Herbert George Wells (1866-1946)

The contemporary of Rudyard Kipling, Herbert Wells, was born in a poor family in 1866. He had to work very hard to get an education. He was a biologist and worked as assistant of a well-known English scientist, a follower of Charles Dar­win.

Darwin’s theory of evolution, based on scientific observation, was accepted by those who were inter­ested in a mankind’s ability to find a scientific expla­nation for everything.

At an early age Wells came to the Utopian conclu­sion that only scientists could solve the contradictions of the society. Wells understood that the world had to be changed, but not through revolution. He thought that only evolution and certain reforms could change the existing order of things.

World War I shocked the writer. He could no longer be sure of peaceful progress. Wells visited Russia in 1920, and his impressions are described in his book “Russia in the Shadows”.

All his novels can be referred to science fiction, because science and technique form the background against which the plot centres. Besides, there is always a very strong social sounding in his works. Many of his personages are the repre­sentatives of the lower classes, but the author gives them a chance of happiness.

His early cycle of scientific novels was written from 1895 to 1901. Among them are “The Time Machine”, about a machine that can travel through time instead of through space, and “The First Men on the Moon” shows the men flying to the Moon about seventy years before this actually happened.

The War of the Worlds” (1898) describes an attack on this world by the creatures from Mars who can conquer everything but man’s diseases. This novel reflects the author’s idea that great technical achievements in bourgeois society may have a negative side. It can destroy emotions, beliefs and feelings without which Man can’t ex­ist. But Wells stresses the idea that intellect can be stronger than hu­manism. In this case, such a situation leads to destruction.

The inhabitants of Mars are to face with the necessity of looking for a new world to live in. They choose our planet and invade it in great cylinders that fall on the English countryside. The people who see the fall of the first cylinder are very interested in the “Message from Mars”. But no sooner have the occupants of the cylinder come out of it than they begin to attack the peaceful population. The Martians do not resemble human beings. They have a huge head with eyes. Instead of hands and feet the occupants have sixteen tentacles. They have no heart, no body, no feelings, and no emotions. They have only intellect. They burn down every­thing on their way with a Heat Ray that kills everybody and sets fire to houses, trees and towns. There is no opportunity to escape.

Suddenly the terrible invaders begin to die. They are killed by bacteria. In comparison with the human beings, who have developed immunity against bac­teria, the Martians have no resistance. Thus they became the victims of diseases. The bacteria are stronger than the Martian’s powerful intellect. And at the very last moment the destruction of the world is stopped. “In all the bodies of the Martians that were examined after the war, no bacteria except those already known as terrestrial species were found.” (“The War of the Worlds”, The Epilogue).

The most popular of the novels of that cycle is The Invisible Man”. It is about a crazy young scientist who wants to become invisible to conquer the world. The Invisible Man can’t help doing terrible things, because his aim is horrible — to “establish a Reign of Terror”. But we come to know about his destructive idea only at the end of the book. The author shows all the cruelty of Griffin — the Invisible Man. The lexis contains such words as “to robe”, “to kill”, “to hurt”, “terrify”, “dominate”. Nothing can stop Griffin but death. That’s why Wells “kills” him.

In the novels of this cycle the writer describes the destiny of the bourgeois civilization. This is his main social theme.

The later cycle of novels was written after 1901 and up to World War I. They are “The World Set Free” and “The War in the Air”. The author addresses the question to all the mankind: “What will happen to humanity if cold intellect triumphs over feelings and emotions?” This question is, at the same time, a call to the people to recognize their way of life. More than that, it is a warning to humanity, because the author appeals to reason of the people of the world and asks them to avoid the destructive wars. Thus Wells shows how dangerous the technical progress in the capitalist society can be. He reveals all the social contradictions of the bourgeoisie, but he can’t see the way out. Wells doesn’t believe in the creative power of the popular masses. Nevertheless, he is honest in his criticism of reality. He foresees the decay of bourgeois civilization. “We have learned now that we cannot regard this planet as being fenced in and a secure abiding-place for Man; we can never anticipate the unseen good or evil that may come upon us suddenly out of space.” (“The War of the Worlds”. Book II).

Some of the writers and dramatists tried to show on stage the life of ordinary people in a realistic way that often contained social and political criticism. This type of play has a history at least as old as the century. One of those writers is John Galsworthy.

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