H. G. Wells

Start Free Trial

Patrick Parrinder (essay date March 1990)

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

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 chastened by the blind people's ability to co-operate against him, he becomes a humble domestic slave and falls in love with Medina-saroté, his master's daughter. The elders agree to permit him to marry her if only he will consent to having his eyes removed in a simple surgical operation. On the day before his operation, however, he steals away from the sleeping village (the blind people naturally sleep during the heat of the day and work at night) and climbs up the side of the valley, searching for a passage through the impenetrable mountain wall. He is last seen with a smile on his face, lying motionless on his back under the stars.

Núñez at the end has suffered a fall and is bruised, blood-stained and insensible—in fact, he is almost certainly dead.2 Critics are unanimous in applauding his escape from the valley, even though it makes for an ending in which (in Michael Draper's words) “self-fulfillment and self-destruction combine” (p. 41). According to Bergonzi, “[t]he end of the story expresses Wells's personal conviction that the individual can and should remove himself from any situation which he finds insupportable; at the same time, it shows how the human spirit can assert its true freedom, even at the cost of physical extinction” (p. 84). A similar act of destructive self-assertion occurs at the end of “The Door in the Wall” (1906), though, as Bergonzi points out, the two endings are to some extent antithetical since “Wallace dies in a pit; Núñez is at least able to escape from one” (p. 87). (Núñez has come to see the valley of the blind as a “pit of sin.”)

Frank McConnell also sets “The Country of the Blind” in antithetical relationship to another Wellsian text: this time to The Invisible Man (1897). Núñez, like Griffin, is a social outsider; so that in the later story, “The same basic tale is repeated, except that our sympathies and our identification are with the individual figure, the isolated hero rather than with the group, the society, that destroys him” (McConnell:119). Unlike Bergonzi's, McConnell's account would apply equally to a version of the story with a hypothetical alternative ending in which, far from escaping and dying in the mountains, Núñez finally felt forced to submit to the blind surgeons' scalpels....

(This entire section contains 2456 words.)

See This Study Guide Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this study guide. You'll also 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

Such an alternative ending is no mere hypothesis, however. It can be found in a subsequently cancelled passage in Wells's first surviving draft of the story.

The manuscript of “The Country of the Blind” in the Wells Collection at the University of Illinois consists of three different versions of the story, two of which are bundled together, apparently in the order in which Wells or his secretary left them. At least one version is missing, since there is no MS authority for the story's published ending. Instead, there is the earliest version, in which Núñez turns back to face the surgeons, and two intermediate versions. The MS evidence suggests Wells's radical uncertainty both as to the appropriate fate for Núñez and as to the significance of that fate and the explicitness with which it should be presented.

Versions A and C, which are bundled together, consist of 46 pages of MS and corrected typescript, not all of which are in sequence. The first page is dated “December 25, 1903” in pencil. (Most probably this was the date of completion of one of the drafts, and being Christmas Day it illuminates Wells's somewhat frenetic methods of work.) In general, the MS pages are written straight out with many additions but very few deletions; the first version of the ending, as we shall see, is uncharacteristic in this respect. Portions of the MS appear to have been typed up as soon as they were completed, so that Wells could both revise them and continue writing the story on the last typed sheet. In version A (where the characters' names are given as Nuñez and Medinasaroti), Núñez finally flees to the mountains, sits down on a ledge, and imagines Medina-saroté waking up in the evening to find him gone. Not understanding how great a sacrifice she was demanding of him, she would necessarily think him a coward for refusing to face the eye surgeons. The last paragraphs in version A read as follows (Wells's insertions are underlined; his substitutions for deleted passages are preceded by a slash):3

But his decision was made now Down there in the valley was life & love, tender hands & a dear heart, down there was a sort of honour, a sort of consolation & a soul that stood in need of him, & above—solitude, & a fading dream, & a guideless struggle & death.

He put the back of his hands to his eyes, all wet with tears, & so stood for a space.

“Why was I given this gift?” he whispered (?)…—Why was I given this gift?

Sobs shook him

The warm light of the sinking sun was all about him, & suddenly the shadows came reaching (?) silently upon him & day fled away from him up the steep.

He shivered & stood still, stood up /very still.

Abruptly as one who will delay no more, he drew his cloak about him & bowed his head /set his face towards the valley /& set his feet /with a stern /set & sorrowful face turned (?) back towards the valley where the surgeons (?) awaited his coming.

Crammed into the bottom of the page, the deletions here make this one of the most difficult of Wells's manuscripts to decipher. The author's dissatisfaction with this first ending, in which the lovelorn Núñez goes weakly back down to the valley, is all too evident from the confused and hesitant state of the final sentence.

Versions B and C are closely similar to one another, C apparently being the corrected typescript version of B. Here Wells has reversed his original ending, anticipating instead that Núñez will die in the mountains. The words “die” and “death” are used here, though they are suppressed in the published text of the story (along with other details, such as the ledge and “trackless snowfield”). To facilitate comparison I shall reproduce the final paragraphs of versions B (holograph) and C (typescript with holograph additions) … :

He had clambered along a ledge of rock, taking terrible risks, & quite near now to him was the trackless snowfield upon which under the clear cold stars, he must presently struggle & sink & die. He stood, resting against an elbow of rock & panting.

And for all that death was /stood near& waiting for him, it seemed to him he was a man who had been in a terrible danger & had made a great /achieved escape

Medina saroti was very small & remote (?) now, a speck amidst those houses,

[Version B]

He had clambered along a ledge of rock, taking terrible risks, and quite near to him now was the trackless snowfield upon which under the clear cold stars, he must presently struggle and sink and die. He stood, resting against an elbow of rock and panting and looking at these things & ever (?) & again down into narrow valley where the blind men had their world. (?)

And for all that death stood near and waiting for him, it seemed to him he was a man who had been in a terrible danger and had achieved escape.

[Version C]

Both the deleted half-sentence in B and the inserted half-sentence in C suggest Núñez's inability to finally break his emotional ties with the valley of the blind: like Lot's wife, he keeps looking back. In the published ending (which is much richer than versions B and C), Núñez's final actions have lost any air of indecision:

He glanced back at the village, then turned right round and regarded it steadfastly.

He thought of Medina-saroté, and she had become small and remote.

He turned again towards the mountain wall, down which the day had come to him.

Then very circumspectly he began to climb.

There follows a kind of coda, in which the narrative is no longer focalized through Núñez's consciousness. He is instead visualized lying where he has apparently fallen, though the word “fall” is avoided in favor of the euphemistic statement, “He had been higher, but he was still very high.” Around him the sun sets over the mountains and the stars appear, but “he heeded these things no longer”—he is, as it were, blind to them. But he lies “smiling as if he were satisfied merely to have escaped from the Valley of the Blind in which he had thought to be King.”

Within what I have called the coda in the published text, Wells systematically repeats a number of motifs from earlier in the story. The valley now “seemed as if it were a pit,” echoing Núñez's earlier impression of a “pit of sin.” Moreover, Núñez, who initially tumbled into the valley of the blind from the snow-slopes, has now suffered a second fall. The proverb about the One-Eyed Man is also recalled. Perhaps the most memorable feature of the coda, however, is the sublimity of the sunset landscape in the high mountains. The passage is marred slightly by over-insistent repetition. (It would be fascinating to study the MS drafts of the coda, which apparently we do not have.) Some of the phrases describing the glints of “light and fire” appeared in the earlier versions, where they occupied a different position, coming before Núñez finally made his decision regarding the alternative of continuing on up the slope, or returning to the valley.

The sublime mountain landscape is doubly hidden from the people of the valley: it cannot be seen by the blind, and it cannot be seen from the valley. In the coda to the published text, Núñez is at last blind to it as well. Only the narrator can evoke it, for the reader to visualize; so that the reader has inherited from Núñez the superior awareness, and perhaps the delusions, of the sighted. This may lead us to emphasize another crucial detail in the coda, Núñez's contented smile. The Núñez of version A was last shown with a “set and sorrowful face,” while in B and C there was a certain grim exhilaration (such as is felt by the reader of the published text) but no smiling.

Núñez, being insensible, is finally blind, and his contentedness is something that he shares with the blind people of the valley. In keeping with the Happy Valley topos, the most evident characteristic of the inhabitants of the Country of the Blind is their complacency. In mythopoeic terms, Núñez is finally reunited with the blind people, at one level, almost fully as if he had gone back to face the surgeons. The coda, read in this light, unmistakably completes the “organic” pattern of the story, yet it also conveys a rather disturbing element of ambiguity and ambivalence. This ambivalence is forcibly and inescapably present when we consider the earlier versions of Wells's ending, which offer the spectacle of an irresolute, vacillating protagonist set forth by an uncharacteristically hesitant and fumbling author. Though a full study of the textual genesis of “The Country of the Blind” is beyond my purpose here, a comparison of the alternative endings reveals some of the artistic uncertainties surrounding the creation of a classic short story, as well as hinting at the buried life of the author which serves to generate his fantasies. For who, reading Wells's life and many of his other best-known novels and stories, could fail to observe that he himself was torn between social responsibility and manic individualism, between acceptance of the Happy Valley of contented (but limited) fulfillment, and a desperate, self-destructive need to strike out along imaginary paths for the mountain summits?


  1. The story was reprinted in The Country of the Blind, and Other Stories (London: Nelson, 1911), pp. 536-68, and later in The Works of H. G. Wells: Atlantic Edition, vol. X (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1925), pp. 601-36, and in The Complete Short Stories of H. G. Wells (London: Benn, 1927), pp. 167-92. For the present purpose these texts are identical. At the time of the 1927 reprint, Wells told the London Sunday Express that “The Country of the Blind” and “The Pearl of Love” were his two favorites among his short stories. See David C. Smith, p. 416.

  2. For most critics Núñez is unequivocally dead, though Michael Draper (p. 14) and John Huntington (p. 126) express some uncertainty.

  3. The speech beginning “Why was I given this gift?” and the words “Sobs shook him” in this extract represent a second insertion within the inserted passage. Other conventions I have used are as follows: a question mark in brackets indicates a dubious reading of the preceding word; words struck through represent Wells's deletions.

    This and other quotations from the unpublished MSS of “The Country of the Blind” appear by permission of A. P. Watt Ltd. on behalf of the Literary Executors of the Estate of H. G. Wells.

Works Cited

Bergonzi, Bernard. The Early H. G. Wells: A Study of the Scientific Romances. Manchester, UK: 1961

Draper, Michael. H. G. Wells. Basingstoke, UK: 1987.

Huntington, John. The Logic of Fantasy: H. G. Wells and Science Fiction. NY, 1982.

McConnell, Frank. The Science Fiction of H. G. Wells. NY, 1981.

Smith, David C. H. G. Wells, Desperately Mortal. New Haven & London: 1986.


Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

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.”

A. Langley Searles (essay date summer 1991)

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

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 born, lived, and died the other four senses managed to sustain the civilization of the group. The old concepts of reality were changed; traditions were weighed, and molded to fit seemingly more rational concepts; the very universe, to these blind people, shrank to the area of their tiny valley, a hollow between all but unscalable rocky cliffs. And at the time Núñez arrives, the very names for all things connected with sight have faded from the language.

Núñez remembers that “in the country of the blind the one-eyed man is king,” but soon discovers that this aphorism is not valid. With their highly-developed sense of hearing and keen dog-like sense of smell the inhabitants have him always at their mercy; and since they regard his talk of “seeing” as a symptom of insanity he is kept under strict surveillance. In the end, not wishing to continue at hard manual labor for subsistence to the end of his days, Núñez abandons the Country of the Blind and Medina-saroté, a girl there who has come to love him, and manages to climb out of the valley by the same dangerously precipitous way he entered it.

In 1939 Wells revised the story extensively. This revised version was published in a limited edition by the well-known Golden Cockerel Press of London. Only 280 numbered copies were printed, which makes the volume virtually unobtainable as far as the average collector is concerned. This is indeed unfortunate, for along with the new version is also included the original one, and both are embellished with numerous engravings by Clifford Web. Luckily, however, the tale has been reprinted in its 1939 form in two other volumes: The College Survey of English Literature (1942), edited by B. J. Whiting and others, and Masterpieces of Science Fiction (1967), edited by Sam Moskowitz.

The author has added about 3000 words in the revised version, thus increasing the story's original length by approximately one-third. The difference lies solely in the ending. Here, instead of abandoning Medina-saroté and her people, Núñez at this point in the narration suddenly notices that a great section of the precipices surrounding the valley has developed a serious fault-line since his arrival. This can mean only one thing: the ultimate collapse of a portion of the rock into the Country of the Blind, which would of course cause its complete destruction. All attempts to warn the people prove useless; they regard his excitement over this imminent danger as a final proof of incurable insanity, and in the end, their patience exhausted, drive him from the village. Soon the overhanging rocks do indeed slide down into the valley, and in the final moments Núñez and Medina-saroté win through to freedom by climbing out the newly-created rift.

After several days of wandering the two are found by native hunters in a condition of near-starvation, and brought back to civilization. They marry, and settle in Quito with Núñez' people, Núñez himself becoming a prosperous tradesman. The couple have four children, all of whom are able to see. Though happy with her husband and loved by her children, Medina-saroté after many years still thinks of her former peaceful life with regret, silently mourning its irrevocable loss. Steadfastly she refuses to consult oculists who might remedy her blindness. A conversation with the narrator's wife reveals her attitude:

“I have no use for your colours or your stars,” said Medina-saroté. …

“But after all that has happened! Don't you want to see Núñez; see what he is like?”

“But I know what he is like and seeing him might put us apart. He would not be so near to me. The loveliness of your world is a complicated and fearful loveliness and mine is simple and near. I had rather Núñez saw for me - because he knows nothing of fear.”

“But the beauty!” cried my wife.

“It may be beautiful,” said Medina-saroté, “but it must be very terrible to see.

In his introduction to the Golden Cockerel Press edition of The Country of the Blind Wells gives his reasons for rewriting the original story in this new form:

The essential idea … remains the same throughout, but the value attached to vision changes profoundly. It has been changed because there has been a change in the atmosphere of life about us. In 1904 the stress is upon the spiritual isolation of those who see more keenly than their fellows and the tragedy of their incommunicable appreciation of life. The visionary dies, a worthless outcast, finding no other escape from his gift but death, and the blind world goes on, invincibly self-satisfied and secure. But in the later story vision becomes something altogether more tragic; it is no longer a story of disregarded loveliness and release; the visionary sees destruction sweeping down upon the whole blind world he has come to endure and even to love; he sees it plain, and he can do nothing to save it from its fate.

Regardless of whether or not the reader agrees with Wells that changing world conditions have necessitated a change in this story's outlook, he will probably regret that such a change was actually made. Firstly, all allegorical purpose aside, that quality of insulation that made the original so memorable is completely lost. In the first version Wells draws his circle and wisely remains within it to cover the ground thoroughly and completely. But in the second, with the expansion of the locale from the small isolated valley to the larger canvas of the outside world, the author cannot—and does not—succeed in working up the area properly. The result is a certain lack of convincingness that is unmistakable. Even granting his wish to change “the value attached to vision” Wells obviously need not have violated the insulation of his setting in order to accomplish this.

Secondly—all allegorical considerations once more aside—this new ending lacks the fundamental originality the first version possesses. Such a dénouement, with its conventional satisfaction of public demand for consummation of love-interest (and a tacked-on love-interest at that), is precisely what modern hack “pulpists” would resort to. Not even the native Wellsian story-telling ability can dissipate this impression.

The style of Wells' writing, however, remains unchanged; he had lost little or nothing in the third-of-a-century interim in which “The Country of the Blind” remained untouched. Always he remains an excellent story-teller.

And because Wells is such a good story-teller it is regrettable that in later years he attempted the metamorphosis to the preacher and philosopher. He will always be remembered for the incisive and vigorous creative power that lent life to his original imaginative ideas in such fine works as The War of the Worlds and The Time Machine, as well as the “pure” fantasy of shorter tales like “The Magic Shop” and “A Dream of Armageddon”. Yet as a philosopher and a preacher Wells will probably not be remembered, because his abilities in these fields are not outstanding. We tolerate Wells the preacher because he is one with Wells the story-teller—but if some kind of schizophrenic split could effect a physical separation of the two there is no doubt which Wellsian twin we would choose.

In “The Country of the Blind” this combination is both good and bad: good, since the story may be read and enjoyed and judged as excellent without thought or reference to the allegory which underlies it; and bad, since because of this very fact the allegory is obviously both extraneous and unnecessary. And, it may be added, ineffective: for if a reader cannot perceive easily at first reading what Wells is allegorically driving at, the author might as well have abandoned this ulterior motif to begin with.

One further comment on the 1939 version of “The Country of the Blind” may be appended. In the introduction quoted on the previous page Wells mentions “the tragedy of their incommunicable appreciation of life” concerning those who “see more keenly than their fellows.” Yet we note in the second version that the girl Medina-saroté, who has been taken from the valley, later on realizes the existence of something beyond her senses and her conception of the world. She has learned to speak of “seeing,” and uses the words of sight in a manner that shows she has some vague, empirical idea of their meaning. Yet she shrinks fearfully from the opportunity to realize their full significance that surgery offers.

This is important, for it furnishes a deeper insight into Wells' philosophy. He always regarded Stupidity as the monarch of the world, and always, too, held forth that transformation of the earth into a near-utopia could be accomplished if the scientist-intellectual type were in control—in fact his confidence in this cure-all by dint of a generation's repetition became so cocksure that it is almost wearisome. And now the reader is indirectly made cognizant of what Wells considers to be the chief reason why his scheme has not as yet been tried: the people themselves fear it. Because of their stupidity they not only do not at present understand it, but they are afraid to allow themselves to be led by those who do. And thus the tragedy that visits upon The Country of the Blind is nothing less than a measure of punishment, an allegorical lashing which Wells feels the world of reality richly deserves.

Principal Works

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

“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 Story of the Years to Come (novel) 1899; also published as The Sleeper Awakes, 1910

Love and Mr. Lewisham: The Story of a Very Young Couple (novel) 1900

Anticipations of the Reaction of Mechanical and Scientific Progress upon Human Life and Thought (essay) 1901

The First Men in the Moon (novel) 1901

The Sea Lady (novel) 1902; also published as The Sea Lady: A Tissue of Moonshine, 1902

Mankind in the Making (essays) 1903

The Food of the Gods, and How It Came to Earth (novel) 1904

Kipps: A Monograph (novel) 1905; also published as Kipps: The Story of a Simple Soul, 1905

A Modern Utopia (essay) 1905

The Future in America: A Search after Realities (essays) 1906

In the Days of the Comet (novel) 1906

First and Last Things: A Confession of Faith and a Rule of Life (essay) 1908

New Worlds for Old (essay) 1908

The War in the Air and Particularly How Mr. Bert Smallways Fared While It Lasted (novel) 1908

Ann Veronica: A Modern Love Story (novel) 1909

Tono-Bungay (novel) 1909

The History of Mr. Polly (novel) 1910

Floor Games (juvenilia) 1911

The New Machiavelli (novel) 1911

Marriage (novel) 1912

The Passionate Friends: A Novel (novel) 1913

War and Common Sense (nonfiction) 1913

Social Forces in England and America (essays) 1914

The War That Will End War (essays) 1914

The Wife of Sir Issac Harmon (novel) 1914

The World Set Free: A Story of Mankind (novel) 1914

The Research Magnificent (novel) 1915

The War and Socialism (nonfiction) 1915

Mr. Britling Sees It Through (novel) 1916

God, the Invisible King (essay) 1917

The Soul of a Bishop (novel) 1917; also published as The Soul of a Bishop: A Novel–with Just a Little Love in It–about Conscience and Religion and the Real Troubles of Life, 1917

Joan and Peter: The Story of an Education (novel) 1918

The Outline of History. 2 vols. (history) 1919-1920

The Undying Fire: A Contemporary Novel (novel) 1919

The Salvaging of Civilization: The Probable Future of Mankind (nonfiction) 1921

A Short History of the World (nonfiction) 1922

Men Like Gods (novel) 1923

The Dream (novel) 1924

A Year of Prophesying (essays) 1924

The World of William Clissold: A Novel at a New Angle (novel) 1926

The Open Conspiracy: Blue Prints for a World Revolution (essay) 1928

The King Who Was a King: An Unconventional Novel (novel) 1929; also published as The King Who Was a King: The Book of a Film, 1929

The Autocracy of Mr. Parham: His Remarkable Adventures in This Changing World (novel) 1930

Selections from the Early Prose Works of H. G. Wells (nonfiction) 1931

The Work, Wealth, and Happiness of Mankind (nonfiction) 1931

The Bulpington of Blup: Adventures, Poses, Stresses, Conflicts, and Disaster in a Contemporary Brain (novel) 1932

The Shape of Things to Come: The Ultimate Revolution (essay) 1933

Experiment in Autobiography: Discoveries and Conclusions of a Very Ordinary Brain (Since 1866) (autobiography) 1934

The New America: the New World (nonfiction) 1935

Brynhild; or, The Show of Things (novel) 1937

World Brain (essays and lectures) 1938

The Fate of Man (nonfiction) 1939

The Holy Terror (novel) 1939

All Aboard for Ararat (novel) 1940

The Rights of Man; or, What Are We Fighting For? (nonfiction) 1940

Guide to the New World: A Handbook of Constructive World Revolution (essay) 1941

The Pocket History of the World (nonfiction) 1941

Phoenix: A Summary of the Inescapable Conditions of World Reorganisation (nonfiction) 1942

Crux Ansata: An Indictment of the Roman Catholic Church (nonfiction) 1943

'42 to '44: A Contemporary Memoir upon Human Behavior during the Crisis of the World Revolution (nonfiction) 1944

The Happy Turning: A Dream of Life (nonfiction) 1945

Mind at the End of Its Tether (essay) 1945

Henry James and H. G. Wells: A Record of Their Friendship, Their Debate on the Art of Fiction, and Their Quarrel (letters) 1958

Arnold Bennett and H. G. Wells: A Record of a Personal and a Literary Friendship (letters and criticism) 1960

George Gissing and H. G. Wells: Their Friendship and Correspondence (letters and criticism) 1961

Journalism and Prophecy, 1893-1946: An Anthology (essays and lectures) 1964

H. G. Wells's Literary Criticism (essays) 1980

Bernard Shaw and H. G. Wells (letters) 1995

The Correspondence of H. G. Wells (letters) 1996

Bruce David Sommerville (essay date winter 1994)

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

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:

  1. 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 excursion.
  2. The disappearance of the model time machine and the Time Traveller's final departure are optical illusions which, along with his theory of time and his dream, accord with contemporary theories of psychology and visual perception.
  3. The relationship between the Time Traveller's hoax and the book's theme of evolutionary retrogression is best understood by viewing The Time Machine as an indictment of late nineteenth century complacency. The Time Traveller's deception of Hillyer is Wells's way of ridiculing the naïve optimism and complacency Hillyer displays in the Epilogue.

One result of this analysis of The Time Machine is a greater appreciation of its scientific basis, especially in the area of psychology. Autobiography is also important and indicates the whereabouts of the Time Traveller following his final “disappearance” on the “Time Machine”.

The outer framework is here considered to include the passages describing the Time Traveller's departure and return. Unless stated otherwise, all references to The Time Machine are to the Heinemann edition of 1895.


There are eleven references to puzzles in The Time Machine, three on one page (111). If one takes this as a hint and reads carefully, contradictions can be found in the chronology of the Time Traveller's account which yield the solution to a puzzle and a new reading.


Literary critics and the Time Traveller's guests alike assume that the Time Traveller returns to his laboratory from the future at eight o'clock in the evening on the day of his departure. Geoffrey H. Wells (226) and Harry M. Geduld (11) both affirm this chronology which, to the best of my knowledge, has not been disputed. However, a close reading of the second paragraphs of Chapters 4 and 15 show this assumption to be wrong. Here is the Time Traveller's account of his departure on his machine on the second Thursday afternoon:

Then I noted the clock. A moment before, as it seemed, it had stood at a minute or so past ten; now it was nearly half-past three!

… The laboratory got hazy and went dark. Mrs. Watchett came in, and walked, apparently without seeing me, towards the garden door. I suppose it took her a minute or so to traverse the place, but to me she seemed to shoot across the room like a rocket. I pressed the lever over to its extreme position. The night came like the turning out of a lamp, and in another moment came tomorrow.


Note that Mrs. Watchett traversed the laboratory after half-past three but before the night came.

In Chapter 15, where the Time Traveller describes his return from the future, he again encounters Mrs. Watchett: “As I returned, I passed again across that minute when she traversed the laboratory. But now her every motion appeared to be the exact inversion of her previous ones” (142-43). According to his own account, the Time Traveller returns almost to his starting time, in the late afternoon, before nightfall. Yet at eight o'clock he belatedly greets his guests creating the impression that he had only just returned. He later upholds this false impression when telling how he stopped the machine and sat down on the bench:

For a time my brain went stagnant. Presently I got up and came through the passage here, limping, because my heel was still painful, and feeling sorely begrimed. I saw the Pall Mall Gazette on the table by the door. I found the date was indeed today, and looking at the timepiece, saw the hour was almost eight o'clock.


The words “For a time” and “Presently” imply a short duration between his return and his entry into the dining room. But the Time Traveller has spent several hours in his laboratory with a “stagnant” brain while his guests, unaware of this, have begun dinner in his absence. The Time Traveller's mind has been elsewhere for this period: “Around me was my old workshop again, exactly as it had been. I might have slept there, and the whole thing have been a dream” (143). The Time Traveller has dreamed the entire future adventure with the Eloi and Morlocks while sitting on the bench in his laboratory. Wherever he has travelled, he has not travelled in time. His claim to have done so is part of an elaborate hoax.1 This interpretation is confirmed by another missing piece of time. In the second to last paragraph of Chapter 3 the Time Traveller prefaces his story by remarking: “I was in my laboratory at four o'clock, and since then … I've lived eight days … such days as no human being ever lived before!” (25). This statement does not square with the implication that he began his journey at half-past three and returned at eight o'clock.

The contradiction can be resolved by accepting the Time Traveller's claim to have been in his laboratory at four o'clock and by taking the statement “such days as no human being ever lived before” literally. His remarks are then clearly a hint that his vision of the future occurred in the laboratory after four o'clock as “no human being”—which includes the Time Traveller himself—has lived those eight days before four o'clock. It can thus be concluded that the Time Traveller's vision of the future was in the form of a dream which occurred between four o'clock and eight o'clock on the second Thursday evening after he returned to his laboratory and before he greeted his dinner guests. The chronological inconsistencies are a clue to understanding this.

The chronology of the rest of the evening supports this view. Allowing about three-quarters of an hour for the Time Traveller to wash, dress and dine, we can assume he begins his narrative at about a quarter to nine. He concludes four hours later, given by the Journalist's remark, “I'm hanged if it isn't a quarter to one” (146). The duration of the story concurs with that of the dream.

The Time Traveller openly admits his story is a dream when he says:

No. I cannot expect you to believe it. Take it as a lie—or a prophecy. Say I have dreamed it in the workshop. Consider that I have been speculating upon the destinies of our race, until I have hatched this fiction.


The ingenuity of his hoax is shown by his claim to have seen not only Mrs. Watchett as he returned from the future, but also Hillyer, who “passed like a flash” (143). He also implies that he saw the whole party of guests as he returned, for to them he remarks, of the Time Machine, “It had come to rest again in the north-west, against the wall where you saw it” (143). At this stage, only three of his guests have seen the machine, and then only after dinner on the previous Thursday when it was in the south-east corner of the laboratory.

The Time Traveller's claims are prophecies: first, that Hillyer will return, which he does the next day; and second that the whole party will go to view the machine against the north-west wall, which they do after the Time Traveller concludes his story. Although seeming to confirm his story, both prophecies are realised by the Time Traveller. He perceives that Hillyer credits his story more than the other guests and shrewdly guesses that he will return to discuss time-travelling—indeed, prompts him to do so by naming him. The Time Traveller also arranges for the whole group to view the machine by rushing to the laboratory with the lamp to reassure himself of the machine's reality.

Did I ever make a Time Machine, or a model of a Time Machine? Or is it only a dream? … I must look at that machine. …

The Time Traveller put the lamp down on the bench and ran his head along the damaged rail. “It's all right now,” he said. “The story I told you was true. I'm sorry to have brought you out here in the cold.

[my italics] (147-48)

The Time Traveller is a clever man indeed.

There is strong evidence that the chronological “faults” of the outer framework are deliberate and not the result of errors in writing or in publication. This evidence will now be reviewed.


In June 1894, Wells reviewed Dr. O. W. Owen's Sir Francis Bacon's Cipher Story. In “More Bacon”, Wells describes Owen's efforts to uncover a cipher story hidden in some literary works attributed to Bacon, and notes the literary euphemisms that typified the age.

Then language and thought alike were permeated by the spirit of Euphues, so that whereas we aim nowadays at subtlety of meaning and simplicity of expression, the ambition of the educated man of the early seventeenth century was invariably to conceal a simply idiotic meaning beneath an imposing, brilliant, and even enigmatical form.


Two other unsigned essays published in April and May 1894 which discuss cryptograms and hidden symbols could also belong to Wells.2

The text of The Time Machine was revised by Wells before, during and after its serial publication in the New Review (Bergonzi “Publication of The Time Machine” 43-45). Apart from the two well-known major revisions to Chapters 1 and 14 of the Heinemann edition, I count forty-five minor revisions of the New Review version prior to its publication by Heinemann. None of these revisions changes the chronology of the outer framework. In 1924, Wells revised the text again for inclusion in The Works of H. G. Wells: Atlantic Edition (Preface vol. 1 Atlantic Edition xxii). Despite re-reading and revising, Wells still made no changes to the chronology of the story. Given his writing on literary puzzles and his detailed revisions of The Time Machine (all of which left the chronology intact) it is clear that the chronological irregularities of the book are part of Wells's design. The work has been carefully and cleverly written.

The circumstances of the Time Traveller's return to his laboratory, however, indicate that he has somehow travelled somewhere. We will now examine the “how” and the “where” of the Time Traveller's journey.


The Time Traveller's dishevelled state when he enters the dining room at eight o'clock is described by Hillyer.

His coat was dusty and dirty, and smeared with green down the sleeves; his hair disordered, and as it seemed to me greyer—either with dust or dirt or because its colour had actually faded. His face was ghastly pale; his chin had a brown cut on it—a cut half-healed; his expression was haggard and drawn, as by intense suffering.


He is also lame, having on his feet only a pair of tattered, bloodstained socks (21) as well as having scarred knuckles (146). His condition resembles that of another of Wells's characters, Mr. Hoopdriver of The Wheels of Chance, whose bruised ankles and legs were merely the visible sign of more extensive injuries.

Fired by these discoveries, an investigatory might perhaps have pursued his inquiries further—to bruises on the shoulders, elbows, and even the finger joints, of the central figure of our story. He had indeed been bumped and battered at an extraordinary number of points.


Hoopdriver's injuries were based on injuries Wells himself sustained while learning to ride the bicycle, as he makes clear in his autobiography: “The diamond frame had appeared but there was no free-wheel. You could only stop and jump off when the treadle was at its lowest point, and the brake was an uncertain plunger upon the front wheel” (543). The importance of cycling in Wells's life in the 1890s is described by David C. Smith, who states that Wells used his safety bicycle to explore the Thames valley (Smith “Little Wars for Little People” 127-28). In the text and notes of his biography of Wells, Smith also discusses cycling and its relationship to Wells's early journalism (H. G. Wells 136, 523).

In an early essay, “Specimen Day”, Wells recounts a journey to Crawley on a tricycle. This essay has many points in common with the Time Traveller's account, some of which are best illustrated by a direct comparison:


The road to Midhurst … goes up and down like a switch back.


We have a pleasant but all too short run together, and upset in a heap on as soft a parch of turf as I have ever fallen on.


… certain little misadventures on the road had made me, to say the least, dusty.



There is a feeling exactly like that one has upon a switchback—of helpless headlong motion!


… I was sitting on soft turf in front of the overset machine.


His coat was dusty and dirty, and smeared with green down the sleeves. …


These autobiographical parallels indicate that in the interval between his two dinner engagements, the Time Traveller has been learning to ride a bicycle. He may have embarked on one or more cycling excursions, or a holiday. The Time Traveller's dream of the future occurs on his return, just as Hoopdriver was wont to “ride through Dreamland on wonderful dream bicycles that change and grow after a day's cycling” (Wheels of Chance 81). The Time Traveller's machine is no ordinary bicycle, being one of his own design made of nickel, ivory and quartz (15-16). Nevertheless, the most audacious part of his hoax is his act of passing off this bicycle to his guests as a machine capable of travelling in time.

Many references in the text of The Time Machine support the bicycle hypothesis. On stopping his machine suddenly, the Time Traveller falls off it: “Like an impatient fool, I lugged over the lever, and incontinently the thing went reeling over, and I was flung headlong through the air” (32). What is more, a brazen hint equating the Time Machine with a bicycle is given by Wells in his Preface to a later edition of The Time Machine: “So The Time Machine has lasted as long as the diamond-framed safety bicycle, which came in at about the date of its first publication”.3 The similarities between the Time Machine have been noted by other commentators but none identify the Time Traveller's absence, activities or physical condition with cycling.4

It is true that the claim that the Time Machine is a bicycle and the Time Traveller's vision is a dream demands a revision of the cardinal incidents in the book.


The Time Traveller invites his guests to dinner one Thursday evening, planning a hoax based on the construction of his own bicycle. After discussing space and time (1-7) and causing a model to disappear by means of an optical illusion (to be discussed below), he shows his guests the full-size machine in the laboratory, declaring his intention to explore time (16).

He completes his machine and takes a cycling holiday around the Thames valley, during which he has an accident, injures himself and damages the machine (148). The Time Traveller finds two flowers which are “sports” (146), that is, variations of a species type.5 Given his lameness, it is probable that he loses his machine and has to walk a long way to recover it. He sends a note to his home stating that his return may be delayed (19).6

Reaching his laboratory at four o'clock in the afternoon on the second Thursday, he dismounts shakily and sits down on his bench. Exhausted, he falls asleep and has a dream in which his cycling experiences and his thoughts about the future of the human race are mixed together. Awakening just before eight o'clock, the Time Traveller approaches the dining room and, upon hearing this guests discussing the “ingenious paradox and trick” (19) of the previous week, decides to continue the hoax. He then washes, dresses, dines and imparts his vision (27-144). Most guests are sceptical, but the gullible Hillyer returns the following afternoon (148). Expecting his visit, the Time Traveller has set up a second optical illusion (see below). After asking Hillyer to wait for half an hour, the Time Traveller goes out of his laboratory, primes his illusion and departs on his machine in advance of Hillyer's (and the manservant's) entry (150-51). The hoax is completed by the Time Traveller's failure to return.

This solution to Wells's puzzle may, however, be only partial. Readers of his time could not have used the biographical details used here. We must, therefore, assume that the true series of events in The Time Machine can be discovered purely on internal evidence. The following passage, spoken by the Time Traveller, points to a cryptogram hidden in the work.

I felt I lacked a clue. I felt—how shall I put it? Suppose you found an inscription, with sentences here and there in excellent plain English, and, interpolated therewith, others made up of words, of letters even, absolutely unknown to you? Well, on the third day of my visit, that was how the world of Eight Hundred and Two Thousand Seven Hundred and One presented itself to me!


Note that the initial capitals of the date, when rearranged, spell “THE HOST”. This probably refers to the Time Traveller and could form part of a longer message. As the cryptogram belongs to the inner core of the narrative, it is not my intention to deal with it here, but in a subsequent paper.

If, as I have argued, the Time Traveller has not physically travelled in time, how are we to understand his theory of time, his vision of the future, his demonstration of the model and his disappearance? These questions will now be addressed.


Book reviews and articles by Wells published between 1893 and 1895 indicate that he was abreast of developments in psychology and visual perception. These theories underpin the outer framework of The Time Machine.


By the early 1890s, physiologically-based theories of the perception of time were well-established in psychology. Herbert Spencer, who was a seminal influence on Wells, broaches the subject of temporal perception thus: “The doctrine that Time is knowable only by the succession of our mental states calls for little exposition: it is so well established a doctrine” (2: 209). In “The Position of Psychology”, a review of George Trumbull Ladd's Psychology, Descriptive and Explanatory, and C. Lloyd Morgan's Psychology for Teachers, Wells boldly criticises psychological research, showing a familiarity with the main trends in this science and the work of researchers such as William James and James Sully (715).

In The Time Machine, the Time Traveller provides a “proto-(William) Jamesian demonstration that time is a dimension of consciousness.”7 The nature of his discourse can best be understood by examining the emphasis placed on nervous physiology in contemporary theories of perception in such works as James's Principles of Psychology (1890) and Spencer's Principles of Psychology (1881).

When time is discussed in absolute or objective terms spatial analogies are used, with the similarities and differences between our perception of time and our perception of space being stressed (James 1: 610-11). For example, events are located in time in a certain succession or order, separated by intervals, just as objects are in space (1: 631 text and note; Spencer 21: 210-11, 217). However, James notes, a major difference is that our perception of time is limited to a few seconds (the present) while our perception of space is more extensive (1: 611). Spencer also articulates this by applying the term “co-existence” to our feelings of space, and “sequence” to our feelings of time (1: 210-11 et seq., 2: 208-9).

Subjectively, our perception of time is said to depend on principles of nervous action. The slow decline of nervous activity after a presentation (such as the after-images we see after looking at a bright light) gives rise to our sensation of the present which then fades into a sensation of immediate past as the nervous action passes into memory and is succeeded by a new presentation. Our perception of time is thus produced by a continual succession of nervous sensations, or feelings (James 1: 632-45; Spencer 1: 268; Sully Human Mind 1; 269-72).8

In Chapter 1 of The Time Machine, the Time Traveller relates space, time and consciousness by stressing extrinsic similarities between space and time, but noting the difference in our perception of them:

… any real body must have extension in four directions: it must have Length, Breadth, Thickness and—Duration. But through a natural infirmity of the flesh which I will explain to you in a moment, we incline to overlook this fact. There are really four dimensions, three which we call the three planes of Space, and a fourth, Time. There is, however, a tendency to draw an unreal distinction between the former three dimensions and the latter because it happens that our consciousness moves intermittently in one direction along the latter from the beginning to the end of our lives.


The Time Traveller proposes that time and space have common objective properties, such as extension, but a difference arises in our (subjective) perception of them. He calls the difference an “unreal distinction” due to a “natural infirmity of the flesh” because the distinction is a mental one produced by our nervous sensations. Successive nervous sensations cause us to perceive time as a sequence, or as the Time Traveller puts it, as an intermittent movement of consciousness. This discussion of space, time and consciousness is quite in accordance with psychological theory espoused by James and Spencer. Wells, however, uses a language suited to a popular readership.

The joining of the absolute standpoint—seen most clearly in the version which depicts a rigid physical universe extended in four dimensions—with the standpoint of human consciousness is not contradictory but complementary (Philmus & Hughes 51). However, it appears that Wells has leaned closer to the latter standpoint than commonly realised, for the Time Traveller's journey through time is in the form of a series of mental states, a dream. Contemporary scientific literature shows much common ground between psychology and visual perception.9 James emphasizes the role of visual sensations in temporal perception by describing how the world would appear to a being whose nervous system operates 1000 times more slowly than ours, creating the impression of a rapid movement through time.

Winters and summers will be to him like quarters of an hour. Mushrooms and the swifter growing plants will shoot into being so rapidly as to appear instantaneous creations; annual shrubs will rise and fall from the earth like restlessly boiling-water springs; the motions of animals will be as invisible as are to us the movements of bullets and cannon-balls; the sun will scour through the sky like a meteor, leaving a fiery trail behind him. …

(James 1: 639)

Similarly, the Time Traveller's successive sensations of the external world cover increasingly larger intervals as he moves forward in time.

The slowest snail that ever crawled dashed by too fast for me. … the jerking sun became a streak of fire, a brilliant arch, in space; … I saw trees growing and changing like puffs of vapour, now brown, now green: they grew, spread, shivered, and passed away. I saw huge buildings rise up faint and fair, and pass like dreams. The whole surface of the earth seemed changed—melting and flowing under my eyes.


The similarity of these two passages, together with the Time Traveller's Jamesian discussion of time, indicate the strong influence of theories of psychology and visual perception in the outer framework of The Time Machine. This intermediate field where psychology and physiology meet has also influenced Wells in his design of the Time Traveller's experiment with the model.


The two phenomena most relevant to the model's disappearance are: (i) the concept of presentation below the threshold; and (ii) the illusory nature of visual perception.

(i) The use by Wells of the phenomenon of “presentation below the threshold” (14-15) again indicates an acquaintance with psychology. Wells's knowledge of this could have come from a number of sources. Sully, for example, writes: “Every stimulus must reach a certain intensity before any appreciable sensation results. This point is known as the threshold or liminal intensity of sensation” (The Human Mind 1: 87). James Ward states that if the intensity of a presentation is less than a certain assignable value it is said to lie “below the threshold of consciousness” (19: 49).

(ii) Wells would have undoubtedly been struck by the importance of optical illusions for research in psychology. Optical illusions are discussed in detail by James (2: 86-103, 243-68), while Sully devotes an entire work to the psychology of illusions. Ladd deals with illusions in the context of suggestion, feeling and association:

Our ideas, feelings, and volitions take part in determining how we shall see the spatial qualities and relations of any object. … Or—to say the same truth in more popular phrase—within given limits, we see what we think or imagine ought to be seen; what we are expecting to see; and what we by an act of will determine to see.


The Time Traveller is portrayed as an expert in physical optics (114). Relevant to this field, as to psychology, were theories of colour vision. Researchers in both psychology and optics often employed “colour tops” because visual illusions resulted when the tops, with patterns on their flat upper surface, were spun.10 In “The Visibility of Colour” (1895), Wells indicates a knowledge of colour vision and refers to the new Spectrum Top, a device mentioned some months earlier in Nature.11 These concepts all bear on the demonstration of the model.

The Time Traveller places his model on a table before his guests. It is a “glittering metallic framework” about the size of a small clock, containing ivory, “some transparent crystalline substance,” and brass (10). The Time Traveller then gets the Psychologist to push a little white lever to start the model. As Hillyer observes:

One of the candles on the mantel was blown out, and the little machine suddenly swung round, became indistinct, was seen as a ghost for a second perhaps, as an eddy of faintly glittering brass and ivory; and it was gone—vanished! Save for the lamp the table was bare.


The Time Traveller has made the model less visible by causing it to spin rapidly, like a top, so that the presentation of the framework approaches the threshold of perception. The framework-like construction of the model would allow things behind it to be visible through it, so enhancing the illusion. Moreover, the model is made of materials that are white, highly reflective or transparent, rather than opaque. The model is then no more appreciable than “the spoke of a wheel spinning” (15). The psychological phenomenon of suggestion also plays a part in this demonstration. Ladd emphasises the importance of suggestion in optical illusions:

In the wider meaning of that much-abused word, all visual perception, true or false, our daily sights of the most practical and ordinary kind as well as the wildest hallucinations of the hypnotic dreamer or of the inmate of the madhouse—involve “suggestion.”


Before causing the model to disappear, the Time Traveller provides his guests with the appropriate suggestion. “‘Presently’”, he tells them, “‘I am going to press the lever, and off the machine will go. It will vanish, pass into future time, and disappear’” (12). After his guests see what they expect to see, the Time Traveller stands and turns to the mantel to fill his pipe, removing the model as he does so. His guests are not observing his actions here, for, as Hillyer faithfully records, “We stared at each other” (13). The illusion of the model's disappearance may thus be explained in terms of psychology and colour vision. The disappearance of the full-sized Time Machine can be similarly explained.


Hillyer's account of the Time Traveller's disappearance is vague, being qualified by the words “seemed”, “indistinct” and “apparently”. Here is his testimony:

As I took hold of the handle of the door I heard an exclamation, oddly truncated at the end, and a click and a thud. A gust of air whirled round me as I opened the door, and from within came the sound of broken glass falling on the floor. The Time Traveller was not there. I seemed to see a ghostly, indistinct figure sitting in a whirling mass of black and brass for a moment—a figure so transparent that the bench behind with its sheets of drawings was absolutely distinct; but this phantasm vanished as I rubbed my eyes. The Time Machine had gone. Save for a subsiding stir of dust, the further end of the laboratory was empty. A pane of the skylight had, apparently, just been blown in.


The Time Traveller has a reputation as a practical joker, having once shown his guests a ghost (16). The creation of such illusions was a common Victorian parlour trick involving a “magic lantern”: a three-dimensional image was created seemingly in mid-air by reflecting a brightly-lit object onto a sheet of glass, and this probably explains the Time Traveller's ghost and his “disappearance”.12

Expecting Hillyer to turn up, the Time Traveller has earlier removed a sheet of glass from the skylight to provide a reflective surface for his illusion, which is triggered by Hillyer touching the door handle. The sounds Hillyer hears are easily explained by a phonographic recording, and the gust of air arises as the door is opened between the “long, draughty corridor” (15) and the laboratory which has a hole in the skylight. Hillyer's perception of events accords with the suggestions arising from the Time Traveller's story.

If it is accepted that the Time Traveller has not travelled in time, we might expect that his dream vision of the future may be understood in terms of psychology. Again, we find evidence of this in Wells's early journalism.


In his 1893 essay, “The Dream Bureau”, Wells recounts a psychological explanation for dreams in which they are simply “the imperfect and exaggerated interpretation by the somnolent mind of the sensations that affect it, together with the flow of suggestions that naturally follow such impressions” (3). Wells discusses the work of the French scientist, Alfred Maury, on the origin of dream images, as does Sully who gives a very thorough account of Maury's researches into how the external and internal sensations that affect us while sleeping influence dream imagery (Illusions 10).

James considered dreams to be a perfectly valid alternative world where our perceptions arise from re-presentations from our memory rather than presentations from the external world.

The world of dreams is our real world whilst we are sleeping, because our attention then lapses from the sensible world. Conversely, when we wake the attention usually lapses from the dream-world and that becomes unreal. … The dream holds true, namely, in one half of that universe; the waking perceptions in the other half.

(2: 294n)

These presentations to the mind from the memory were considered to constitute a form of perception, Sully acknowledging that “recent psychology draws no sharp distinction between perception and recollection” (Illusions 10). Thus even the Time Traveller's dream can be brought within the science of psycho-physiology, presenting to the Time Traveller's mind a vivid alternative reality derived from his cycling memories, his thoughts on the human future and the associations arising therefrom.

The important role of psychology in the outer framework greatly strengthens the scientific foundation of The Time Machine. Commentators have erred in describing the Time Traveller's theory and demonstration as “pseudo-scientific”, “bogus” or “verbal flimflam”.13 On the contrary, the related areas of nervous action, visual perception, memory, suggestion and illusion, which underpin almost the entire outer framework, are informed by some of the major scientific works of Wells's day.

The question arises as to how the outer framework relates to the inner core, with its theme of human evolutionary degeneration. A comparison of the views of the Time Traveller and Hillyer will help clarify this.


As Mark R. Hillegas argues, the theme of evolutionary retrogression in The Time Machine attempts to jolt the reading public out of its complacency by an imaginative presentation of the “cosmic pessimism” of the naturalist T. H. Huxley.14 In his essays of the late 1880s and early 1890s, Huxley attacks the “optimistic dogma” that the evolutionary state of nature is “the best of all possible worlds”. Hillegas's view accords with a comment made by Wells that The Time Machine depicted a future “that ran counter to the placid assumption of that time that Evolution was a pro-human force making things better and better for mankind” (Wells, Preface to Scientific Romances ix).

It is not my purpose here to discuss the inner core of The Time Machine further. Bearing in mind that the book can be viewed as an attack on the complacency inherent in optimistic evolutionism, the Time Traveller's motive for what I have argued is his deception of Hillyer can be more easily understood.


The Epilogue of The Time Machine contrasts with the apparent pessimism of the Time Traveller with the dogged hopefulness of Hillyer, who writes:

I, for my part, cannot think that these latter days of the weak experiment, fragmentary theory, and mutual discord are indeed man's culminating time! I say, for my own part. He, I know—for the question had been discussed among us long before the Time Machine was made—thought but cheerlessly of the Advancement of Mankind, and saw in the growing pile of civilization only a foolish heaping that must inevitably fall back upon and destroy its makers in the end. If this is so, it remains for us to live as though it were not so. But to me the future is still black and blank—is a vast ignorance, lit at a few casual places by the memory of his story.


Some commentators cite this apparent ambiguity as revealing a deep conflict in Wells's own outlook, the Time Traveller's pessimistic view representing that of “a scientist who had gone to the end of science” and Hillyer's hopeful view constituting an “almost existential courage against the void” (Hynes & McConnell 353, 355). Or Wells could be enforcing ambiguity, showing us how to accept both sides of a contradiction by balancing the unresolved pessimism and optimism of the Epilogue (Huntington 52-53). The dichotomy is also said to reflect the problem of determinism and free will—the determinate evolutionary laws of the inner core being balanced by an affirmation of the importance of human responsibility where, at the level of individual action man must behave as though he were free” (Haynes 129).

However, the ambiguity of the Epilogue vanishes once we accept that the events of the outer framework constitute a hoax. Let us re-examine the views of the Time Traveller and Hillyer, and their relationship, in this light. Hillyer is an optimist. Despite the “fragmentary theory and mutual discord” of his time, he anticipates continued progress. Despite the Time Traveller's vision of evolutionary degeneration, Hillyer cannot think that it may occur, or that it may have already begun. The phrase “these latter days of weak experiment” implies an existing ebbing of intelligence about which Hillyer is unconcerned. With the words “for my own part” Hillyer opposes his view to that of the Time Traveller.

In fact, Hillyer is in reaction to the Time Traveller's vision. If that bleak future is true, “it remains for us to live as though it were not so” says Hillyer. This is not an existential courage against the void, but a romantic evasion by Hillyer of the Time Traveller's future. Hillyer is contented that the future remain “a vast ignorance.”

The final sentence of The Time Machine reveals Hillyer's romantic view of the human story: “And I have by me, for my comfort, two strange white flowers—shrivelled now, and brown and flat and brittle—to witness that even when mind and strength had gone, gratitude and a mutual tenderness still lived on in the heart of man” (152). Hillyer sees the Time Traveller's flowers only as a source of comfort in the face of the harsh future he depicts. Hillyer's concern, like that of the ancestors of the Eloi and the Morlocks, is for comfort and security.

The Time Traveller's poor regard for Hillyer is shown by his “disappearance” when the latter arrives on the Friday afternoon, and the blatant lie the Time Traveller tells just before departing. Hillyer naïvely recalls his challenge to his friend:

“But is it not some hoax?” I said. “Do you really travel through time?” “Really and truly I do.” And he looked frankly into my eyes.


The character of Hillyer, along with the complacent and optimistic views he represents, is the subject of devastating ridicule by Wells. The hoax of the outer framework supports the evolutionary arguments of the inner core by implying that those of Hillyer's views, therefore, are not Wells's views.


The outer framework of The Time Machine has been examined in detail. It has been shown that the book is constructed as a puzzle which, when solved, shows the Time Traveller's story to be a hoax. His vision of the future is a dream experienced after returning from a cycling excursion. However, the Time Traveller's activities could also be the subject of a cryptogram.

The Time Traveller's theory of time, his optical illusion and his dream are informed by an intermediate area of scientific research involving psychology and the physiology of visual perception. The hoax of the outer framework supports the theme of the work as a whole by ridiculing the optimistic and complacent outlook of the narrator, Hillyer. The Epilogue is not ambiguous, as the fooling of Hillyer shows that Wells favours the Time Traveller's view.

It is not my aim here to pursue the implications (if any) of this reading, except to propose that the dominant role of psychology and consciousness, culminating in the Time Traveller's dream, destroys the sense of the cosmic determinism superficially present in the work. At the deeper level the human mind predominates. If it could once be said that the role of consciousness “reaffirms the possibilities for human will in a Rigid Universe” (Philmus & Hughes 55) we must further ask whether Wells placed any credence in a rigid determinism at all.

An important feature to emerge here is the strong scientific foundation of The Time Machine, built from Wells's education in biology, his reading in psychology and colour vision, and his own science writing. The design of the book as an intellectual puzzle and the extensive revisions made to the text, indicate a brilliant conception and meticulous execution, where Wells has displayed a creativity almost rivalling that of his scientific coevals on whose work The Time Machine is based.

It remains only to suggest that the Time Traveller's final departure is simply the start of a second, more extensive, cycling holiday. His three-year absence (151) may be explained in terms of Robert P. Weeks's analysis of many of Wells's characters as being driven by a profound desire to escape social, evolutionary or scientific restrictions (Weeks 26-30). The escape of the Time Traveller may even reflect a desire by Wells to escape from some of all of the restrictions described by Weeks; a desire which surfaced in 1901 when Wells vanished for two months on his bicycle without informing his wife of his whereabouts (West 258-59).

In any case, soon after the publication of The Time Machine, Wells had a tandem bicycle made to his own plans by Humber, after which he and his wife began exploring the south of England on this machine (Autobiography 543). Perhaps the Time Traveller was not far behind.


  1. A hint as to the role of the later chapter in uncovering this puzzle is given in the second to last paragraph of Chapter 7 where the Time Traveller, puzzling over the loss of his machines, says ‘In the end you will find clues to it all’ (65).

  2. Philmus and Hughes attribute ‘More Bacon’ to Wells, and suggest that ‘Mysteries of the Modern Press: Secret Marks in Printing’, Pall Mall Gazette 58 (April 23 1894):3; and ‘A Remarkable Literary Discovery: Francis Bacon the Author of “Box and Cox”!’ Pall Mall Gazette 58 (May 3 1894):3, could also be by Wells.

  3. H. G. Wells, Preface to a revised edition of The Time Machine, 1931 x.

  4. See Williamson 52, Batchelor 10, Geduld 96, 192.

  5. In ‘Discoveries in Variation’, Wells notes that lilies may sometimes have their floral organs in fives instead of threes, just as the Time Traveller's flowers have an unusual gynaeceum (312).

  6. The presence of the note is another inconsistency discrediting the Time Traveller's tale. He would have no excuse for being late if he could really travel in time. Also, how could the note have been sent?

  7. Philmus and Hughes, Early Writings 48. This comment refers to the first instalment of the 1894 National Observer series of articles by Wells on time travelling, but it is equally applicable to the Heinemann edition.

  8. James, Principles, 1:632-45; Spencer, Principles, 1:268. For discussion of time perception see also James Sully, The Human Mind: a Textbook of Psychology, 2 vols. London: Longman, Green, 1892 1:269-72, 318-29; 2;343-45.

  9. The German physiologist, Hermann von Helmholtz, discusses psychology extensively (see H Helmholtz, Helmholtz's Treatise on Physiological Optics vol. 3. Ed. James P.C. Southall. Menasha Wisconsin: Optical Society of America, 1925, 1-35; H. Helmholtz, Popular Lectures on Scientific Subjects. Trans. E. Atkinson. London: Longmans, Green, 1873, 197-99, 306-16. Conversely, Helmholtz's work is freely cited by psychological researchers).

  10. See James, 2:23-24; Ladd, 106, 109; Sully, Illusions 56; Helmholtz, Treatise 215-24; Capt. W. de Abney, Colour Vision, Being the Tyndall Lectures delivered in 1894 at the Royal Institution. London: Sampson Low, Marston, 1895 (32-34).

  11. H. G. Wells. ‘The Visibility of Colour’ Pall Mall Gazette 60 (March 7 1895):4. This is a review of Abney's Tyndall lecture (see above). Abney does not mention the Spectrum Top, but Wells was also reviewing books for Nature in late 1894 and may have read of the Spectrum Top there.

  12. Frank D. McConnell, ed. H. G. Wells: The Time Machine,The War of the Worlds: A Critical Introduction. New York: Oxford UP, 1977 (22n). See also Geduld, who, in The Definitive Time Machine (98, 119) links the ghost trick to the Time Traveller's disappearance.

  13. These comments are made by, respectively: Bernard Bergonzi, The Early H. G. Wells: A Study of the Scientific Romance, Manchester: Manchester UP, 1961 (33); Darko Suvin, Metamorphoses of Science Fiction, New Haven: Yale UP, 1979 (212); Robert Crossley, H. G. Wells, Mercer Island, Washington: Stamont House, 1986 (21).

  14. Mark R Hillegas, ‘Cosmic Pessimism in H. G. Wells's Scientific Romances’ Papers of the Michigan Academy of Science, Arts and Letters 46 (1961): 656-57.

Works Cited

Bergonzi, Bernard. The Early H. G. Wells: A Study of the Scientific Romances. Manchester: Manchester UP, 1961.

Crossley, Robert. H. G. Wells. Mercer Island, Washington: Starmont House, 1986.

———. “The Publication of The Time Machine 1894-5.” Review of English Studies. 11 (1960): 43-45.

Geduld, Harry M., ed. The Definitive Time Machine: A Critical Edition of H. G. Wells's Scientific Romance. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1987.

Haynes, Roslynn D. H. G. Wells: Discoverer of the Future. London: Macmillan, 1980.

Helmholtz, H. Popular Lectures on Scientific Subjects. Trans E. Atkinson. London: Longmans, Green: 1873.

———. Treatise on Physiological Optics. 3 vols. Ed. James P. C. Southall. Menasha, Wisconsin: Optical Society of America, 1925.

Hillegas, Mark R. “Cosmic Pessimism in H. G. Wells's Scientific Romances.” Papers of the Michigan Academy of Science, Arts and Letters. 46 (1961): 656-57.

Huxley, T. H. “The Struggle for Existence: A Programme.” Nineteenth Century 23 (1888).

Huntington, John. The Logic of Fantasy: H. G. Wells and Science Fiction. New York: Columbia UP, 1982.

Hynes, Samuel L. & Frank D. McConnell. “The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds: Parable and Possibility in H. G. Wells.” McConnell, H. G. Wells: The Time Machine, The War of the Worlds: A Critical Edition. New York: Oxford UP, 1977.

James, William. The Principles of Psychology. 2 vols. London: Macmillan, 1890.

Ladd, George Trumbull. Psychology, Descriptive and Explanatory: A Treatise of the Phenomena, Laws, and Development of Human Mental Life. London: Longmans, Green, 1894.

McConnell, Frank D., ed. H. G. Wells: The Time Machine, The War of the Worlds: A Critical Edition. New York: Oxford UP, 1977.

Philmus, Robert M. & David Y. Hughes, eds. H. G. Wells: Early Writings in Science and Science and Science Fiction. Berkeley: California UP, 1975.

Smith, David C. H. G. Wells: Desperately Mortal. New Haven: Yale UP, 1986.

———. “Little Wars for Little People: Sport, Games, and Leisure Time in the Work and Life of H. G. Wells.” Arete 2 (1985): 127-28.

Spencer, Herbert. The Principles of Psychology. 3rd ed. 2 vols. London: Williams & Norgate, 1881.

Sully, James. Illusions: A Psychological Study. London: C. Kegan Paul, 1881.

———. The Human Mind: A Textbook of Psychology. 2 vols. London: Longmans, Green, 1892.

Suvin, Darko. Metamorphoses of Science Fiction. New Haven: Yale UP, 1979.

Ward, James. “Psychology.” Encyclopædia Britannica: A Dictionary of Arts, Sciences and General Literature. 9th ed. 20 vols. Edinburgh: Adam & Charles Black, 1883.

Weeks, Robert P. “Disentanglement as a Theme in H. G. Wells's Fiction.” H. G. Wells: A Collection of Critical Essays.” Ed. Bernard Bergonzi. Englewood Cliffs NJ: Prentice Hall, 1976.

Wells, H. G. “Discoveries in Variation.” Saturday Review 79 (1895): 312.

———. Experiment in Autobiography: Discoveries and Conclusions of a Very Ordinary Brain. 2 vols. London: Gollancz, 1934.

———. Prefaces. The Works of H. G. Wells: Atlantic Edition. 28 vols. London: Unwin, 1924-1927.

———. [unsigned] “The Dream Bureau: A New Entertainment.” Pall Mall Gazette 57 (October 25 1893).

———. “The Position of Psychology.” Saturday Review 78 (1894): 715.

———. The Scientific Romances of H. G. Wells. London: Victor Gollancz, 1933.

———. [H. G. Wells]. “‘Specimen Day’ (From a Holiday Itinerary).” Science Schools Journal 33 (October 1891): 17-19.

———. The Time Machine: An Invention. London: Heinemann, 1895.

———. The Wheels of Chance: A Holiday Adventure. Macmillan Colonial Library Series. London: Macmillan, 1986.

———. “The Visibility of Colour.” Pall Mall Gazette 60 (March 7 1895): 4

Wells, Geoffrey H. The Works of H. G. Wells 1887-1925: A Bibliography, Dictionary and Subject Index. London: Routledge & Sons, 1926.

Alex Boulton (essay date winter 1995)

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

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 classical mythology; the influence of the Age of Discovery upon perceptions of actual and literary New Worlds; issues of domination; belief in and justifications of European cultural superiority and how this last set of attitudes may affect the portrayal of the protagonist in literary narratives.

The Christian idea of a return to Eden dominates much of the writing of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. At the centre of this literature is a belief that there exists—at an attainable geographical point—an area of virgin earth, which will transport its founder back through time to his prelapsarian state. This is a sanctuary, a point at which the corruption of the fallen world can be potentially purged, first by the knight upon a quest, then by the crusader and, latterly, by the voyager/explorer of modern times. Terence Hawkes, in his consideration of The Tempest outlines one particular historical moment which shaped the European psyche in its perceptions of an earthly paradise, namely the larger symbolic role played by the colonising of America in the seventeenth century. This involved “… the sense, deeply and popularly felt, of the New World as another Eden, replete with an infinity of good things, a terrestrial Paradise, a place of redemption, of everybody's second chance”.

This oasis/enclave or sanctuary of purity in the fallen world, often stylised as either an Eden or, as in classical mythology, a land-locked Atlantis, has been utilised by writers for widely different motives and yet this symbol, so protean in its nature, is still discernible. The character of Gonzalo in Shakespeare's The Tempest articulates such a belief in a Golden Age:

I' th' commonwealth I would by contraries
Execute all things; for no kind of traffic
Would I admit. …
No occupation; all men idle, all;
And women too, but innocent and pure;
No sovereignty; (2.1 143-52)
I would with such perfection govern, sir,
T'excel the golden age (2.1 163-64)

This belief is tied into a much larger web of ideas from our classical inheritance concerning an age of men in an earthly paradise. The Greeks recognised a mythic past of gods and men in a Golden Age which, in Homer's Iliad, is acknowledged in the references to the past of Helen and Menelaus in Sparta before the wars and the ancient past described by Nestor—himself a symbol of ancient wisdom and continuity—with the prefixing phrase “Not as men are now …”. Thus there exists a recapitulation of past glory and an unsullied world prevailing in some of the oldest roots of European literature.

The symbol of the place that remains uncorrupted is present and reinvented for a purpose in the writings of philosophers in the Age of Discovery. Examples of this include the writings of Sir Thomas More and particularly, in this context, the writings of Voltaire. For the former, the view of man is Christian, passive, and pessimistic. Man is corrupt. Whereas in Voltaire's Candide, the author is writing at the height of the Enlightenment where man is perfectible, the immediate future is manipulable and so a question arises about the approach of the traveller to his new found land. Although Candide is ultimately philosophical and passive, his optimism is shown to be untenable except back home in his garden. There were other models of that expansionist relationship in the Columbian age, when God's bounty was not a myth but a practical reality. However, what interests me is not the political objective of Voltaire, in his inclusion of the mythic paradise which constitutes an idealised life in his critique of eighteenth century optimism, but his articulation of the image which bears such close resemblance to the other images of the Utopias expressed in other non-political/philosophical tracts. Literary examples of this tendency to consider such lands and their treatment include, as Terence Hawkes has observed, the character of Prospero in Shakespeare's The Tempest:

Prospero's government of his island has many analogues—so the contemporary pamphlets indicate—in the principles of “good” government established by the British colonies in America. The Basic principle involves the redemptive grafting of the “nurture” of civilisation on to the “nature” confronting the colonists. … He imposes the “shape” of his own culture, embodied in his speech, on the new world, and makes that world recognisable, habitable, “natural”, able to speak his language. Like the gardener, he redeems untouched landscapes by imprinting on it a humanising art. Like Orpheus, he replaces savagery by “civil conversation”. Like Adam in Eden, he names things.


Therefore there exists in the cultural philosophy of the colonial power a series of justifications of what domination is, what it represents and how the invaders should view their activities. These concepts can be distilled down to four main ideas: the indigenous population is in some way a cuckoo/non-indigenous culture; the European power of language compels the invader to rule; racial and Darwinist science disqualifies the native from any right to rule; and the biblical and commercial pull of new territory to cultivate demands colonial intervention.


In the ideology of European domination, the land discovered was virgin earth because the explorer/imperialist does not recognise the ownership of land by its existing occupants for a series of reasons. These include a belief that the people they see are not indigenous to that region and are in some way merely squatting in the derelict remains of an ancient Empire, that they constitute in some ways a cuckoo culture. This belief is based upon the premise that the only source of real power or cultural creativity rests in, or has previously rested in, the European or Mediterranean theatre, the known world or, on a global level, the core/metropolitan centre. Whether the culture be Egyptian, Greek, Alexandrian, Phœnician or Roman, the European is always an inheritor or this culture, part of the ancient bloodline of all civilisation which gives the explorer/colonialist certain inalienable rights. This concept is contained, by implication, in the naming of the land as found; to be found presumes that the possession was once lost. Literary examples of this tendency occur almost every time a civilisation is encountered. The European claims that, despite the immediate information that this society exists outside and beyond the influence of his own European culture, there must—and can only be—some explanation of its existence via the great empires that he recognises as cultural superlatives. For example, Voltaire's Eldorado is a mimetic utopia, that is, it gives life to a certain European philosophical vision of a society guided by the principle of Philosophy, the rule of law, a penal code and a monarch. To this extent the words of Rousseau are anticipated in the words of the King of Eldorado: “I have no right to detain you or any strangers against your will: this is an act of tyranny to which our manners and our laws are equally repugnant: all men are by nature free; you have therefore an undoubted liberty … (66)”.

In novels where the geographical location is more relevant, for example, the dark continent of Africa, the cultural ties are even tighter, as in Rider Haggard's She and King Solomon's Mines. The assertions that the original founders of civilisation were a recognisable cultural icon for the European supporting the primacy of western social development is evident in the words of Quartermaine when he postulates: “[in the past] great wizards, who had learnt their art from white men when ‘all the world was dark’ …” (95), and in response to the awe he feels for the great architecture he and his fellow-travellers stumble upon, the protagonist enacts a form of appropriation: “it is very well to call this Solomon's road, but my humble opinion is that the Egyptians had been here before Solomon's people ever set foot in it” (95).

Kipling has his heroes recognise a similar continuity of great tradition in “The Man Who Would be King,” and also adds the existence of a patriarchal esotericism, connecting Alexander with the stonemasons of Egypt through the inclusion of Freemasonry in the narrative. Addressing the members of his newly-founded Lodge, Dravot says, “I know that you won't cheat me, because you're white people, sons of Alexander—and not like common black Mohammedans …” (267). Later he announces that he will make an empire because “These men aren't niggers; they're English! Look at their eyes—look at their mouths. Look at the way they stand up. They sit on chairs in their own houses. They're the Lost Tribes, or something like it, and they've grown up to be English” (269). The European is an inheritor because he shares a heritage with the founders of the ancient/original empire and ipso facto the indigenous occupants have no legitimate claim to the land because he is the inheritor, and the occupiers are squatting on his land. Furthermore, with no obvious sign of the indigenous people moving, the inheritor is within his rights, as a member of the chosen people, to subordinate, expel or enslave the current occupants.


The land becomes his land via another European claim to succession, based upon the power of language. The power to articulate is the source of self-enfranchisement and the imperialist sees this as an index of humanity. In the confrontation between the imperialist and the Cuckoo Culture the status of being human may be the only guarantee against enslavement.

This superiority via language gains much of its support from the opening of the Bible: “In the beginning was the word …”. The word represents God, therefore by extension, it confers a power upon language, raising its users to the status of the quasi-divine! To define, understand and articulate are sacred. The power to describe allows the speaker to inscribe not only his ideas and his culture, but also to inscribe his presence upon the landscape. His history is written in the land because he has been granted all dominion and power.

The idea of linguistic superiority appears in many seminal texts of the early modern period. This voice of language and its conferring of manhood is asserted by Cicero, for whom language is one of the crucial ways of distinguishing between men and beasts. “The one special advantage we enjoy over animals,” he claims, “is our power to speak with one another, to express our thoughts in words” and in the seventeenth century, this relationship was explored in Hobbes's political tract, Leviathan. As Terence Hawkes observes, such attitudes are evident in Shakespeare's image of Caliban:

… Elizabethan-Jacobean civilisation had a clear cut view of the nature and function of the spoken language in social life. The prime, and more forcefully expressed notion was of speech as the unifying and civilising force amongst men. In the Leviathan, Hobbes argues that language actually confers manhood, and keeps bestiality at bay. Without it “there had been amongst men neither Commonwealth, nor society, nor Contract, nor Peace, no more than amongst Lyons, Bears and Wolves”.


The other more familiar mode of moral justification for the domination of new-found lands is found within the ideas of Darwinism, ethnocentrism and racialism. The very fact of the invaders' military, technological or socio-political development defines the invader as superior and, if this recognition is combined with beliefs in white Aryan superiority, then the act of domination is almost a moral necessity. This phenomenon has its expression both in the creation of Aphra Behn's “Noble Savage” Oroonoko, and in the racist assertions of John Buchan's protagonist in Prester John: “The Bible says that the children of Ham were to be our servants”. The protagonists in both texts are subjected to the European standards of criticism: the former manages to be heroic, even at times a Christ figure, despite his blackness; whilst the latter though educated and patronised by white society, cannot escape his inherent baseness which “come of being black”. These successes and failures are dictated by the interpretation through European codes of practice as if such codes were universal, infallible and “ethical”.


Not only were inherent human features such as racial identity justifications for expansion, but so also were activities such as trade and commerce, which played their part in reinforcing he desire for new land and justifying its retention. The European idea of man as cultivator or trader has some of its roots in the story of Christ's Galilean disciples and some in the Book of Genesis. The fishermen, who were commanded to go out and “Be fishers of men”, encounter and grapple with a world with the innate knowledge of their predestined role, as inheritors of God's bounty, to capture men for God and also cultivate God's gift to man through husbandry. Their status as fishermen becomes an indicator, whether intended or not, for future Christians that the pious and blessed come not from the ranks of Kings, but from the fishermen and the farmers. Examples of this belief can be found in much of the religious writing of the middle ages, in texts such as Langland's Piers Plowman, in which man emulates the hierarchies of the Divine in the earthly kingdom and fulfils his predetermined role, which is not to rule earth as King but to plough his half acre. When this relationship with God, Man and Land is transferred to the expanding Columbian world, the Christian must direct his efforts towards the lands of the heathen and cultivate both their physical and metaphysical natures as part of the Divine plan. If this paradigm is combined with the absolutism of man as described in Genesis—a key definition in itself—then the position of the imperialist cultivator is rendered incontrovertible:

And God made the beast of earth after his kind. … And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.

(Genesis ch. 1 25-26)

By such Biblical justification the act of invasion, occupation, imperialism and colonialism cease to be merely a religious obligation, a part of the Christian destiny, but become a hallowed quest, a crusade, with its momentum coming directly from the words of God.

It is Defoe's Crusoe who provides a cautionary examplar of the foolishness of, and punishment for, transgressing and deviating from the straight path to salvation in accordance with the dictates of God. As the narrator reflects, when offered slaves for his Brazilian plantation,

This was a fair proposal it must be confessed, had it been made to anyone that had not had a settlement and plantation of his own to look after which was in fair way of coming to be very considerable and with a good stock upon it. But for me that was thus entered and established and had nothing to do but go on as I had begun for three or four years more, and to have sent for the other hundred pounds from England, and who in that time, and with little addition, could scarce have failed of being worth three or four thousand pounds sterling, and that increasing too; for me to think of such a voyage was the most preposterous thing that ever man in such circumstances could be guilty of.


The colonial explorer/cultivator of land consumes the physical landscape and in the process of this agricultural realignment he wants to superimpose upon the new land not only his methods of husbandry but also his social formula. For some, the punishments for not treating the inheritors' new found land with the same reverence as the adventurer-coloniser are severe. For Robinson Crusoe the sentence is death or exile if nature does not bend to his will, the will of the European cultivator. As Defoe's narrator describes his confrontation with the birds which damage his crop, the reader cannot help reflecting upon the parallels between treatment of the native birds and that meted out to native peoples throughout imperial history. This is brought home to the reader by the relish with which the narrator compares the birds' fate with that of a criminal's in London; note the resonance of the personal pronoun “we”, which does not signal culpability but a powerful fraternity and justification for penal retribution—even genocide:

I was so provoked that I could not have the patience to stay till more came on, knowing that every grain that they ate now was, as it might be said, a peck-loaf to me in the consequence; but coming up to the hedge, I fired again, and killed three of them. This was what I wished for; so I took them up and served them as we serve notorious thievers in England, viz., hanged them in chains for a terror to others; it is impossible to imagine … that this should have such an effect as it had … but in short, they forsook all that part of the island, and I could never see a bird near the place as long as my scarecrows hung there.



The characterisation of the protagonist in many of these imperialist novels is often a good indicator of texts' orientation toward some of the ideas already outlined. He comes from a tradition of men who represent superlatives of every quality elevated in western society, for example, the Greek man who, faced with the quest/test of confrontation with a new land “rises to the occasion”, as does Leo in Rider Haggard's She. There is another protagonist who comes from an equally strong literary tradition, that is the hero as prodigal son: the man who is redeemed by his experiences or actions. For such characters, the experience of discovery becomes in some ways a rite of passage from ignorance/foolishness/corruption to a state of knowledge/enlightenment/ perception. The adventure becomes a formative experience for gaining atonement or redemption which enables the character to “better himself”; this is as true of Peachy and Danny, the loafers in Rudyard Kipling's story “The Man who Would be King” as it is of Robinson Crusoe.

The protagonist's view of the landscape is similar in virtually all the texts so far mentioned. The new found land either represents territory that has been or could be cultivated and is therefore considered useful to the explorer and the country from which he has come, or territory that appears to the white man as some kind of obligation—land that he must acquire and rule. Voltaire's Candide sees the kingdom of Eldorado in terms of utility: “The country appeared cultivated equally for pleasure and to produce the necessaries of life. The useful and agreeable were here equally blended …” (59). “Possibly,” he concludes, “this is the part of the globe where everything is right, for there must certainly be some such place” (61). Alan Quartermaine's vision in Rider Haggard's King Solomon Mines is defined in terms of obligation: “For my mind,” he claims, “however beautiful a view may be, it requires the presence of a man to make it complete” (36). This vision of power and assumption/presumption of the heroes' right of ascendancy to rule are common in many other narratives. The self-assurance of self-acknowledged grafting loafers is evident in the dreams and unfortunate reality of Kipling's Daniel Dravot, who takes on the mantle of ruler with consummate ease: “You are my people,” he tells the people of Kafiristan, “and by God … I‘ll make a damned Nation of you or I'll die in the making” (207). A little later, assurance becomes hubris: “I won't make a Nation,’ says he. ‘I'll make an Empire!’” (269).

It is now possible to attempt an informed study of H. G. Wells's text, “The Country of the Blind” in the light of the literary traditions, motifs and ideologies which have influenced and dictated the portrayal of the protagonist, the indigenous peoples and the responses and assumption of the reader throughout the literary tradition I have outlined. Wells adopts many of these assumptions and myths as is seen in the portrayal of the valley, the valley people and the wanderer. By sometimes remaining faithful to the conventions of this tradition and sometimes inverting their symbolism, Wells produces a story that in many ways opens up the traditional colonial narrative to an inspection of its composite parts.


The protagonist of Wells's narrative is a mountaineer, in some ways a displaced great white hope, who steps into the breach when a member of a walking party is killed. The protagonist's act casts him as a character willing to adapt and improvise, one who possesses, perhaps, even a youthful, engaging or at least open mind. This creation of character is formulated in a specific description: “He was a mountaineer from the country near Quito, a man who had been down to the sea and had seen the world, a reader of books in an original way, an acute and enterprising man” (170). To extract a few of the details from this description is to see the characterisation of an open mind, perhaps a liberal, a man who is learned by his membership of a literary culture. He is not made average by these descriptions but, fully endowed with the benefits of his culture and placed “midway between the mean and the great”, he embodies all that his culture can instil in a man, the product of an English upbringing. Likewise, the reader of Wells is encouraged by the above definition to see the protagonist as hero before the journey begins. He represents an acceptable social and philosophical formula before being subjected to the ravages of the alien culture. A nagging doubt that this is not a European is dismissed as this prototype hero, despite the textual evidence, is so characteristically western and white that we do not question the race of an inhabitant of “a country near Quito” or the likelihood of his literacy.


Wells's protagonist initially sees the landscape in the same terms as many before him, and yet we should not allow this portrayal of character to colour our perspective prematurely, because—as will be seen later—it is exactly this initial narrative device which proves to have been a decoy, employed later in the protagonist's assumed superiority, that makes possible the violent change from narrative type (of the kind already discussed) to antitype, and it is this change that makes the reading of “The Country of the Blind” such a profound experience:

The valley, he said, had in it all that the heart of man could desire—sweet water, pasture, and even climate, slopes of rich brown soil with tangles of shrub that bore an excellent fruit, and on one side great hanging forests of pine … rich green pasture, that irrigation would spread over all the valley space.


It seemed they knew nothing of sight. Well, all in good time he would teach them. … (176) [he] thanked god from the bottom of his heart that the power of sight had been given him … (179). They little know they've been insulting their heaven sent kind and master. I see I must bring them to reason. (178-79)

The belief in the power of reason, so venerated in the European ivory tower of knowledge, and the predominance of “I”, a belief in the self, at first represents European endeavour but all too soon becomes hubris born of a rehearsed imperialist arrogance and naivete. The gift of sight so linked to the right to rule, the prominence of the personal pronoun “I” and the belief in the value of reason are all reworkings of the assertions found in many of the passages already cited. Through this comparison, we begin to view the protagonist's struggle not as that of a liberator but that of a converter. There are powerful allegorical references to vision and blindness in western Judæo-Christian literature, as for instance, in the importance of sin and Divine punishment in Saul's conversion in the bible, or, in literature, the connections established between blindness and political and social corruption in Shakespeare's King Lear. In “The Country of the Blind” the lack of sight is seen as directly responsible for a depletion in brain capacity.


“Much of their imagination had shrivelled with their eyes,” Núñez reflects (177). To see is automatically, via social programming, perceived as good, virtuous or advanced whereas to be without sight somehow ungodly, corrupt or backward and perhaps in this case a sign of racial, that is colour, discrimination without all the baggage that comes with it?—although in this case it will not escape the reader's notice that the disabling affliction of the valley members is phrased and portrayed in exactly the same form as other authors chose to portray the affliction of being black! This becomes particularly significant when considered in the light of other novels within the adventure-writing tradition. If these associations are pertinent, then the narrative has established itself as part of the tradition of colonial writers and heroes, and yet we shall see that there are significant differences. Far from the expected denouement, the protagonist is defeated and persecuted for the very sense that, he assumes, sets him apart and elevates him. In Wells's break from the genre, the civiliser is called uncivilised and infantile (ie. without language) and is forced to flee from a society that does not recognise the gift he wishes to offer/profit by. Surely this is a refusal by Wells to restate the frustrations of Caliban: “You taught me language and my profit on it/Is I know how to curse” (The Tempest 1.2)

At this point it is useful to compare Wells's use of language, his depiction of the indigenous population and its relation to the protagonist with the narrative conventions common in imperialist literary ideology.


One pillar of imperialist literary ideology that Wells tackles is the enfranchising power of language and its power to confer manhood. The relationship of the outsider to language is inverted; in the typical colonial adventure story the invader was a prophet but in “The Country of the Blind” he is awarded the same status as the one he initially ascribes to the indigenous population, that of the backward or arrested in development. Ironically, it is Núñez who becomes the hubristic babbling Nimrod. He is regarded by the tribal elders as possessing an “unformed mind” which has “got no senses yet” (178); in the rationale of their social system he is: “A wild man—using wild words. … Did you hear that—Bogata? His mind is hardly formed yet. He has only the beginnings of speech” (176). “He said Núñez [the outsider] must have been specially created to learn and serve the wisdom they had acquired and that for all his mental incoherency and stumbling behaviour he must have courage, and do his best to learn” (178). Also, he experiences the rhetoric or racial purity that caused the Portuguese to be ostracised, evident in such texts as Buchan's Prester John. The social response to the act of intermarriage is dismissal, disgust and an act of violence: “they held him as a being apart, an idiot, incompetent thing below the permissible level of man. … The young men were all angry at the idea of corrupting the race and one went so far as to revile and strike Núñez” (187).


The initial description of how the occupants of the valley turned to the outside world for a cure to their blindness and, in particular, the account of what they believe was its cause could be seen as patronising, and yet the description is so familiar and knowing in its sincerity that the reader finds their waywardness endearing, as an adult observing the antics of a relation's child.

It was to seek some charm or antidote against this plague of blindness that he had with fatigue and danger and difficulty returned down the gorge. In those days, in such cases, men did not think of germs and infections but of sins.


This description not only fulfils a narrative purpose of explanation but also ironises and inverts the imperialist narrative. The country of the blind is occupied by a nominal cuckoo culture of settler refugees from the outside world (by the mere fact of remaining unknown, the culture is vulnerable to the rhetoric of ascendancy contained in the colonial paradigm). The implication of this is that the civilised man, if placed in a vacuum, loses sight of his civilising heritage and, disturbingly, this population of men, because of a mere fifteen-generation gap, is both savage and civilised, presenting an insoluble dilemma to the invader who seeks to dominate and rule. The dilemma is: how can a man be self-assured and confident of the longevity of his cultural inheritance, which leads him to believe he can enlighten, if the savages he confronts are his brothers, but have lost their way in only fifteen generations? Like the blind people, he is not open to knowledge, in the sense that his belief in the great gift of sight, which he attempts to bestow upon them, is greeted with the same contempt as he greets their conclusion that the only way to liberate him is to remove this very gift. The two responses become indeterminable from each other; the assumption of a known self in a polemic with other is rejected as the polemic collapses. The true horror emerges when the reader realises that the attempts to blind Núñez, far from being a barbaric act, find a justification amongst some of the central tenets of imperial rhetoric. In the well-honed imperialist paradigm, there exists a multiplicity of biblical justifications for its proponents' actions in the name of conversion and the greater glory of God—such as “If they right eye offends thee, pluck it out”. Part of Wells's genius is that he allows the reader to read both parties' arrogance and dogmatism. Therefore we question the relevance of the mountaineer's gift that we previously considered so sacrosanct. By this act, we are questioning the previous 400 years of European imperialist history, in the sense that the gifts we bestowed may have been about as appropriate to the tribes of the non-European world as the concepts of vision and lack of vision to a nation which cannot comprehend sight. As Wells writes:

“‘Has no one told you, ‘In the Country of the Blind the One-eyed man is King?’”

“What is Blind?” asked the blind man carelessly [ie. without a care] over his shoulder.”


Wells creates irony on many levels by aping the proverbial Pilate when he asked “What is Truth?” He relates this glib foolishness of an unbeliever, in the Christian myth, to the ignorance and rejection of truth by the blind in his story and also parallels the fear and frustrated rejection of the news of sight, by the blind, with their past fear and frustration of being blinded some fifteen generations before.

Wells is thus creating a maelstrom of resonance and repercussion which functions internally within the tale and externally bridging the gap between the two motifs, therefore allowing them to exist and function simultaneously. Because this Christian myth is referred to through the sentence structure, not by name, the reader is not distracted by a new set of allusions and is left to ponder the core of the dilemma. Truth is reinvented as sight, which provokes two questions: is the importance of sight relative to more than ownership of it, and does it have to be relevant before it is precious? In these considerations, the reader's thoughts return to a consideration of the relevance of knowledge given to all invaded peoples throughout the colonial world. The reader questions the rhetoric that damned Pilate's dismissal of Truth and, once he does that, he may see the hubris of man on both sides, and a common Human nature in which there exists no hierarchy or superiority of the Christian over the pagan/native. In this interrogation, Wells avoids naivete and over-simplicity by superficially making culpability not a thing that is apportioned but one that is shared, and yet he allows European avaricious culture to damn itself in an act of unsuspecting cannibalisation when he guides the reader's ethical conclusions. Wells writes in the full knowledge that our literature venerates ideas of cuckoo culture and a Eurocentric social genesis. Culpability which is seemingly shared by the invader and the invaded is actually apportioned to the former because, in this case, the invaded is simply a dislocated manifestation of the invader, albeit by some 15 generations. Therefore, Wells ironically turns the self-justifying cult of the imperialist invader upon itself, and in this trial the conqueror is conquered!

The reflections of the fleeing Núñez serve as a fitting epitaph to imperialists' attempts to occupy the new found land. Although he recognises that the horror he felt at the prospect of being blinded would be exactly the horror and powerlessness that the indigenous peoples would feel by being governed by a race who had an extra sense, that of sight, he refuses to admit that he is not necessary or beneficial to the Blind's society, and, in the grip of failure, resorts to a tried and tested formula of religious dogma: “It seemed to him that before this splendour he, and this blind world in the valley, and his love, after all, were no more than a pit of sin” (145). This is Wells's narrative tour de force, portraying the confident imperialist buoyed up by his rhetoric, of the superiority of colour and knowledge, coming into contact with an alien environment that places no value upon his treasures or his offer to make them subordinate for the greater glory of empire. In this situation, almost unprecedented in colonial history, Núñez does not return with an army to take power by force or commit acts of genocide, but provides a looking glass through which to see the inverted picture of the gifts of western civilisation being not only violently rejected but rejected with complete impunity.

Therefore, in H. G. Wells's “The Country of the Blind”, the visionary is cast out, the invader becomes the interloper and the ideology of the imperialist is turned upon itself in both an ironic and provocative way. The irony may be short-lived but the horror is profound and haunting. Unpredictably, in a seemingly familiar imperialist literary formula, it is the western reader with all his cultural baggage and iconoclasm, who is made to run and hide, to protect what he treasures, and justify and interrogate his own right to life under the gaze of an unrelenting, voracious and ruthless power, the ideology and practice of subordination and domination.

Works Cited

Behn, Aphra. Oronooko, or the Royal Slave. 1688. Will Canning.

Defoe, Daniel. Robinson Crusoe. 1719. London: Penguin, 1994.

Greenblatt, S. J. Essays in Early Modern Culture. New York: Routledge, 1990.

———. The Clarendon Lectures and Carpenter Lectures. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991.

Haggard, Sir Henry Rider. King Solomon's Mines.

———. She.

Hawkes, Terence. Shakespeare's Talking Animals: Language and Drama in Society. London: Arnold, 1973.

Homer. The Iliad. Trans. Latimore. Chicago: Chicago UP, 1945.

Kipling, Rudyard. “The Man who Would be King” and Other Stories. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987.

Said, Edward W. Culture and Imperialism. London: Chatto & Windus, 1993.

Shakespeare, William. The Tempest. London: Harper Collins, 1951.

Voltaire, François. Candide, or the Optimist. London: Routledge, 1984.

Wells, H. G. “The Country of the Blind”. The Complete Short Stories of H. G. Wells. London: Ernest Benn Ltd, 1974.

Further Reading

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share


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.

Additional coverage of Wells's life and career is contained in the following sources published by the Gale Group: Authors and Artists for Young Adults, Vol. 18; Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction: Biography & Resources, Vol. 3; British Writers, Vol. 6; Children's Literature Review, Vol. 64; Concise Dictionary of British Literary Biography, 1914-1945; Contemporary Authors, Vols. 110, 121; Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vols. 34, 70, 156, 178; DISCovering Authors; DISCovering Authors: British Edition; DISCovering Authors: Canadian Edition; DISCovering Authors Modules, Most-studied Authors and Novelists; DISCovering Authors 3.0; Encyclopedia of World Literature in the 20th Century, Ed. 3; Exploring Short Stories; Literary Movements for Students, Vol. 2; Literature and Its Times, Vol. 3; Literature Resource Center; Major 20th-Century Writers, Eds. 1, 2; Novels for Students, Vol. 17; Reference Guide to English Literature, Ed. 2; Reference Guide to Short Fiction, Ed. 2; Science Fiction Writers; Short Stories for Students, Vol. 3; Short Story Criticism, Vol. 6; Something About the Author, Vol. 20; St. James Guide to Horror, Ghost & Gothic Writers; St. James Guide to Science Fiction Writers, Ed. 4; St. James Guide to Young Adult Writers; Supernatural Fiction Writers; Twayne's English Authors; Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism, Vols. 6, 12, 19, 133; World Literature and Its Times, Vol. 4; and World Literature Criticism Writers for Children.

Stephen Derry (essay date autumn 1995)

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

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 development of Eloi and Morlocks may also be wrong.

The Time Machine took close to a decade to evolve from its earliest version, “The Chronic Argonauts,” into the serial published in the New Review in 1894-95, and the book that appeared in 1895. Ignoring these earlier versions, however, places the writing of the story, by the unnamed dinner-guest, in 1894; the Time Traveller, according to the author, disappeared three years earlier. This means then that the Traveller journeyed to and from AD 802,701 in 1891. So what versions of Utopias and coming times would have been fresh in his mind, in that year?

Two that might well have been uppermost were Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward, published in 1888, and William Morris's News from Nowhere, in some ways a response to Bellamy, which appeared in 1890.

In Bellamy's story, a nineteenth-century Bostonian, Julian West, awakes from a trance after more than a century, to find a socialist Utopia established in the year 2000. The world has changed to socialism without violence; great private monopolies have developed into one great monopoly, which includes the whole people and is worked for their benefit. Utopia has come about through economic evolution. It is a highly-mechanised society, not just in the sense that technology is very important, but that people are organised as if parts of a mechanism. Morris, who reviewed Bellamy's novel, deplored his future as a “Cockney paradise”3 and declared that “in short, a machine life is the best which Bellamy can imagine for us on all sides.”4 Julian West sees the Boston that he knew radically transformed, but just about recognisable through its geography:

Public buildings of a colossal size and architectural grandeur unparalleled in my day raised their stately piles on every side. Surely I had never seen this city or one comparable to it before. That blue ribbon winding away to the sunset—was it not the sinuous Charles?5

The Time Traveller's view of what used to be London in some ways reads like a relocated and ruined version of this (perhaps he is subconsciously remembering Bellamy's work):

I surveyed the broad view of our old world under the sunset … Below was the valley of the Thames, in which the river lay like a band of burnished steel. I have already spoken of the great palaces dotted about amongst the variegated greenery, some in ruins and some still occupied.6

When he discovers that 802,701 AD is no kind of Eden, the Traveller blames the separation of humankind into two species upon “human selfishness.” “Man had been content to live in ease and delight upon the labours of his fellow men”:7 the class struggle has continued into a biological, evolutionary struggle. Perhaps his fear of and distaste for the White Sphinx (of which more later) prompts him in this direction, if he recalls Julian West's question to his “convenient cicerone,” Doctor Leete:

What solution, if any, have you found for the labor question? It was the Sphinx's riddle of the nineteenth century, and when I dropped out the Sphinx was threatening to devour society, because the answer was not forthcoming.8

If the idea of a Sphinx is associated in the Traveller's mind with class conflict, then this would help to nudge his guesses about the world of AD 802,701 and its history in a certain direction—especially when he finds that the Sphinx and those associated with it, the Morlocks, are devourers (of the Time Machine and the Eloi respectively).

In News from Nowhere, Morris offered an alternative picture of a socialist Utopia, one emphasising individuality, pastoralism, and art, rather than regimentation, machinery, science, and cities. His Nowherians live in a second childhood of mankind, as do Wells's Eloi, but Morris stresses the energetic innocence of childhood, the outdoor world of seemingly endless summers, whereas Wells sees that childhood in terms of weakness, vulnerability, and imbecility—or that is how the Traveller sees the Eloi's apparent Lotos-land. Morris' story is set in the Thames Valley, like The Time Machine. As Patrick Parrinder has noted of Wells's tale, “the gay, brightly-dressed people, the verdant park landscape, and the bathing in the river are strongly reminiscent of Morris.”9

It is not surprising, then, that if the Time Traveller enters AD 802,701 having recently read Morris's book, that he sees the Eloi society as being based on Communism. Like Morris's hero—and alter ego—William Guest, the Traveller is not a young man, and he feels himself to be an adult amongst children. He may feel, initially, that he is, in a sense, re-enacting aspects of News from Nowhere, further down the time-line. He might well see the Eloi as decadent descendants of the Nowherians. But the Nowhere-world came about after a great and bloody class struggle; when the Traveller realises that this is not a Lotos-land, it would be natural, in terms of his reading, to see a displaced Marxist struggle underlying the Darwinian one.

The Time Traveller, having read his socialist Utopian texts, reads the world of AD 802,701 as a pessimistic dystopian reply to them. It is true that he does modify a crude model; the Upper-world and the Under-world were not always antagonistic: a balance was struck: “The rich had been assured of his wealth and comfort, the toiler assured of his life and work.”10 And the intellects of both groups committed suicide. But an ultimately class-derived separateness remains at the core of this interpretation.

It is impossible for both Bellamy's future and Morris's future to become realities on the same time-line from the nineteenth century, given their incompatibilities. But, symbolically, it is as if the Eloi are descended from the Nowherians and the Morlocks from the Bellamyites. This is something a reader would be very conscious of when perusing an earlier version of The Time Machine, the one published in The National Observer. In this, the year is AD 12,203. Eloi and Morlocks are not antagonists; they simply have no contact with each other. In The National Observer version, the Traveller speculates that the Eloi are the descendants of the artists and the aesthetes of his day, and the Morlocks the descendants of more puritan technocrats. It is an early version of the Two Cultures idea, and may well have been inspired by the disagreement about the nature of a socialist Utopia between Bellamy and Morris.

So the Time Traveller reads AD 802,701 as a refutation of Utopian optimism about humankind overcoming its nineteenth-century differences, just as his lack of a cicerone refutes the methodology of Utopian writers. But he does concede that “it may be as wrong an explanation as mortal wit could invent. It is how the thing shaped itself to me, and as that I give it to you.”11

In what follows, the suggestion is made that the Time Traveller's explanation is wrong, because it has been shaped by the wrong books raising the wrong expectations. Another explanation exists for the conditions of AD 802,701.

Twenty years before the Time Traveller's expedition, in 1871, Edward Bulwer Lytton, first Baron Lytton, had published a Utopian book entitled The Coming Race. The narrator of the story, who is nameless (like Wells's two narrators, the dinner-guest and the Time Traveller), discovers an advanced civilisation beneath the Earth. This is the world of the Vril-ya, who may or may not be of human descent, and whose technological wonders have been made possible by their mastery of a force called Vril, akin in some ways to electricity. This they direct through a metal staff that each Vril-ya carries. A female Vril-ya falls in (unrequited) love with the human narrator; when it is decided that he should be destroyed, she saves him, and he is able to return to the surface. He is convinced that one day the Vril-ya will emerge onto the surface “our inevitable destroyers”; he “pray[s] that ages may elapse before” this happens, but writes his book because, in the grip of a fatal illness, he “thought it my duty to my fellow-men to place on record the forewarnings of the Coming Race”.12

There is some evidence in the Time Traveller's narrative that he has read The Coming Race, but he remembers it only vaguely and imperfectly. This is unfortunate, for if that Utopian book, rather than those of Bellamy and Morris, had been uppermost in his mind when visiting AD 802,701 then he might well have been able to interpret his experiences rather differently.

When the narrator of The Coming Race encounters his first Vril-ya, this is how he describes him:

It was tall, not gigantic, but tall as the tallest men below the height of giants.

Its chief covering seemed to me to be composed of large wings folded over its breast and reaching to its knee … It wore on its head a kind of tiara that shone with jewels, and carried in its right hand a slender staff of bright metal like polished steel. But the face! it was that which inspired my awe and my terror … The nearest approach to it is the face of a sculptured sphinx—so regular in its calm, intellectual, mysterious beauty … I felt that this manlike image was endowed with forces inimical to man.13

So the Vril-ya resembles a sculptured sphinx with wings. What is the first notable thing seen by the Time Traveller in AD 802,701? A sculpture of a winged sphinx:

It was very large … It was of white marble, in shape something like a winged sphinx, but the wings, instead of being carried vertically at the sides, were spread so that it seemed to hover … the face was towards me; the sightless eyes seemed to watch me; there was the faint shadow of a smile on the lips.14

The White Sphinx dominates the world of AD 802,701. It dominates The Time Machine as text as well; Frank Scafella has pointed out that it “is alluded to or figures directly in the action on 15 of the 70-odd pages of the narrative”.15 And what is it? The representation of a Vril-ya!

The awe and terror and fear of inimical powers that the sight of a living Vril-ya strikes in the narrator of The Coming Race has its equivalent in the Time Traveller's reactions to the White Sphinx:

I looked up again at the crouching white shape, and the full temerity of my voyage came suddenly upon me … What might not have happened to men? what if cruelty had grown into a common passion? what if in this interval the race had lost its manliness, and had developed into something inhuman, unsympathetic, and overwhelmingly powerful?16

What if, in effect, the world were ruled by such beings as the Vril-ya, at first sight, appear to be?

There is an important difference, though, between the White Sphinx and the Vril-ya. When awakening amongst a group of them, Lytton's hero notes the “sphinx-like faces” common to them all, which inspire “unutterable feeling[s] of dread”, but he also remarks that these faces “seemed as void of the lines and shadows which care and sorrow, and passion and sin, leave upon the faces of men, as are the faces of sculptured gods”.17 In contrast, the White Sphinx, the sculptured Vril-ya, has a face that “was greatly weather-worn” which “imparted an unpleasant suggestion of disease”.18 Not only is the White Sphinx very old, but there is an Ozymandian quality to it: the creators of glories and wielders of power have been brought low; no-one is exempt, ultimately, even possessors of the secrets of vril, from decay and degeneration.

After encountering his Vril-ya sphinx-man, Lytton's hero enters one of their habitations—one he “should have supposed … to have been of the earliest form of Egyptian architecture”.19 Inside, he finds, having passed through a doorless entrance, “an immense hall” of which “the floor was in large tessellated blocks of precious metals”.20 The Time Traveller, having met the Eloi in the vicinity of the White Sphinx, enters the nearest building, with its portals open and its doorway arch carved in such a way that “I fancied I saw suggestions of old Phoenician decorations.”21 These common references to the ancient world are worthy of note. The Traveller enters a “great hall”; its “floor was made up of huge blocks of some very hard white metal, not plates nor slates,—blocks.”22 Both the description and the phraseology seem significant: like the floor of the Vril-ya, that of the Eloi is of metal; and the Time Traveller's insistence on the word “blocks,” the word used by Lytton's narrator, seems designed to recall The Coming Race. Perhaps Wells intends it as a clue and a cue; perhaps he also intends to suggest how submerged recollections of The Coming Race occasionally come near to the surface in the Traveller's mind, as he tells his story. (None of the guests appears to have any recollection of Lytton's tale—an ironic comment, perhaps, on its success as a warning.)

There are a couple of other examples of memories of The Coming Race briefly and tantalisingly returning to the Traveller. One has been noted by Bernard Bergonzi, who felt that Wells—or the Traveller, rather—was “alluding to Bulwer Lytton's romance”23 when, accompanying the Eloi, the visitor from the nineteenth century recalls his “confident anticipations of a profoundly grave and intellectual posterity”.24 Bergonzi felt that any other resemblances were “very slight”.25 The Vril-ya are cremated after death: this perhaps is the source—or a source—of the Traveller's speculations about “crematoria” in AD 802,701. In The Coming Race, the vast machines of the Vril-ya's underground civilisation are maintained by children, described as being “still and indifferent as ghosts”.26 Again, the Traveller's comparison of the Morlocks, the machine-tenders of the Under-world, with ghosts, may be an unconscious or semi-conscious echo of Lytton's narrator.

Physically, obviously, the Eloi (and, indeed, the Morlocks) contrast with the tall, solemn, intellectual Vril-ya. Yet their taste in dress is very similar; both enjoy wearing brightly-coloured robes, often of purple; both races also eat a meat-free diet. Are these similarities of significance?

In The Coming Race, the narrator imagines himself to be a kind of pet of the Vril-ya. Unfortunately(?) for him, the Vril-ya female Zee falls in love with him. Amongst the Vril-ya, females have complete sexual equality; indeed, in some areas, such as romance, they are dominant. Zee, who is seven feet tall and rather unnerving, is especially adept with the Vril staff, with its large powers of destruction. At the end of the story, she rescues the narrator from execution, blasting a path through the rocks and flying through it with him until they reach a human mine.

Part of the Time Traveller's story seems to be a kind of parodic reworking of this—in part, a parody with an agenda of patriarchal reclamation. In AD 802,701, the Traveller has for a female companion not a Zee, but rather a Weena, a being almost her total opposite: weak, fearful, inarticulate, and in need of protection. Although female, she functions essentially like a pet vis-à-vis the Traveller. So the outsider, the intruder, acquires a pet, rather than is a pet. (Seeing Weena in this way, of course, means that the final words of The Time Machine written by the dinner-guest sentimentally misrepresent the “relationship”—another nineteenth-century misreading of the future.) When in the Palace of Green Porcelain, the Traveller breaks off a metal lever, thus equipping himself with what he calls variously a “mace”,27 an “iron crowbar”, and a “bar of iron”.28 This is a kind of parody of the Vril staff in The Coming Race. It is the only weapon found in AD 802,701—the Traveller had brought no weapon, and the Eloi and the Morlocks do not have any. In that sense, it occupies the position of a Vril staff amongst the Under-worlders in Lytton's tale—for such a staff is all that the Vril-ya require for their defence. But of course in terms of destructive power there is no more comparison between them than there is between Weena and Zee. For the sexually patriarchal Wells, the idea of such a powerful phallic device in the hands of a dominant female may have seemed intolerable so he reconfigured the nineteenth-century male, Zee, and the Vril staff, into the Time Traveller, Weena, and the iron bar. That he is a part of such a reconfiguration does not occur, not surprisingly, to the Time Traveller, or to his auditors.

This reconfiguration almost represents a parodic re-enactment of The Coming Race—history repeating itself decadently, hysterically, almost farcically (for there is hysteria and farce in the final scenes of the Traveller's narrative set in AD 802,701). The emphasis in the relationship between the two texts has shifted from overlap to inversion. From failing to recognise similarities between his perceptions of the future and the world of the Vril-ya, the Traveller moves to becoming actively involved as a character in a kind of grotesque re-enactment of Lytton's tale.

If the Traveller had arrived in AD 802,701 with a reading of The Coming Race uppermost in his mind, rather than lurking in the recesses of his memory, then his reading of the “text” that is the world of the Eloi and the Morlocks would have been different: he would have read it as a sequel to Lytton's book. He would have recognised that the circumstances of which it gave forewarning had come about. The White Sphinx would be seen as a symbol of a triumphant invasion of the surface.

The nineteenth century of the Time Traveller could have been followed by the future envisioned by Bellamy, or by Morris. And then that human future would have been swept aside by the Vril-ya invaders. Thus it is possible to construct a time-line from the past into the future of what Walter Scott called “the Land of Fiction”, in which The Coming Race, Looking Backward, and The Time Machine are all “true”, all consistent with one another; or alternatively, to construct an historical continuum in which Lytton, Morris, and Wells are consistent. Indeed, it could even be that the relatively immediate future, in nineteenth-century terms, is unfixed: that different, but equally valid, time-lines lead to Morris's future, or Bellamy's, or indeed someone else's: but that in the longer term, whichever future comes about, or however many come about in different time-lines, ultimately a Vril-ya invasion occurs, and the world of AD 802,701 is the consequence of this.

If the Vril-ya do invade, then, perhaps after an age of technological triumphs—perhaps creating the “great and splendid architecture … more massive than any buildings of our own time”29 that the Traveller sees voyaging futurewards (of which the buildings of AD 802,701 are the remnants)—they suffer degradation: entropy sets in; they devolve, rather than evolve. The White Sphinx, their triumphant symbol, cannot resist weathering, the entropy of ages, and nor can the biological beings it represents. The narrator of The Coming Race declared that the Vril-ya lived in a Utopia; The Time Machine deals as sardonically and pessimistically with that Utopia as the Traveller implicitly imagines it does with those of Bellamy and Morris.

So what has happened to mankind? The narrator of The Coming Race considered that the Vril-ya would inevitably destroy humankind. If they did, then the Eloi and the Morlocks are neither of them human; they would represent an evolutionary divide amongst the Vril-ya, perhaps between those who came to the surface and those who did not. However, perhaps they allowed humankind to continue to exist. But perhaps they forced the human race to move underground, to tend the machines, whilst they lived on the surface. Or perhaps they retreated underground, and the remnants of humankind remained on the surface. In other words, the Vril-ya could have become the Eloi—or the Morlocks. Humanity would have become the other species. There are ironies about either alternative. If the Vril-ya become Morlocks, then in their decadence they become carnivores. If they become the Eloi—which is perhaps more likely—then ironically they ultimately fall victim to their victims, the Morlocks (this is of course also true of the “class struggle” scenario). Ironically, too, the Time Traveller is explicitly more sympathetic to the Eloi than to the Morlocks—“The Eloi had kept too much of the human form not to claim my sympathy”30—yet the Eloi would not be of human descent, whereas the Morlocks would be. He would favour the alien over those who, however remotely, were of his kind. And the sentimental dinner-guest, writing his Epilogue, takes comfort in the emotions still lurking in the hearts of—not man, but Vril-ya.

In his Introduction to the Atlantic Edition of his Works, Wells wrote of the “miscellaneous allusiveness” of “The Chronic Argonauts,” the first version of what was to become The Time Machine. There is much allusiveness in the final work, but whilst it may sometimes be miscellaneous, sometimes artful, on the part of the Traveller as he relies on literature as well as science to tell his tale, it is always artful on Wells's part. The 1895 version of The Time Machine casts its allusive net widely, drawing on much of nineteenth-century speculative fiction—much more than is discussed here, where attention has been concentrated on a few works in the hope of a coherent argument. As the action of the story, and its writing and telling, moved through its literary evolution into the final decade of the nineteenth century, it may well have acquired in Wells's mind a kind of significance which required it to make a summative fin-de-siècle statement, engaging in dialogue with as many predecessors in the speculative field as possible. That dialogue includes, to mix the metaphor, some serio-playful false signposting, through the consciousness of the Traveller. Readers are invited to “read” the text through other texts, other testaments from the “Land of Fiction”. As the nineteenth century draws to a close, Wells unites (or perhaps fails to unite—maybe deliberately—but includes) elements drawn from various, often conflicting, imaginative and quasi-scientific visions in a work that is both sufficiently spacious and sufficiently indeterminate to be able to encompass them.


  1. H. G. Wells, The Time Machine in Selected Short Stories (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1958), p. 40.

  2. Wells, p. 43.

  3. Quoted in A. L. Morton, “Introduction”, Three Works by William Morris (New York: International Publishers, 1968), p. 24.

  4. Quoted in Morton, p. 25.

  5. Edward Bellamy, Looking Backward, 2000-1887 ed. Cecelia Tichi (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1986), p. 55.

  6. Wells, p. 21.

  7. Wells, p. 59.

  8. Bellamy, p. 61.

  9. Patrick Parrinder, “News from Nowhere, The Time Machine, and the Break-up of Classical Realism”, Science-Fiction Studies 3 (1976), p. 271.

  10. Wells, p. 72.

  11. Ibid.

  12. E. G. E. Bulwer-Lytton, The Coming Race (Stroud: Alan Sutton, 1995), p. 120.

  13. Bulwer-Lytton, p. 8.

  14. Wells, p. 23.

  15. Frank Scafella, “The White Sphinx and The Time Machine”, Science-Fiction Studies 8 (1981), p. 255.

  16. Wells, p. 23.

  17. Bulwer-Lytton, p. 10.

  18. Wells, p. 23.

  19. Bulwer-Lytton, p. 8.

  20. Bulwer-Lytton, p. 9.

  21. Wells, p. 27.

  22. Ibid.

  23. Bernard Bergonzi, The Early H. G. Wells: A Study of the Scientific Romances (Manchester: Manchester UP, 1961), p. 47.

  24. Wells, p. 26.

  25. Bergonzi, p. 47.

  26. Bulwer-Lytton, p. 12.

  27. Wells, p. 62.

  28. Wells, p. 64.

  29. Wells, p. 22.

  30. Wells, p. 59.

Laurence Price (essay date winter 1998)

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

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 plants from the Andamans and the Indies at “Peters” and states to his cousin that he has “a fancy that something is going to happen to me today … I mean nothing unpleasant … though what I do mean I scarcely know” (69-70).

He is actually envious of the young orchid collector, Batten, twenty years younger than Wedderburn, who had died at the age of at thirty-six while amassing the collection which is on sale. Batten had been married twice, divorced once, had had malarial fever four times, broken his thigh, killed a Malay, been wounded by a poisonous dart and in the end been killed by jungle-leeches. By contrast, Wedderburn has never had accidents, never fallen in love, never married. Neither has he ever had the need, or the desire, to seek exacting employment, having been provided with “just enough income to keep [him] off the spur of necessity” (69). His orchids are his passion in an otherwise dull and unremarkable life. Wedderburn aches for a “whirl of excitement” (70) while recognising that for those who have experienced it, like the late Batten, it “must have been very troublesome, but then it must have been very interesting …” (70).

He takes a careful and precise note of the time and makes an equally careful selection from his wardrobe before nervously setting off beneath a serene sky, nevertheless taking his cousin's advice “that admitted of no denial” (71) that he had better take an umbrella. When he returns he is in a “state of mild excitement” (71) having made some purchases. He spreads his Vandas, a Dendrobe and some Palæonophis on the spotless tablecloth as he consumes his soup: “‘That one’—he pointed to a shrivelled rhizome—‘was not identified. It may be a Palæonophis—or it may not. It may be a new species, or even a new genus. And it was the last that poor Batten ever collected’” (71). His housekeeper does not like the look of it and concludes it looks like a spider shamming dead.

“They found poor Batten lying dead, or dying, in a mangrove swamp—I forget which,” he began again presently, “with one of these very orchids crushed up under his body. He had been unwell for several days with some kind of native fever, and I suppose he fainted. These mangrove swamps are very unwholesome. Every drop of blood, they say, was taken out of him by jungle-leeches. It may be that very plant that cost him his life to obtain.”


Presently, the strange new orchid begins to show signs of life. His housekeeper views it with growing unease, saying she thinks the emerging aerial rootlets look like little white fingers “‘trying to get at you … I can't help thinking of that corpse’” (73). One more visit, with the aerial rootlets more than a foot long, reminds her of “tentacles reaching out after something” (73). They also get “into her dreams, growing after her with incredible rapidity” which settles “to her entire satisfaction that she would not see that plant again” (73-74). Wedderburn spends his afternoons meditating on the approaching flowering of the strange plant until, at last, the great thing happens:

Directly he entered the little glass house he knew that the spike had burst out, although his great Palæonophis Lowii hid the corner where his new darling stood. There was a new odour in the air, a rich, intensely sweet scent, that overpowered every other in that crowded, steaming little greenhouse.

Directly he noticed this he hurried down to the strange orchid. And behold! the trailing green spikes bore now three great splashes of blossom, from which this overpowering sweetness proceeded. He stopped before them in an ecstasy of admiration.

The flowers were white, with streaks of golden orange upon the petals; the heavy labellum was coiled into an intricate projection, and a wonderful bluish purple mingled there with the gold. He could see at once that the genus was altogether a new one. And the insufferable scent! How hot the place was! The blossoms swam before his eyes.

He would see if the temperature was right. He made a step towards the thermometer. Suddenly everything appeared unsteady. The bricks on the floor were dancing up and down. Then the white blossoms, the green leaves behind them, the whole greenhouse, seemed to sway sideways, and then in a curve upward.


What a fine example from Wells of the sublime and the beautiful; a reminder that Nature cannot ultimately be reduced or tamed into the sentimentalised Earthly Paradise of a little man's suburban dreams; nor even into his glasshouse. More accurate, then, the waking nightmares of his housekeeper who will now play her part in this little drama.

Wedderburn will be saved by his precise and fussy nature; his housekeeper notes he does not come in for tea at half-past four as is “their invariable custom” (74). Deciding that “he is worshipping that horrid orchid” and that “his watch must have stopped” (74) she goes straight to the hothouse and stands motionless gazing at the scene before her:

He was lying, face upward, at the foot of the strange orchid. The tentacle-like aerial rootlets no longer swayed freely in the air, but were crowded together, a tangle of grey ropes, and stretched tight with their ends closely applied to his chin and neck and hands.

She did not understand. Then she saw from under one of the exultant tentacles upon his cheek there trickled a little thread of blood.

With an inarticulate cry she ran towards him, and tried to pull him away from the leech-like suckers. She snapped two of these tentacles, and their sap dripped red.

Then the overpowering scent of the blossom began to make her head reel. How they clung to him! She tore at the tough ropes, and he and the white inflorescence swam about her … She caught up a flowerpot and smashed it in the windows at the end of the greenhouse … She tugged now with renewed strength at Wedderburn's motionless body, and brought the strange orchid crashing to the floor … and in another minute she had released him and was dragging him away from the horror.


The story concludes: “the next morning the strange orchid still lay there, black now and putrescent. The door banged intermittently in the morning breeze, and all the array of Wedderburn's orchids was shrivelled and prostrate. But Wedderburn himself was bright and garrulous upstairs in the glory of his strange adventure” (76). This is a literary “victory for the small man”, and the unexpected danger Wedderburn has encountered has proven to be a life-enhancing experience; not so, of course, for the unfortunate Batten who was drained of every drop of his blood not by jungle leeches but by “that very plant that [had] cost him his life to obtain” (72) as Wedderburn had deduced, without realising the irony of his statement.

The discovery of the strange orchid, perhaps of the species Phalænopsis, and Asiatic moth orchid with its characteristic aerial roots and succulent leaves, in mangrove swamps adds to the eerie verisimilitude that holds this story together. The mangrove is a type of tree, especially a species of Rhizophora, which itself has aerial roots. These “extended” limbs that suggest the possibility of perambulation through the muddy marshes in which they originate have an unsettling quality; add to this that the Phalænopsis is an epiphyte orchid, that appears to cling parasitically to a plant, tree or shrub. It does not actually “feed” off or have any detrimental effect on the host plant. Much emphasis is placed on the human and corpse-like appearance of the shrivelled rhizome, roots and buds of the strange orchid by Wells; he also succeeds in combining sweet smells and putridity into the text, common to both certain species of orchids and death itself, and so apt, of course, with regard to this particularly deadly flower. The man-orchid, Aceras anthropophora, has flowers suggestive of a humanlike shape; it is perhaps these “human” aspects in such an exotic plant that makes its choice as a man-killing plant so appropriate, and one which Wells used to such good effect in this story.

By comparison, Conan Doyle's “The American's Tale” is a weaker work and suffers particularly from his attempts to capture the rhythms of American speech. In mitigation this is one of the earliest works he had published while still developing his craft, and completing his studies to become a doctor in Edinburgh. Unfortunately, he never really did overcome the disability and his use of American dialect remained unconvincing even in the hands of the great Holmes, posing, more unsuccessfully in my view, as the Irish-American agent Altamont, in “His Last Bow” (1917); and its use by the American, Bill Scanlan, in one of this last works, The Maracot Deep (1929), is risible. The opening paragraph of “The American's Tale,” which introduces us to Jefferson Adams, “our American storyteller”, is typical of what will follow:

“It air strange, it air,” he was saying as I opened the door of the room where our social little semi-literary society met; “but I could tell you queerer things than that ‘ere—almighty queer things. You can't learn everything out of books, sirs, nohow. You see it ain't the men as can string English together and as has good eddications as finds themselves in the queer places I've been in. They're mostly rough men, sirs, as can scarce speak aright, far less tell with pen and ink the things they've seen; but if they could they'd make some of your European's har riz with astonishment. They would sirs, you bet!”

(Uncollected Stories 11)

After much of this tortuous preamble, Jefferson Adams recounts the tale of the death of Joe Hawkins or “‘Alabama Joe as he was called there. A reg'lar out and outer, he was, bout the darndest skunk as ever man clapt eyes on’” (12). The tale takes place in Arizona where, Adams assured his audience:

“Grass as hung over a chap's head as he rode through it, and trees so thick you couldn't catch a glimpse of blue sky for leagues and leagues, and orchids like umbrellas! Maybe some on you has seen a plant as they calls the ‘fly-catcher’, in some parts of the States? … Well, I've seen those flytraps in Arizona with leaves eight and ten feet long, and thorns or teeth a foot or more; why they could—But darn it, I'm going too fast!”


A row takes place in Simpson's bar between an Englishman, Tom Scott, and Alabama Joe. Scott is a loner and “a sort o' butt among the men of Montana, for he was so quiet an' simple-like. There was no party either to take up his grievances; for, as I've been saying, the Britishers hardly counted him one of them, and many a rough joke they played on him …” (13). Joe upsets the British party in the bar and it is the quiet Scott who replies, drawn Derringer in hand: “‘Say your prayers, Joe Hawkins; for, by Heaven, you're a dead man! … It ain't that the old country has used me over—well but no man shall speak agin it afore me, and live’” (13-14). Then, laughing, Scott throws his pistol on the floor and continues: “‘I can't shoot a half-drunk man. Take your dirty life, Joe, an' use it better nor you have done. You've been nearer the grave this night than you will be agin until your time comes. You'd best make tracks now, I guess. Nay, never look black at me, man; I'm not afeard at your shootin' iron. A bully's nigh always a coward.’” (14).

With the Britishers' laughter ringing in his ears, Joe skulks from the bar and Jefferson Adams who had witnessed all this, sees murder in Joe's eyes:

… for I knew Joe's bloodthirsty mind, and that the Englishman had small chance of ever seeing the morning. He lives in an out-of-the-way sort of place, you see, clean off the trail, and had to pass through the Flytrap Gulch to get to it. This here gulch was a marshy-gloomy place, lonely enough during the day even; for it were always a creepy sort o' thing to see the eight and ten-foot leaves snapping up if aught touched them; but at night there were never a soul near. Some parts of the marsh, too, were soft and deep, and a body thrown in would be gone by the morning. I could see Alabama Joe crouchin' under the leaves of the great Flytrap in the darkest part of the gulch, with a scowl on his face and a revolver in his hand; I could see it, sirs, as plain as with my two eyes.


Everyone seems aware of the ambush and Adams even warns Scott to be on his guard when he sets off from the bar at midnight. The next morning, an “uncommon scared” half-breed reports that the had heard “‘the fearfulest screams in the stillness of the night’” when he'd “‘chanced to be near the gulch ‘bout one in the morning’” but “‘there weren't no shots … but scream after scream, kinder muffled, like a man with a serape over his head, an' in mortal pain’” (14-15).

Abner Brandon and Adams ride out to Scott's house, passing through the gulch on the way but “there warn't nothing partic'lar to be seen there—no blood nor marks of a fight, not nothing …” (15). Scott confirms that he saw or heard nothing on his way home the night before—“‘all was quiet enough. An owl kinder moaning in the Flytrap Gulch—that was all …’” (15). Scott rides back to the settlement with the two men, but Adams continues:

An allfired commotion was on Main-street as we rode into it. The ‘Merican party seemed to have gone clear crazed. Alabama Joe was gone, not a darned particle of him left. Since he went into the gulch nary an eye had seen him. … ‘Stand aside, Jeff Adams,’ says Zebb Humphrey, as great a scoundrel as ever lived, ‘you hain't got no hand in this game. Say, boys, are we, free Americans, to be murdered by a darn Britisher?’ It was the quickest thing as I ever seed. There was a rush and a crack; Zebb was down, with Scott's ball in his thigh, and Scott hisself was on the ground with a dozen men holding him. … ‘he has played poor Joe some o' his sneakin' tricks, an' thrown him into the swamp’. … ‘Lynch him!’ shouted a hundred angry voices … ‘let's lynch him by the great flytrap in the gulch. Let Joe see as he's revenged, if so be as he's buried 'bout theer.’”


When the lynch mob gets to the flytrap to hang Scott they find thirty men waiting for the, all Britishers, armed to the teeth. Tensions rise and the two parties are about to draw on each other when Scott suddenly calls out: “‘Joe!’ he cried, ‘Joe! Look at him! In the flytrap!’”:

One of the great leaves of the flytrap, that had been shut and touchin' the ground as it lay, was slowly rolling back upon its hinges. There, lying like a child in its cradle, was Alabama Joe, in the hollow of a leaf. The great thorns had been slowly driven through his heart as it shut upon him. We could see as he'd tried to cut his way out, for there was a slit in the thick, fleshy leaf, an' his bowie was in his hand; but it had smothered him first … an' there he were as we found him, torn and crushed into pulp by the great jagged teeth of the man-eatin' plant. …


After Jefferson Adams has departed the following conversation takes place between the members of the “semi-literary society”.

“A most extraordinary narrative!” said Dawson. “Who would have though a Dianoea had such power!”

“Deuced rum yarn!” said young Sinclair.

“Evidently a matter-of-fact truthful man,” said the doctor.

“Or the most original liar that ever lived,” said I.

I wonder which he was.”


As a fledgling writer, Conan Doyle was strongly influenced by such American writers as Bret Harte, Mark Twain and Oliver Wendell Holmes. “The American Tale” certainly seems to be in the humorous tall story tradition of Mark Twain, but unlike Twain or his peers his use of “American Dialogue” is strained and unconvincing. Years later, in The Maracot Deep, he was still trying to convince the reader, in the case of the American, Bill Scanlan, that “you see, he talks as Englishmen expect every real American to talk” (The Maracot Deep 3). It is truly “a most extraordinary narrative” (17) and one senses a good science fiction story trying to emerge; the great flytrap is, in itself, a terrifying aberration of Nature and compares favourably with Wells's sinister strange orchid. Conan Doyle makes mention of “orchids like umbrellas” (12) in the text—which certainly gives Arizona an other-worldly quality - not to mention the giant flytraps. Perhaps the orchids were fly orchis—Ophrys muscifera or insectifera—with fly-like flowers; a strange landscape indeed whether in a science fiction western or tall story context!

These stories remain worthy precursors of the great deadly plant themes that have fed many of our twentieth century fears and phobias. John Wyndham's The Day of the Triffids remains the most obvious example, both in book form and in its 1963 film and 1981 television versions. Wyndham read Wells from an early age and read his books devotedly, so it is almost certain that he was familiar with “The Flowering of the Strange Orchid” which seems to be the genesis for the apocalyptic visions of The Day of the Triffids. In Billion Year Spree, his seminal study of the history of science fiction, Brian Aldiss describes Wyndham's text as a “cosy catastrophe” (293), wherein “the hero should have a pretty good time (a girl, free suites at the Savoy, automobiles for the taking) while everyone else is dying off” (294). There is, however, hope of a gradual return to a civilised society in the future, as opposed to a doomsday scenario such as the extinction of the entire human race in Nevil Shute's On the Beach, published in 1957. Wyndham's use of strategic satellites is, nevertheless, amazingly anticipatory of the later Reagan administration “Star Wars” laser weapon technology of the eighties; suggesting it is something man-made, rather than a celestial display of green comets that has rained blindness and doom on the human race (See Day of the Triffids 246-48).

On the triffids themselves, Wyndham's hero, Bill Masen, a biologist, is convinced “they were the outcome of a series of ingenious biological meddlings” (27) although “their true origin still remains obscure” (26). He is satisfied, however, that their seeds did not “float to us through space as specimens of the horrid forms life might assume upon other, less favoured worlds …” (26). They are, nevertheless, decidedly orchid-like with their “woody bole” (37) which are “shaggy with little rootlet hairs” (40); “three bluntly tapered projections” (40) form the legs of these incredible walking plants. From the top of the stem extends “the curious funnel-like” conical cup containing a “tightly wrapped whorl within” that is its deadly stinging whip (38). A carrion eater of decomposing flesh, it also traps flies and insects in a sticky substance within its cup—“… it was shown that they fed upon flesh as well as upon insects. The stinging tendril did not have the muscular power to tear firm flesh, but it had strength enough to pull shreds from the decomposing body and lift them to the cup of its stem” (44). A highly unpleasant organism, therefore, that mingles aspects of the deadly strange orchid and the giant flytrap of Wells's and Conan Doyle's imaginations, and shares the real orchids' associations with sickly scents and putrescent smells—and beauty and death. The triffid, though carrying out its maneating business on a global scale is, however, of decidedly earthy origin.

It required only one more giant leap of imagination to have the plant become an alien invader from space. Don Siegel's classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers of 1956 and the two surprisingly good remakes of 1978 and 1993 all feature those always terrifying alien plant pods that take over the bodies of their human victims while they sleep and then simulate them to unearthly perfection. The original drew on the paranoia surrounding the McCarthy anti-Communist witch hunts of early fifties America, even providing alternative happy and downbeat endings. The latest, the 1993 The Body Snatchers, perhaps reflects post-Cold War and emerging premillennial fears, feeding on current malign alien abduction anxieties. Nor should Nigel Neale's 1953 BBC TV serial, The Quatermass Experiment or the later 1955 Hammer film version, The Quatermass Xperiment, be overlooked; an astronaut is infected in space by spores that, when he returns to earth, gradually take over his body until he becomes a huge “blob” that is finally cornered and destroyed in Westminster Abbey by Quatermass. Also worthy of note is Roger Corman's 1960 Little Shop of Horrors and the later Frank Oz-directed musical version of 1968, both featuring a blood-sucking and man-eating plant with its demand “Feed me!” The series of four Alien films from 1979 to the present also merit consideration as the crab-like Alien “face-hugger” creatures initially erupt from their organic plant pod-like eggs, to implant themselves on the faces of their unwilling human victims to continue to the next stage of their hideous gestation process.

Returning to the world of television, killer plants were used to more humorous effect in the tongue-in-cheek fantasy series, The Avengers, in the 1965 episode “The Man-Eater of Surrey Green”, first broadcast on 11 December 1965. Baleful man-killing or man-changing plants also appeared in The Time Machine-inspired BBC TV Doctor Who science fiction series, in the 1965 stories, “Mission to the Unknown” broadcast from 13 November 1965 until 29 January 1966. The Vargas were deadly, cactus-like plants imported onto the planet Kembel by the Daleks from their home planet, Skaro. Their spines carried a deadly viral poison which, on piercing and entering the skin of one of their victims, attacked the cellular structure and turned him or her into a Varga. They stalked their prey, Triffid-like, on thick, gnarled roots. In the 1976 Doctor Who story, “The Seeds of Doom”, broadcast from 31 January to 6 March 1976, the Krynoids germinate from pods and feed on their human victims who then mutate into the plant-like creatures.

With these two seemingly insignificant short stories—insignificant, that is, when weighed against the most well-known works and creations of the two authors—both Wells and Conan Doyle can be proven to have been astonishingly prescient in their depiction of the deadly plant themes that would be developed to such disturbing effect in mid-to-late 20th century fiction.

Works Cited

Aldiss, Brian. Billion Year Spree. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1973.

Doyle, Sir Arthur Conan. “The American's Tale.” Uncollected Stories. Eds. John Michael Gibson & Richard Lancelyn Green. London: Secker & Warburg, 1982.

———. The Maracot Deep. London: John Murray, 1961.

Stewart, Joyce. Orchids. London: The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, in association with Collingridge Books, 1988.

Wells, H. G. “The Flowering of the Strange Orchid.” H. G. Wells Short Stories. Selected and introduced by Tim Heald. London: Folio Society, 1990.

Wyndham, John. The Day of the Triffids. London: Michael Joseph, 1951.

Laura Scuriatti (essay date winter 1999)

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

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 him to live at ease without having to earn a regular income. A member of Stieglitz's Photo-Secession movement in New York and of the “Linked Ring Brotherhood” in Britain, he was an advocate of pictorial photography. He studied Japanese art and Taoism and was interested in Swedenborgian theories. After a brief encounter with socialism through his friend, Frank Brangwyn, and George Bernard Shaw, he became a freemason, entered the Rosicrucian order and eventually joined the Welsh church. He admired Maeterlinck, the symbolist writer, whom he met in London in 1915, and believed that “Art is life and life is Art, and there is no difference in the twain.”2 Wells, on the other hand, came from a family on the verge of poverty and had freed himself from his apprenticeship as a draper through winning a scholarship to the Normal School of Science in London, where his mentor was the Darwinist, Thomas Huxley.3 He cultivated a lifelong interest in science, particularly in biology, rejected religious belief, was for a period a member of the Fabian Society and associated himself with writers like Arnold Bennett and George Gissing, defined as ‘Realists’ or ‘Naturalists’.4

A first glance at the volume, The Door in the Wall, and Other Stories offers a similarly striking contrast: Wells's stories5 portray characters experiencing often extreme emotions, on the border between life and death, sanity and madness, while the photographic illustrations show misty and poetic views of gardens, and glimpses of a quiet, empty, almost idyllic London. To try and understand the extent of the collaboration, and the reasons that brought the author and the photographer together, it seems to me important to dedicate some attention to the interest that both artists had in the representation of the city.

Coburn had already taken up a similar project: in 1906 he began working with Henry James on the realisation of the frontispieces to the New York Edition of his novels. According to Coburn, James took a very active part in the photographer's work, providing precise descriptions of places in detail and of the sort of atmosphere which the photographs should illustrate.6 Wells's attitude seems to have been very different. As Jeffrey A. Wolin tells us in his afterword to the 1980 edition of The Door in the Wall, and Other Stories, Wells had no precise image in mind and left Coburn almost completely free in the choice of the stories that better lent themselves to illustration.7 They did, however, meet regularly and together made the final selection of illustrations. A lot of attention was devoted to the printing process: Coburn personally supervised the production of the photogravures, while the publisher imported handmade paper from France and commissioned a specially designed typeset, as he felt that “there needed to be a careful blending of text, illustration, and typography for the work to be harmonious.”8 This urgency on the part of the publisher to find an external device to harmoniously combine text and illustrations seems to betray a doubt about the effectiveness of this collaboration, a doubt that seems to be confirmed by the recent publication history of Wells and Coburn.

In 1909 Coburn had started working on a project for a London book to illustrate Arthur Symons's London, a Book of Aspects but, as a result of a disagreement about the publisher, the project never reached the readers. Symons and Coburn published their works separately, and only two privately printed copies of the original text exist.9 The published version of Coburn's London, with 20 plates, features an introduction by Hilaire Belloc, whose socio-political discourse fails to address the photographs themselves. The text focuses on the administrative problems of London's suburban growth and on the lack of urban planning—a major subject of debate at the Fabian Society—which was causing a widespread incorporation of neighbouring villages into a belt of poor suburban districts. “He completely ignored my pictures!” was Coburn's comment to Belloc's text.10 The fracture between the two agendas was indeed very deep: Coburn's aim in landscape photography was “always to convey a mood and not to impart local information.”11 He was trying to illustrate Symons's London, a city of hidden corners and of mysterious atmosphere, a city with a character and a personality that the artist had to investigate and, above all, be able to feel.

Coburn's photographs do not show London in terms of Belloc's discourse. There is no hint of its social and urban problems, its poverty and squalor. Let us consider for example the view of Wapping: the only vague signs of the activity and the social conditions of the infamous port area on the Thames are the presence of the barge and the silhouettes of the chimneys in the background, but they are deprived of their context and, thus, become mere elements of a carefully balanced composition. The picture has a highly graphic quality, based on the subtle geometric interplay of the slant lines in the foreground and of the dark silhouettes and the irregular skyline of the industrial area in the background. It is the essential abstract pattern of Japanese prints, rather than the bustle of the London port, which characterise this view.

Wells's personal and political interest in London was very much of the same nature as Belloc's: many of his works, even if in the form of utopias, deal with the problems linked to the issues of urban planning and development, and of the impact of city life on human relationships.12 He joined the public debate on this issue between 1902 and 1904 with a series of published articles, analysing the traffic situation, government and urban growth in London and gave (in 1903) a lecture to the Fabian Society, of which Belloc was also a member, about the “Question of Scientific and Administrative Areas,” criticising Belloc's theories. Specifically, Wells disagreed with Belloc's praise of the virtue of localism and small community values on the basis of the realisation that improvement in communications inside and outside of the city had brought about a change in scale of human relationships and enterprises which could not be reversed.13

Given the common interest in the theme of the city, why did Wells decide for Coburn's pictures—products of such a different aesthetic vision? And why did he decide to use photographs instead of graphic illustrations? In her study on Henry James's New York Editions, Ira Nadel suggests that photographic illustrations were for James a means of increasing the saleability of his work and of appealing to a modern public with a new literary taste. At the same time, without competing with the artistic status of the written word, as painted illustrations would do, they constituted a sort of physical, convincing counterpart to the fictional world they were illustrating: “the fiction would seem to possess a reality that the photographs, with their pictorial basis, anticipate.”14 It is difficult to know whether or not the collaboration had been suggested for purely commercial reasons, but even so, it is certainly interesting to investigate the subtext that this collaboration has created, and how it has affected the photographic and the textual message in the book. I am going to attend to Ira Nadel's second suggestion about the authoritative power of photography, in order to analyse how photographs could be seen as a part of Wells's narrative strategy, and subsequently examine how Coburn's view of the city interacts with Wells's.


Some of the tales in The Door in the Wall, and Other Stories deal with strange cases and adventures, some are about utopias and dystopias. These parallel worlds, dream-like and apparently removed from the ‘normal’ world, become part of the protagonists' lives and, eventually, affect them dramatically. Wallace, in “The Door in the Wall”, dies as a result of his obsession with the mysterious garden; Azuma-zi's illusion about the dynamo having supernatural powers will lead him to murder and suicide; Núñez dies while fleeing the Country of the Blind; and the protagonist of “A Dream of Armageddon” becomes a prisoner in his own world of dreams and nightmares. In these tales, the extraordinary, unreal dimension of the narrative is paradoxically emphasised and, at the same time, denied by the author's preoccupation to convince the reader of the narrator's own reliability—a strategy which is probably a symptom of what Patrick Parrinder defines as “uneasiness with the utopian mode.”15 Let us take as examples two of the stories, “A Dream of Armageddon” and “The Door in the Wall”.

“A Dream of Armageddon” begins with the narrator travelling by train and reading a scientific book about dreams. After seeing the title of the book, a passenger tells him a most amazing story of his two lives—his usual one and one that he only lives at night, in his consecutive dreams. In his “dream-life,” set in the distant future, the protagonist is a very important political person who, being in love with a girl, decides to leave his influential position and thus fails to stop a destructive world war which will bring about his lover's death and, eventually, his own. After his “death,” his “dream-life” carries on as a life-in-death in a sort of dream-hell, the dream(-life) of Armageddon of the title. The relation between the real world and the dream world is blurred by the passenger's remarks:

‘If you call them dreams. Night after night. Vivid! -So vivid … this-’ (he indicated the landscape that went streaming by the window) ‘seems unreal in comparison! I can scarcely remember who I am, what business I am on …’16

and, he adds “‘[in the dream-life] Whatever memory I had of this life, this nineteenth century life, faded as I woke, vanished like a dream.’”17 At the same time, his dream-girlfriend's face is “the face of a dream.”18 Life is vague as a dream, dreams are more life-like than life. The mention of the book—Fortnum-Roscoe's Dream States—seems to have the double function of triggering the protagonist's urge to tell his story and to provide a fictional scientific background to it, also assessing the reliability of the recipient of the story: the narrator reads scientific books, therefore, he must be credible.

The protagonist's need to prove his own story also emerges from his description of Capri, where his dreams are set. He admits never having been there in his real life, but insists on giving the listener the most precise topographical indications and descriptions of the island's landscapes:

Eastward was a great cliff—a thousand feet high, perhaps, coldly grey except for one bright edge of gold, and beyond it the Isle of the Sirens, and a falling coast that faded and passed into the sunrise. And when one turned to the west, distinct and near was a little bay, a little beach still in shadow. And out of that shadow rose [Mount] Solaro, straight and tall, flushed and golden-crested.19

His descriptions are also confirmed by the narrator: “‘I know that rock,’ I said. ‘I was nearly drowned there. It is called the Faraglioni.’”20 The choice of Capri—a ‘real’ island—and the insistence on these details are part of a narrative strategy which strives to strengthen its link with reality through giving evidence: the narrator wants the reader to believe his story.

We find the same devices in “The Door in the Wall”, in which the problematic of the diegesis is mobilised from the beginning:

One confidential evening, not three months ago, Lionel Wallace told me this story of the Door in the Wall. And at the time I thought that so far as he was concerned it was a true story. He told it me with such a direct simplicity of conviction that I could not do otherwise than believe in him. But in the morning, in my own flat, I woke to a different atmosphere, and as I lay in bed and recalled the things he had told me, stripped of the glamour of his earnest voice, denuded of the focused, shaded table light […] I saw it all as frankly incredible.21

The narrator doubts Wallace's story, but he cannot avoid trying to “account for the flavour of reality that perplexed me in his impossible reminiscences.”22 Leonard Wallace is dead, and the narrator tries to summarise his peculiar story. Wallace was obsessed by the sight of a green door which he said he entered once as a child: it was the entrance to a magic garden populated by tame panthers, exotic animals, a girl and a woman. The sight of the door haunted him in the most crucial moments of his life, although he always managed to resist entering it, accomplishing his duties and building his career. A few months after telling his friend about the garden, he is found dead on a building site, where the door had been left unfastened by accident. “I do not know,” is one of the narrator's final comments. He is tempted to believe that “Wallace was no more than the victim of the coincidence between a rare but not unprecedented type of hallucination and a careless trap, but,” he admits, “that indeed is not my profoundest belief.”23

Wallace's narration, like the passenger's in “A Dream of Armageddon”, is punctuated by attempts to emphasise its reliability. In the magic garden a woman shows Wallace a book about his own life: “It was wonderful to me,” he says “because the pages of that book were not pictures, you understand, but realities.”24 The experience had for Wallace an “indescribable quality of translucent unreality” but, he insists, “that is what happened.”25 He is presented as far as possible as reliable, like the narrator—they have studied together at a good public school, they were both very good at mathematics, and have become important and respected adults—but the doubt is constantly brought to the surface of the narrative.

This continuous shift of emphasis between the real and the unreal is complicated both by the double diegesis and by the presence of Coburn's photographs. Photographs provide evidence: when the book was published (and to a certain extent it is still so), photographs seemed “to have a more innocent relationship to the world”26 than any other medium, they were valued for their ability to convey information and facts. Stieglitz, Coburn and the Photo-Secession movement had tried through their work to achieve the status of art for photography, but its authoritative power was never denied. As Roland Barthes puts it, “photography is authentication itself,”27 because “in photography I can never deny that the thing has been there.28 And yet, Stieglitz and Coburn were famous for intervening in the printing process and for using technical means such as soft-focus lenses and platinum printing to achieve non-realistic effects: the problematic tension between real and unreal seems, therefore, to duplicate itself in the photographic illustrations of the text.

No one can, of course, deny the existence of Capri, and the photographic illustration to “A Dream of Armageddon”, taken from the top of a mountain, shows one of Capri's bays just as the protagonist might have seen it while standing on the summit of Monte Solaro: its presence introduces a further element of possibility in the balance of the narration. On the other hand, the haziness and dream-like atmosphere of the picture seem to alert the reader of the artistic, and, therefore, artificial, nature of the photographic medium, thus re-enacting the strategy of constant tension between doubt and assertion in the narrative discourse.

In “The Door in the Wall”, the two photographs create a miniature counterpart to the story itself. The photograph of the door recalls Coburn's Faubourg St. Germain taken for James's The American, but if the Parisian picture lets us have a glimpse behind the door and gives us information about the sort of building and people that might live behind it, here we are left in the dark. The horizontal planes of the street and the pavement lead the spectator's glance to a door, which looks impenetrable. The branches and plants overgrowing the brim of the wall betray the presence of a hidden garden. We are left to imagine how that garden might look, and to wonder about the reasons behind such a secrecy: we feel the same urge to peep. In a way, we identify with Wallace and share his urge to have a glimpse inside.

The next picture, The Enchanted Garden, shows us a garden—the garden? The picture lends itself to many interpretations, as Michael Weaver explains in his study on Coburn's symbolism,29 but how far can this be seen as an implementation of Wells's narrative strategy? The picture is very simple, but its structure, combined with the story, manages to arouse the reader's curiosity, if not to convey a sense of mystery: our gaze is led along the pathway in the background, which disappears in the bushes, while the set of steps on the left are cut off by the frame of the picture. It is as if the author of the picture was deliberately hiding some important information from us. The shadow and the statue in the foreground also arouse our curiosity: somebody or something is about to ascend the stairs, but we are not allowed to know more. The statue has been recognised as Hermes (or Mercury),30 the messenger of the gods. In Greek and Roman mythology he also has the role of guide (he escorted Psyche to heaven for her marriage with Cupid and led Juno, Minerva and Venus to Paris to be judged), and has the power to induce sleep. If we relate these elements with Wells's narrative, we can see how they literally illustrate it: there is a guide, leading to a mysterious and hidden place in a beautiful garden; there is a hint to a state of hallucinatory sleep, which reminds us of the doubts about Wallace's story and, at the same time, the shadow in the foreground seems to record the inexplicable, thus becoming an instrument to validate the narrator's belief.

Coburn's photographs, therefore, problematise the difficulties of Wells's narrative: if their very presence seems to support the narrators' attempts to strengthen their credibility, they also emphasise, through the exposure of this very need, the problematic nature of their narration. Moreover, Coburn's technique reenacts this tension by drawing attention to the artistic and non-realistic nature of the photographic medium. From this point of view, text and illustration are closely connected as different outcomes of a similar narrative strategy.


Another element that might justify Wells's and Coburn's collaboration is linked to the theme of the city. As discussed above, the two authors' interest in and commitment to this issue were fundamentally diverging, but they both directed their investigations towards its complexity, its idea of the city as a threshold between different worlds and lifestyles.

According to Michael Weaver, Coburn's view was influenced by Symons's idea that each city had a character like people, and that profound imaginative insight was needed to appreciate them.31 One of London's characteristics that the American photographer tried to bring to the surface was its unknown sides: in a period when public debate was raging about the city's dirtiness, noise, and the effect that its uncontrolled growth was having on the welfare and safety of the urban population, Coburn took pictures like Fountain Court, Regent's Canal or the previously mentioned Wapping, showing an idyllic, secluded and somehow idealised city.32 The atmosphere of such pictures was meant to illustrate Symons's text London. A Books of Aspects, which emphasises the city's double character. About Hampstead Heath, he writes:

On the Heath you are lifted over London, but you are in London. It is this double sense, this nearness and remoteness combined […] from which one gets so unparalleled a sensation.33

And, again, he describes entering Fountain Court as a ritual passage through a threshold between two worlds:

There is a moment when you are in Fleet Street, you have forced your way through the long Strand […], in a continual coming and going of hurried people, with the continual ramble of wheels in the road […], the dust, clatter, confusion; and suddenly you go under a low doorway, where large wooden doors and a smaller side-door stand open, and you are suddenly in quiet. The roar has dropped, as the roar of the sea drops if you go in at your door and shut it behind you.34

Symons's text is the result of the author's flanerie: he experiences the Baudelairian “bath of multitude,” he plunges into the city's bustle but is detached; he prefers to live by night and walk around the deserted city. As in Benjamin's portrait of the flaneur, he follows a random track around the city, like a detective, but his point of view is fundamentally asocial.35

Following Symons's steps, Coburn engages in a rediscovery of the city (similar to Atget's), and his photographs capture both the character of the commercial, modern, metropolitan London (as, for example in St. Paul's from Ludgate Circus) and, more often, its unfamiliar, hidden side, represented by Fountain Court. The point of view is often very distant from the subject, a sign of a detached glance like Symons's, but the use of The Horse's Bus to illustrate a passage in which the writer complains about the noisy streets crowded with omnibuses, carts and machines,36 shows the extent of the photographer's independent and original commitment to his aesthetic project: the noise and the crowded street described in the text are removed. Instead, we see a deserted area with a single horse-drawn bus, framed between two trees and presented as if it was a rare sight. “I am particularly fond of unusual vistas of cities and have spent much of my life endeavouring to discover them,”37 wrote Coburn in his autobiography. This originality, this ability to capture what lies behind the appearance of a city, achieved through patient research and careful isolation of a motif, is, in my opinion, what Wells was referring to in the caption to his caricature.

Wells himself was a careful observer of the city's multifaceted life. David Smith tells us that as a student he used to explore London on foot and that later in life, he insisted, even with bad health, on going out to travel by bicycle to make sure that the descriptions in his books and articles were accurate.38 He lived in many different parts of London, eventually moving out of the city and returning after his wife's death, and developed a deep knowledge of its areas and their social problems.

Amongst the texts that deal with the theme of the city in the form of fiction or essay, A Modern Utopia presents the reader with a double city: a ‘real London’ and a ‘Utopian London’. Real London is unbearably noisy; in Trafalgar Square the protagonist and his companion see “a shrivelled, dirty-lined old woman“and “two grimy tramps” by “the dirt-littered basin of the fountain,”39 they meet prostitutes, orphans and drunkards, the representatives of London's explosive marginal population. Utopian London, on the other hand, is the realisation of the architectural dream structures of history; the air is clean, the buildings are bright and spacious, there are thousands of university students and impressive infrastructures. As the protagonists walk along its long, airy avenues, they find themselves “in a sort of central space, rich with palms and flowering bushes and statuary,” through which “great multitudes of people will pass softly to and fro.”40 The protagonists seem to indulge in a sort of flanerie: in search of a different London, they walk through the town and observe its inhabitants, ending their stroll in a lush garden, where they will meet their utopian selves.

The pattern of Wallace's and Núñez' movements in “The Door in the Wall” and “The Country of the Blind” are strikingly similar: they both encounter their utopian lands after randomly walking, and the first things they experience in them are gardens—a common utopian topos. Wallace's first sighting of the door occurs at the age of six while exploring out of boredom the little streets of West Kensington; the second time while playing a game called “North-West Passage,” which “consisted in finding some way that wasn't plain, starting off ten minutes early in some hopeless direction, and working my way round through unaccustomed streets to my goal;”41 the third time while taking an unusual short cut. Like Symons and Coburn, Wallace moves around the city and looks for his own London, for his own Fountain Court, away from the “long grey streets in Kensington,”42 where Wells himself had lived for a period.

The careful topographical descriptions of his stroll locate the enchanted garden in an area that in Wells's time was undergoing major restructuring. Earl's Court, Kensington High Street, Campden Hill were losing their village structure and quickly becoming part of the metropolis. The ancient estates were being gradually dismembered and sold, old mansions were being demolished to give way to new housing projects and to the extension of the London railways.43 It was an area of contrasts: Kensington Palace and Gardens made it a fashionable area for the higher classes, but at its western and northern borders there still stood until the 1880s two of the most problematic of the London slums—the Jenning's Buildings, near Kensington High Street, and the Potteries. In her essay ‘The Jenning's Buildings and the Royal Borough’, Jennifer Davis explains that the Bird family, the area's largest brickmakers and owners of the Buildings, were deliberately refusing to improve the conditions of the slums in order to use them as a reservoir of cheap labour for the local building sites and for the prestigious Philmore Estate.44

This double characteristic of Kensington is apparent also from Wallace's narration: just before seeing the door he recalls shabby surroundings, a “long grey street”45 and

a number of mean dirty shops, and particularly that of a plumber and decorator with a dusty disorder of earthenware, pipes, sheet lead, ball taps, pattern books of wall paper, and tins of enamel.46

The mention of a plumber and a decorator, two activities linked with the building industry, might be interpreted as a reference to one of the most common activities which, according to Davis, were associated with the presence of the Jenning's Buildings. The garden, on the other hand, is “clean and perfect and subtly luminous” and makes Wallace forget “about the road with its fallen chestnut leaves, its cabs and tradesmen's carts.”47 Like Utopian London, the enchanted garden is immune from the consequences of pollution and dirt: instead of the yellow fog that had contributed to create the well known images of a mysterious London, Wallace finds himself under an almost Mediterranean blue sky:

It was a world with a different quality, a warmer, more penetrating and mellower light, with a faint clear gladness in its air, and wisps of sun-touched cloud in the blueness of its sky.48

Following Wallace's movements in Kensington, it may be possible to read the garden as a metaphor for the Kensington Gardens, which were not far away from the slums: Leigh Hunt and Matthew Arnold, amongst others, celebrated them as leafy and bucolic and, as if in confirmation of its mythical status, a statue of Peter Pan was installed in the park in 1906. Moreover, if we consider the illustration, The Enchanted Garden, from this point of view, the enigmatic presence of the statue of Hermes can be explained as a reference to this recent development in the park.

A further element, however, complicates this reading. Wallace tells us about some animals that inhabit the garden: two “great spotted panthers,” a “little Capuchin monkey,” “paroquets and white doves.”49 Brian W. Aldiss, in his article ‘Wells and the Leopard Lady’, suggests that feline figures are often, in Wells's works, either symbols of absolute freedom, because they seem to be immune from the destructive consequences of the evolutionary machine, or of sexual freedom—“Panther” and “Jaguar” being the nicknames which Wells and Rebecca West used during their love affair.50 On another level, though, it is possible to interpret them as a further reference to the urban history of Kensington: Lloyd Sanders reports that in 1764 a John Hunter, eminent surgeon and eccentric figure, had bought two acres of land near Earl's Court and built a modest house, a dissection laboratory and a “menagerie of living animals.” Amongst them were two leopards, which got into the news when they escaped from their cages.51 Hunter's house was demolished in 1886, twenty years before “The Door in the Wall” appeared, and Wells might not have heard of its peculiar history though it seems hardly a coincidence, if we consider the careful topographical indications which characterise the denouement of the plot. Also, Coburn himself had explored the subject: his Sphinx and View of Trafalgar Square show us the presence of feline figures in two crucial areas of the city—the Embankment and Trafalgar Square. Michael Weaver suggests that they might be associated to freemasonic images and symbols, but they also might be read as representations of the hidden, different London that both the photographer and the writer were trying to render with their art.

The verb render brings us back to the caption in Wells's caricature-drawing mentioned at the beginning of this essay: “Our business is to see what we can and render it.” The juxtaposition of “see” and “render” betrays a shift from an objective, empirical mode of perception to a process of transformation of the seen. This, in my opinion, is emblematic of the strategy that we have observed in the stories in The Door in the Wall, and Other Stories which are characterised by the problematisation of the diegetic structure of the narrative at all levels, involving the continuous attempt on the part of both the author and the narrators to prove their own stories. This strategy, I have argued, was illustrated and exemplified through and by Coburn's photographs.

We can therefore assert that despite their often very diverging aesthetics, Wells's and Coburn's collaboration in the volume The Door in the Wall, and Other Stories works both from the point of view of structure and content: on the one hand, the photographic illustrations reproduce the constant tensions in the diegetic mode of narration between the real and the unreal, dream and reality; on the other hand, if we consider the representation of the city, both pictures and text show a deep commitment on the part of their authors to investigate the multifaceted aspects of the city and to portray its hidden parts, as if they belonged to a different world.

Ironically, in “The Door in the Wall” Wallace's search for that other London ends tragically with his death on a building site for the extension of the railway: Wells, unlike Symons (and Coburn), was not able to shut the door and forget about the “real London,” but had certainly been able to see its “other side” and, like Coburn, had tried to render it.


  1. The book was first printed in 1911 in Baltimore by Mitchell Kennerley, Arnold Bennett's brother-in-law and a friend of Stieglitz. Only three hundred in the original issue were printed with actual gravure photographs; a further three hundred were illustrated with aquatones. Fifty of these were made available for the English market under the imprint of Grant Richards.

  2. A. L. Coburn, Alvin Langdon Coburn Photographer. An Autobiography, ed. Helmut and Alison Gernsheim (London: Faber & Faber, 1966), p. 100. Further references to this text will be abbreviated to CPA.

  3. David C. Smith, H. G. Wells. Desperately Mortal (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1986), p. 51.

  4. Walter Allen, The English Novel. A Short Critical History (London: Penguin, 1958), p. 299.

  5. The stories included in the volume are: ‘The Door in the Wall’, ‘The Cone’, ‘The Diamond Maker’, ‘A Moonlight Fable’, ‘The Country of the Blind’, ‘A Dream of Armageddon’, ‘The Lord of the Dynamos’ and ‘The Star’.

  6. See Coburn's account of the project in CPA, pp. 52 and 60; and Ira B. Nadel, ‘Visual Culture: The Photo Frontispieces to the New York Edition,’ in Henry James's New York Edition. The Construction of Authorship, ed. David McWhirter (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1995), pp. 90-108.

  7. H. G. Wells, The Door in the Wall, and Other Stories, illustrated by A. L. Coburn, afterword by Jeffrey A. Wolin (Boston: David R. Godine, 1980), p. 155.

  8. Ibid., p. 157.

  9. Arthur Symons, London. A Book of Aspects, privately printed for A. L. Coburn and E. Brooks, (Minneapolis: 1909/1914). Further references to this text will be abbreviated to BOA.

  10. Quoted in CPA, p. 74.

  11. Ibid., p. 44.

  12. See amongst others: Anticipations (1901), A Modern Utopia (1905; especially ‘A Few Utopian Impressions’ and ‘The Bubble Bursts’) and The Food of the Gods (1904).

  13. For further readings on the topics of the lecture and of Wells's polemic against Belloc about the problems of urban growth, see: Ken Young and Patricia L. Garside, Metropolitan London. Politics and Urban Change. 1837-1981 (London: Edward Arnold, 1982), especially ‘Wells and the New Urban Region,’ pp. 107-117.

  14. Nadel, p. 94.

  15. Patrick Parrinder, ‘Utopia and Meta-Utopia in H. G. Wells’, Science-Fiction Studies, vol. 12, part 2 (July 1985), 115-127 (p. 115).

  16. H. G. Wells, ‘A Dream of Armageddon,’ in The Door in the Wall, and Other Stories (London: Grant Richards, Limited Edition, 1915?), 43-72 (p. 44-45). Further references to this text will be abbreviated to DIW.

  17. Ibid., p. 46.

  18. Ibid., p. 47.

  19. Ibid., pp. 49-50. Further examples in the story: p. 55—about the “Grotta del Bovo Marino”—and p. 57, where the protagonist describes the Bay of Sorrento.

  20. Ibid., p. 51.

  21. ‘The Door in the Wall,’ in DIW, pp. 5-24, p. 5.

  22. Ibid., p. 5.

  23. Ibid., p. 24.

  24. Ibid., p. 11.

  25. Ibid., p. 13.

  26. Susan Sontag, On Photography (London: Penguin, 1979), p. 4.

  27. Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida. Reflections on Photography (London: Fontana Paperbacks, 1984), p. 86.

  28. Ibid., p. 76.

  29. Michael Weaver, Alvin Langdon Coburn, Symbolist Photographer. 1882-1996 (New York: Aperture, 1986), p. 57.

  30. Ibid., p. 57.

  31. Ibid., p. 34.

  32. For further details on the debate that involved politicians, administrators, writers, artists and philanthropists for more than fifty years, see David Feldman and Gareth Stedman Jones, eds., Metropolis London. Histories and Representations since 1800 (London: Routledge, 1989); and Young and Garside.

  33. Arthur Symons, BOA, p. 11.

  34. Ibid., p. 29.

  35. Walter Benjamin, ‘Der Flaneur,’ in Gesammelte Schriften, II-1, hrgb. von Rolf Tiedemann und Hermann Schweppenhäuser (Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp, 1980), pp. 537-569, p. 545.

  36. Arthur Symons, BOA, p. 13-15.

  37. CPA, p. 48.

  38. David Smith, H. G. Wells, pp. 13 and 136.

  39. H. G. Wells, A Modern Utopia (London: Dent, 1994), pp. 212-13. Original edition: 1905.

  40. Ibid., p. 145.

  41. ‘The Door in the Wall,’ p. 14.

  42. Ibid., p. 11.

  43. Lloyd Sanders, Old Kew, Chiswick and Kensington (London: Methuen & Co., 1910).

  44. Jennifer Davis, ‘The Jenning's Buildings and the Royal Borough,’ in Feldman and Stedman Jones, Metropolis London, pp. 11-39.

  45. ‘The Door in the Wall,’ p. 12.

  46. Ibid., p. 8.

  47. Ibid., p. 9.

  48. Ibid.

  49. Ibid., p. 10.

  50. Brian W. Aldiss, ‘Wells and the Leopard Lady,’ in Patrick Parrinder and Christopher Rolfe eds., Wells under Revision. Proceedings of the International H. G. Wells Symposium. London, July 1986 (London: Associated University Presses, 1990), pp. 27-39, p. 30.

  51. Lloyd Sanders, Old Kew, Chiswick and Kensington, p. 271.


H. G. Wells World Literature Analysis