferring to devote himself to longer works. Although primarily comprised of pieces that appeared in previous collection, The County of the Blind, and Other Stories (1911) contains several new stories written in the mature style of his later works. The title piece has appeared in many anthologies and possibly remains his most frequently debated work of short fiction. In “The Country of the Blind,” a mountaineer named Núñez risks traversing the Andes Mountains in South America to reach a valley were all native inhabitants are blind. Recalling the mythical proverb “In the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is king,” he believes he will attain power over the natives but is instead treated as an insane criminal and reduced to menial tasks. Presented with the chance to marry a woman with whom he has fallen in love if he will consent to have his eyes removed, Núñez initially agrees, but then attempts to escape to the mountains, preferring the remote possibility of death. While some reviewers view Núñez as a selfish exploiter who seeks to force European values on a peaceful and content native people, others perceive him as a heroic individual who resists the blind conformity of an inward society.
Together with Jules Verne, Wells is regarded as one of the most prominent innovators in the fields of science fiction and fantasy. The continued popularity of his books, the tremendous body of criticism devoted to them, and the liberalizing effect that much of his work has had on Western thought combine to establish Wells as one of the major figures in twentieth-century literature. Although some critics contend that Wells's stories reflect the distinct influence of such diverse authors as Jules Verne, Edgar Allen Poe, Charles Dickens, Victor Hugo, and Rudyard Kipling, many concur with the opinion of J. R. Hammond: “[In] the last analysis his stories have a distinctive quality which gives them a flavor peculiar to himself; it lies in their ability to stimulate thought, to suggest new possibilities of action, to unfold novel horizons of human endeavor.”
“The Chronic Argonauts” (short story) 1888
Select Conversations with an Uncle, Now Extinct, and Two Other Reminiscences 1895
The Stolen Bacillus, and Other Incidents 1895
The Time Machine: An Invention (novella) 1895
The Plattner Story, and Others 1897
Thirty Strange Stories 1897
Tales of Space and Time 1899
Twelve Stories and a Dream 1903
The Country of the Blind, and Other Stories 1911
The Door in the Wall, and Other Stories 1911
Boon, The Mind of the Race, The Wild Asses of the Devil, and The Last Trump [as Reginald Bliss] (sketches) 1915
The Works of H. G. Wells: Atlantic Edition. 28 vols. (novels, novella, short stories, and essays) 1924-1927
The Short Stories of H. G. Wells 1927; also published as The Complete Short Stories of H. G. Wells, 1966
The Croquet Player 1936
The Country of the Blind [Golden Cockerel Press edition] 1939
Selected Short Stories 1958
Best Science Fiction Stories of H. G. Wells 1966
The Man with the Nose, and Other Uncollected Short Stories 1984
Text-Book of Biology...
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SOURCE: Parrinder, Patrick. “Wells's Cancelled Endings for ‘The Country of the Blind.’” Science-Fiction Studies 17, no. 1 (March 1990): 71-6.
[In the following essay, Parrinder investigates Wells's revisions of the ending of “The Country of the Blind.”]
First published in the April 1904 number of the Strand Magazine, “The Country of the Blind” is among Wells's most admired short stories.1 Together with D. H. Lawrence's “The Woman Who Rode Away” it is one of the finest “lost race” tales in 20th-century English literature. Nevertheless, “The Country of the Blind” has attracted rather cursory critical attention and none of the available accounts is based on a study of Wells's manuscript.
Virtually everyone who has written about the story draws attention to the beauty and thematic significance of its ending. Bernard Bergonzi, in perhaps the most influential and outspoken reading of “The Country of the Blind,” sees it as a “magnificent example of Wells's mythopoeic genius” (p. 84). Bergonzi quotes the final paragraphs, in which Núñez the protagonist is shown escaping from the valley of the blind people into which he has stumbled after a climbing accident in the Ecuadorian Andes. Marooned in the valley (a “Happy Valley” or ironic utopia), Núñez at first tries to establish the sighted man's superiority over the blind. Subdued and...
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SOURCE: Searles, A. Langley. “Concerning ‘The Country of the Blind.’” The Wellsian, no. 14 (summer 1991): 29-33.
[In the following essay, Searles examines the two different versions of “The Country of the Blind.”]
Although H. G. Wells' short fantasy “The Country of the Blind” has been reprinted frequently since its original appearance early in the century, few readers are apparently aware of the fact that there are two different versions of the story extant. It is almost universally remembered in its first form, which saw print originally in the April 1904 number of the English Strand Magazine, and which has since been included in The Door in the Wall, and Other Stories (1911), The Country of the Blind, and Other Stories (1911) and The Short Stories of H. G. Wells (1927).
In this version, one Núñez—an expert mountain-climber and guide—enters an isolated Andean valley which has been completely cut off from outer civilization for fifteen generations. The ancestors of the present inhabitants had suffered from a rare malady that caused them gradually to lose their sight—a loss of faculty which proved to be hereditary, for their children were also born blind. Yet so gradual was this process that over a period of decades the people managed to evolve an existence that was not dependent on seeing for its continuance. And as generations were...
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SOURCE: Sommerville, Bruce David. “The Time Machine: A Chronological and Scientific Revision.” The Wellsian no. 17 (winter 1994): 11-29.
[In the following essay, Sommerville traces the complex chronological structure of The Time Machine, asserting that the accepted chronology of the novella “is erroneous and that the true chronology reveals a hidden series of events.”]
For work having time as a major theme, it is rather odd that the chronology of H. G. Wells's The Time Machine has not been fully analysed. Its chronological structure is complex, comprising an outer framework of events set in the late Victorian atmosphere of the Time Traveller's Richmond home, and a more extensive inner core of events ostensibly set in the distant future.
The chronology of the outer framework will be explored in detail here. It will be shown that the accepted chronology of The Time Machine is erroneous and that the true chronology reveals a hidden series of events. The discussion below will establish the following points:
- The chronology of the outer framework forms a puzzle, the solution of which reveals the Time Traveller to have hoaxed his guests, especially the narrator, Hillyer. The Time Traveller has not travelled in time but has dreamed his vision of the future after returning to his workshop from a cycling...
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SOURCE: Boulton, Alex. “The Myth of the New Found Land in H. G. Wells's ‘The Country of the Blind.’” The Wellsian, no. 18 (winter 1995): 5-18.
[In the following essay, Boulton considers Wells's portrayal of colonial power in “The Country of the Blind” and provides justification for colonial domination in the story.]
Literary narratives concerning the wandering of an outsider into a closed valley or new land are prominent in the European literary tradition. To recognise and isolate some of the more common motifs, symbols and secular/religious ideologies which are commonly found in this genre may provide a yardstick against which H. G. Wells's short story in this tradition, “The Country of the Blind” can be considered. A brief examination of the ideas and images contained in the works of authors such as Voltaire, Defoe, Shakespeare, Hobbes, Buchan, Kipling and Haggard is not an attempt to unite under a single aegis the symbol of the Edenic/utopian paradise throughout literary history, but instead a way of viewing the components of this history.
Not surprisingly, certain popular religious, historical and philosophical rhetorics and cultural attitudes are contained in the writings of the aforementioned authors, and I shall address these dominant ideas and beliefs concerning the new found land under the following themes: the treatment of paradise and utopia in Christian and...
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SOURCE: Derry, Stephen. “The Time Traveller's Utopian Books and His Reading of the Future.” Foundation, no. 65 (autumn 1995): 16-24.
[In the following essay, Derry investigates possible contemporary literary influences on Wells's novella The Time Machine, including works by Edward Bellamy, William Morris, and E. G. E. Bulwer-Lytton's The Coming Race.]
The Time Traveller is the author of seventeen papers on physical optics, and presumably of various patents as well, but he is probably unused to telling tales. However, he tells his audience that he has read “visions of Utopias and coming times”,1 and compares his own experiences with the conventions of such fictions. For instance, he has to try to make sense of the world of AD 802,701, without any help from the inhabitants—he notes that “I had no convenient cicerone in the pattern of the Utopian books.”2 But whilst his experiences seem to contrast with those of visitors to fictional futures and Utopias, the relationship between his narrative and these fictions that he has read is more complex than simple satire, implicit or explicit, on their conventions and conveniences. For all that he is a scientist, it is his reading of Utopian books, as much as his knowledge of science, which shapes his responses to AD 802,701, and perhaps because he is remembering the wrong visions of coming times, his explanation of the...
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SOURCE: Price, Laurence. “Messrs Wells and Conan Doyle—Purveyors of Horticultural curiosities and Proto-Triffids.” The Wellsian, no. 21 (winter 1998): 35-44.
[In the following essay, Price compares Wells's “The Flowering of the Strange Orchid” and Arthur Conan Doyle's “The American's Tale” and dubs these stories “precursors of the deadly plant themes that have fed many of our twentieth century fears and phobias.”]
Long before the publication of The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham in 1951, two eminent authors had developed the theme of man-killing plants, although on a less apocalyptic scale, in short stories written towards the end of the nineteenth century. The first was Arthur Conan Doyle with “The American's Tale” published in the Christmas number of London Society in 1880, the second, H. G. Wells with “The Flowering of the Strange Orchid” which appeared in the Pall Mall Budget on 2nd August 1894.
Of the two, “The Flowering of the Strange Orchid” is the superior tale which centres on the horticultural obsessions of one of Wells's ubiquitous “little men”, Winter-Wedderburn, a collector of rare orchids. He is a “shy, lonely, rather ineffectual man” (H. G. Wells Short Stories 69) who complains to his housekeeper and remote cousin that “nothing ever happens to me” (70). Today, however, he is to buy...
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SOURCE: Scuriatti, Laura. “A Tale of Two Cities: H. G. Wells's The Door in the Wall, Illustrated by Alvin Langdon Coburn.” The Wellsian, no. 22 (winter 1999): 11-28.
[In the following essay, Scuriatti discusses the success of the collaboration of Wells and photographer Alvin Langdon Coburn on the 1911 edition of The Door in the Wall, and Other Stories.]
“Our business is to see what we can and render it,” writes H. G. Wells about himself and the photographer Alvin Langdon Coburn. The sentence, which appears on the first page of the presentation copy of First and Last Things, is the caption to a small caricature-drawing in which Wells depicts himself and the photographer at work in their respective activities. Wells's words seem to hint at a close collaboration and to a shared aesthetic creed. In fact, the two authors only worked together on two occasions: in 1910 H. G. Wells wrote a preface to Coburn's book of pictures, New York, and in 1911 Wells published a special edition of The Door in the Wall, and Other Stories, a collection of tales written between 1894 and 1906 and illustrated with Coburn's photographs.1
On considering Wells's and Coburn's lives and work, it seems difficult to believe that they might have shared any common goals. Coburn, an American expatriate, was born into the upper-middle class and had an allowance which permitted...
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DePaolo, Charles. “Wells, Golding, and Auel: Representing the Neanderthal.” Science Fiction Studies 27, no. 3 (November 2000): 418-38.
Examines the contemporary theories concerning Neanderthal man as found in Wells's “The Grisly Folk” (1921), Golding's The Inheritors (1955), and Jean Auel's The Clan of the Cave Bear (1980).
Gaudet, Jodie R. “Wells's ‘The Country of the Blind.’” The Explicator 59, no. 4 (summer 2001): 195-97.
Considers the possibility that the valley of the blind exists only in the character Núñez's imagination.
Hashimoto, Yorimitsu. “Victorian Biological Terror: A Study of ‘The Stolen Bacillus’ (1894).” Undying Fire 2 (2003): 3-27.
Examines the historical treatment of biological terror and anarchism in Wells's short story “The Stolen Bacillus”.
Keller, Charles and Tom Miller. “Commanding the Land Ironclads.” The Wellsian, no. 26 (2003): 31-45.
Draws parallels between the use of tank vehicles in Wells's “The Land Ironclads” (1903) and the development of World War I military strategy.
Scheick, William J., ed. The Critical Response to H. G. Wells. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1995, 194 p.
Collection of critical essays....
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