from: J. D. Beresford's critical biography of Wells (1916):
Mr. Wells' romances have little or nothing in common with those of Jules
Verne, not even that peculiar quality
of romance which revels in the impossible.
Mr. Wells' experiments with the relatively improbable have become increasingly
involved with the social problem,
and it would be possible to trace the growth of his opinions from this evidence alone, even if we had not the valuable commentary afforded by his novels and his essays in sociology. . . .The later works have been so defensive and, in
one sense, didactic that one is apt to forget that many of the earlier books, and all the short stories, must have
originated in the effervescence of creative imagination.
Wells prefaced his romances by a sketch in the old PALL MALL GAZETTE,
entitled "The Man of the Year
Million", in an a priori study that made one thankful for one's prematurity. After that piece of logic, however, he
tried another essay in evolution, published in 1895 in book form under the title of THE TIME MACHINE --
the first of his romances.
The machine itself is the vaguest of mechanical assumptions; a thing
of ivory, quartz, nickel and brass that quite
illogically carries its rider into an existing past or future. We accept the machine as a literary device to give an air
of probability to the essential thing, the experience; and forget the means in the effect. The criterion of the prophecy
in this case is influenced by the theory of "natural selection." Mr. Wells' vision of the "Sunset of Mankind" was of
men so nearly adapted to their environment that the need to struggle, with the corollary of the extermination of the
unfit, had practically ceased. Humanity had become differentiated into two races, both recessive: one, the Eloi,
a race of childlike, simple, delicate creatures living on the surface of a kindly earth; the other, the Morlocks, a
more active but debased race, of bestial habits, who lived underground and preyed cannibalistically on the
surface-dwellers, who they helped to preserve, as a man may preserve game. The Eloi, according to the
hypothesis of the Time Traveller, are the descendents of the leisured classes; the Morlocks of the workers. . . .
All this is in the year 802,701 A.D.
The prophecy is less convincing than the wonderful sight of the declining
earth some million years later, sinking
slowly into the dying fires of the worn-out sun. . . .And the picture is made more horrible to the imaginative by
the wonder whether the summit of the evolutionary curve has not already been reached -- or ir may be passed
in the days of the Greek philsophers.
THE TIME MACHINE, despite certain obvious faults of imagination and
style, is a brilliant fantasy: and it
affords a valuable picture of the young Wells looking at the world, with his normal eyes, and finding it, more
particularly, incomplete. At the age of twenty-seven or so, he has freed himself very completely from the bonds
of conventional thought, and is prepared to examine, and to present life from the detached standpoint of one who
views it all from a respectable distance; but who is able, nevertheless -- an essential qualification -- to enter life
with all the passion and generosity of his own humanity.
QUESTION ON SECONDARY SOURCES: Although generally positive, this reviewer has reservations about Wells' absorption in "the social question." If a reviewer takes such a stand, is it fair to surmise that unacknowldeged bias may be at work? Are reviewers themselves exempt from questions of bias? Of didacticism? Students using what reviewers say about books may accept the reviewers' own statements that they have no interest other than that of "quality" in fiction. Can this ever be the case? Keep in mind what may be at work on the reviewers of Wells' own day. It would be good to know to what they were comparing _The Time Machine_. To Poe? To Verne? The shifting balance of critical assessment moves with the times. What may have impressed the critics of Wells' own times may seem dated in a later time. The qualities that survive in _The Time Machine_ may be other than those that impressed the contemporary critics.-------- Additional quotations from positive reviewers: -------
"A Man of Genius" By Wm. T. Stead
THE REVIEW, March 1895.
(Stead was the foremost crusading English
journalist and editor of the late 19th century. He was one of the
first people in the press to draw attention to Wells' TIME MACHINE.)
H. G. Wells who is writing the serial in THE NEW REVIEW, is a man of
genius. His invention of the TIME MACHINE
was good, but his description of the ultimate evolution of society into the aristocrats and capitalists who live on the
surface of the earth in the sunshine, and the toilers who are doomed to live in the bowels of the earth in black
darkness, in which they learn to see by evolving huge owl-like eyes, is gruesome and horrible to the last point. The
story is not yet finished, but he has written enough to show that he has an imagination as gruesome as Edgar Allan Poe.
Essay by Joseph Conrad
. . .One can always see a lot in your work -- there is always a "beyond"
to your books. . . .I suppose you'll have the
decency to believe me when I tell you that I am always impressed by your work. . . .And if you want to know what
impresses me it is to see how you contrive to give over humanity into the clutches of the Impossible and yet manage
to keep it down (or up) to its humanity, to its flesh, blood, sorrow, folly. THAT is achievement!
WORKS CITED Haining, Peter, ed. _The H. G. Wells Scrapbook_. London: New English Library, 1978. -------------------._Twentieth-century Literary Criticism_. 50 vols. Detroit: Gale Research, 1978- Locations in volumes: 6:523, 533-34, 538, 547-55, 12:487-88, 501, 506, 508-11; 19:420, 424, 428-31, 434, 436-39, 441-42, 446-50, 452.