abstract illustration of concentric circles punctuated by lines emanating from a clock in the middle of the drawing

The Time Machine

by H. G. Wells

Start Free Trial

I'm reading The Time Machine by H.G. Wells. Please explain what the phrase "lilies of silver" means in the following sentence: "The fire burnt brightly, and the soft radiance of the incandescent lights in the lilies of silver caught the bubbles that flashed and passed in our glasses." Is the author referring to pendant lamps? The paragraph containing the sentence describes a living room.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The quote that the question is asking about can be found in the first paragraph of chapter 1. The lilies of silver sound quite poetic and beautiful, and I do think your interpretation is correct in thinking that the lilies of silver are some kind of light. The sentence says that the incandescent lights are in the silver lilies. An incandescent light is a type of light bulb. It works by moving electricity through a resistant filament. The filament gets hot and begins to glow. It's an inefficient way to make light, but it works. Often, the light is harsh because the bulb might not be coated with a milky white coating to soften the glow. A shade or covering is then placed over the bulb to help soften, and perhaps color, the glow.

In this passage, the shade covering isn't likely to be made of actual silver. This would be expensive, and silver isn't transparent or translucent. Light wouldn't go through the silver, so the silver probably refers to the shade covering being light grey. Personally, I think the sentence is describing a chandelier that has multiple pendants hanging from it. The shades are likely in the shape of a lily. I've attached a picture below of something that I think might be similar.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

H.G. Wells (1866-1946) was well-known in his life, as well as after, for his science fiction stories, including The Time Machine. As avid readers of Wells are aware, however, the late author was more than just a writer of science fiction; he was also a left-leaning political activists who supported socialist causes and whose ideological inclinations were evident in his literary works. The Time Machine is one of Wells's more blatantly political stories, and the references to "lilies of silver," "a silver birch tree," and to other similar inanimate objects constructed of precious metals (silver was considerably more valuable back then than it is today) is a reflection of the author's indictment of the class distinctions that dominated the England of his and previous and subsequent eras and of the rigidity of that social system that condemned most lower-income families to lives of permanent economic destitution. Thus, when Wells's narrator describes the Time Traveller's descriptions of the opulence of the upper classes to which he has become witness by virtue of his time machine, it is intended to evoke negative perceptions of the divide between rich and poor. As the Time Traveller continues to illuminate the depth of these distinctions in the future he has witnessed, the novel transitions to what can best be called 'the Wells Manifesto,' with the rich cravenly exploited the poor and the latter condemned to lives of enforced servitude or, as the protagonist states, ". . .in the end, above ground you must have the Haves, pursuing pleasure and comfort and beauty, and below ground the Have-nots . . . ."

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial Team