In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle analyses the lasting appeal of H. G. Wells’s first great ‘scientific romance’
In some ways, H. G. Wells’s The Time Machine (1895) is a ‘timeless’ text: it continues to enjoy huge popularity (as witnessed by big film adaptations in 1960 and 2002, as well as the fact that the novel itself has never been out of print and is available in a range of editions), it continues to exert a considerable influence on the literature and cinema produced since, and its very narrative structure – with much of the action of the novel taking place in a time that hasn’t happened yet, the year 802,701 – in a sense absenting it from its own context. But an analysis of Wells’s novella that sees it floating completely free of its 1890s context, much as the Time Traveller himself succeeds in leaving his late Victorian world behind, risks overlooking the extent to which The Time Machine is a novella deeply rooted in late nineteenth-century concerns. These concerns are neatly covered in Roger Luckhurst’s introduction to the recent Oxford edition of the novella, The Time Machine (Oxford World’s Classics).
In an interview published in 1899, Wells outlined his reasons for being so concerned with the future of mankind:
Why should four-fifths of the fiction of today be concerned with times that can never come again, while the future is scarcely speculated upon? At present we are almost helpless in the grip of circumstances, and I think we ought to strive to shape our destinies. Changes that directly affect the human race are taking place every day, but they are passed over unobserved. Read the rest of this entry
In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle reads The Oxford Book of Local Verses, chosen by John Holloway
In the small seaside town of Bideford in Devon, you can find this three-line epitaph adorning the gravestone of a woman named Mary Sexton:
Here lies the body of Mary Sexton,
Who pleased many a man, but never vex’d one,
Not like the woman who lies under the next stone.
The verse expands, each line getting longer as the sentence reaches its venomous tip, the rhymes of Sexton’s name getting more and more Byronic and absurd. Behind the triplet there is a story, though precisely what the story is, the verse is content to hint at rather than state: in what capacity did Mary ‘please many a man’? Is it fortuitous that her name contains ‘Sex’? Who is the woman lying in the neighbouring grave? One is tempted to suspect a family plot of both kinds: was there some sort of sibling rivalry at work here? Read the rest of this entry
When she died in 1848, aged just 30, Emily Brontë had written just one novel, Wuthering Heights. Of course, that novel was a classic and remains one of the most popular and widely read Victorian novels. But Emily Brontë also wrote many poems. ‘Love and Friendship’ sees Emily Brontë reflecting on the differences between these two pillars of our emotional lives.
Love is like the wild rose-briar,
Friendship like the holly-tree—
The holly is dark when the rose-briar blooms
But which will bloom most constantly?
The wild rose-briar is sweet in spring,
Its summer blossoms scent the air;
Yet wait till winter comes again
And who will call the wild-briar fair? Read the rest of this entry