The Time Machine

By H G Wells


Herbert George Wells was born in Bromley, Kent in 1866 to an unsuccessful small tradesman, who was also a professional cricketer. After working as a draper's apprentice and pupil-teacher at Midhurst Grammar School, he won a scholarship to the Normal School of Science, South Kensington, in 1884. He studied under 'Darwin's Bulldog', T.H. Huxley, a man who was to have a lasting influence on Wells' life and work. Wells was awarded a first-class honours degree in biology and resumed teaching, but had to retire after a kick from a pupil during a football game afflicted his kidneys. He worked in poverty in London, dabbling in journalism and short stories. He published textbooks on biology and physiography (physical geography), and in 1891 married his cousin Isabel. However, the union proved unhappy, and he eloped with his student Amy Catherine ('Jane') Robbins, who he married in 1895 (though this did not prevent him from embarking on further affairs; and he continued to criticise conventional marriage throughout his life.)

The year of his second marriage was also the year his literary career was launched with the publication of The Time Machine, a mixture of science-fiction (or 'scientific romance' as it was known at the time) and social allegory, set in the year 802,701 and examining the future of mankind and life on earth. It was Wells' blend of science and social commentary that set him apart from other pioneers of the scientific romance such as Jules Verne, and the science fiction novels that followed were all to mix scientific speculation with the author's social concerns. Furthermore, Wells did the most as a single author to provide the mould for the twentieth century science- fiction that was to follow, being among the very first to tackle such genre stalwarts as time travel, biological manipulation (The Island of Doctor Moreau, 1896), invisibility (The Invisible Man, 1897), alien invasion (The War of the Worlds, 1898), space travel (The First Men in the Moon, 1901), and the scientific utopia (A Modern Utopia, 1905). Other notable science fiction titles include When the Sleeper Wakes (1899), Men Like Gods (1923), and The Shape of Things to Come (1933).

Another strand of Wells' fiction dealt with the lower-middle-class world of his youth. Love and Mr Lewisham (1900) tells the story of a struggling teacher; Kipps (1905) deals with an aspiring draper's assistant; and The History of Mr Polly (1910) recounts the adventures of an inefficient shopkeeper who makes a bid for freedom after burning down his own shop.

In 1903, Wells was invited to join the Fabian Society (dedicated to the gradual introduction of socialism), a membership that was to prove turbulent and troublesome to his sponsors George Bernard Shaw and Sidney and Beatrice Webb. However, much of Wells' other work is a testament to his social concerns and visions - such as Tono-Bungay (1909) which was, in his words, 'a social panorama in the vein of Balzac'; and he held concern for the emancipation of women and sexual liberation: Ann Veronica (1909) is a feminist tract about a girl who defies her father and conventional morality by eloping with the man she loves; and The New Machiavelli (1911) tells of a politician involved in a sexual scandal.

His creative powers were seen to decline in later life, but he continued to produce novels such as Mr Britling Sees It Through (1916), and The World of William Clissold (1926) as well as works of non- fiction such as The Outline of History (1920), Experiments in Autobiography (1934), and the darkly pessimistic work of prediction Mind at the End of Its Tether (1945). One of Wells' final statements, which he made after the bombing of Hiroshima, was an appeal to mankind to confront its 'grave and tragic' destiny with dignity and without hysteria. He died on 13th August 1946.