H. G. Wells Essay - Wells, H. G.

Wells, H. G.

Introduction

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.

Biographical Information

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.

Critical Reception

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.”

Principal Works

“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 (nonfiction) 1893

The Wonderful Visit (novel) 1895

The Island of Dr. Moreau: A Possibility (novel) 1896

The Wheels of Chance: A Bicycling Idyll (novel) 1896

The Invisible Man: A Grotesque Romance (novel) 1897; also published as The Invisible Man: A Fantastic Sensation, 1996

Certain Personal Matters: A Collection of Material, Mainly Autobiographical (autobiography) 1898

The War of the Worlds (novel) 1898

When the Sleeper Wakes: A...

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Criticism

Patrick Parrinder (essay date March 1990)

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...

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A. Langley Searles (essay date summer 1991)

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...

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Bruce David Sommerville (essay date winter 1994)

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.”]

INTRODUCTION

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...

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Alex Boulton (essay date winter 1995)

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...

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Stephen Derry (essay date autumn 1995)

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...

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Laurence Price (essay date winter 1998)

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...

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Laura Scuriatti (essay date winter 1999)

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...

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