THE TIME MACHINE was H. G. Wells' first work of any literary importance. Within the brief years of 1895-98, Wells wrote: THE TIME MACHINE, THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU, AND THE WAR OF THE WORLDS. Not a bad record for a man of twenty-nine through thirty- two!
Wells got the germ of an idea about time travel from the students' debating society at Imperial College, London. He says,
"I heard about and laid hold of the idea of a four dimensional frame for a fresh apprehension of physical phenomena, which afterwards led me to send a paper, 'The Universe Rigid,' to THE FORTNIGHTLY REVIEW (a paper which was rejected by Frank Harris as 'incomprehensible'), and gave me a frame for my first scientific fantasia. THE TIME MACHINE. . . .If there was a Universe rigid, and hitherto uniform, the character of the consequent world would depend entirely, I argued along strictly materialist lines, upon the velocity of this initial displacement. The disturbance would spread outward with ever-increasing complication. But I discovered no way, and there was no one to show me a way to get to get on from such elementary struggles with primary concepts, to a sound understanding of contemporary experimental physics." -- EXPERIMENT IN BIOGRAPHY, p. 172.Wells and his soon-to-be second wife were living in rented rooms in a semi-detached house at 23, Eardley Road. The landlady disapproved of these arrangements and made loud comments to the neighbors outside Wells' window. Some critics have found evidences of this landlady in the character of the Morlocks. Wells recalls writing a turning point in THE TIME MACHINE with the landlady's voice droning outside:
"I still remember writing that part of the story in which the Time Traveller returns to find his machine removed and his retreat cut off. I sat alone at the round table downstairs writing steadily in the luminous circle cast by a shaded paraffin lamp. Jane had gone to bed and her mother had been ill in bed all day. It was a very warm blue August night and the window was wide open. The best part of my mind fled through the story in a state of concentration before the Morlocks but some outlying regions were recording other things. Moths were fluttering in ever and again and though I was unconscious of them at the time, one must have flopped near me and left some trace in my marginal consciousness that became a short story I presently wrote, " A Moth Genus Novo." And outside in the summer night a voice went on and on, a feminine voice that rose and fell. . .I was aware of her and heeded her not, and she lacked the courage to beard me in my parlour. "Would I never go to bed? How could she lock up with that window staring open? Never had she had such people in her house before, -- never. A nice lot if everything was known about them. . .What she let her rooms to was summer visitors who walked about all day and went to bed at night. And she hated meanness and there were some who could be mean about sixpences. People with lodgings to let in Sevenoaks ought to know the sort of people who might take them. . .""It went on and on. I wrote on grimly to that accompaniment. I wrote her out
The origin of THE TIME MACHINE came in a commission to Wells from the famous editor W. E. Henley, who had already published some tales by Wells in THE NATIONAL OBSERVER. Even the time traveller articles were not original. Wells derived them from a series called 'The Chronic Argonauts,' which he wrote for THE SCHOOLS JOURNAL.
Henley was about to start publishing a journal called THE NEW REVIEW, and he gave Wells the idea that he should re-work the time traveller material into a novel.
REFERENCE: Wells, H. G. EXPERIMENT IN AUTOBIOGRAPHY. New York: MacMillan, 1934.