The Hampdenshire Wonder Critical Essays

J. D. Beresford


(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

The Hampdenshire Wonder was not the first literary attempt to describe a being as far advanced above humankind as human beings are advanced above their apelike ancestors, but it was a significant improvement on earlier attempts. The man of the future in The British Barbarians (1895) by Grant Allen and the giants in The Food of the Gods (1904) by H. G. Wells are merely mouthpieces whose task is to lend support to the supposedly advanced intelligence of their creators, but J. D. Beresford tries to reach beyond that kind of self-flattery.

There is a sense in which the task is logically impossible, in that no author can transcend the limitations of his own intelligence, but Beresford found the method best fitted to the task in tracking the unnaturally rapid growth of intelligence in a child. Because Victor never grows to maturity, the full extent of his mental powers is never revealed and exists only as a series of delicate suggestions and half-formed impressions.

Physically, Victor bears some resemblance to the futuristic human being sketched in H. G. Wells’s brief essay on “The Man of the Year Million” (1893): His brain is huge, but he is otherwise weak. This remained the stereotyped image of humanitys ultimate descendants for the greater part of the twentieth century. Victors intellectual attainments are far more interesting than his physical form. Inevitably, these are stronger on the negative side than the positive side. Beresford found it easy to find follies that humanitys descendants would abandon, although he was well aware that many of his contemporary readers would reject Victors view on religion and used that as...

(The entire section is 685 words.)