The War Of The Worlds Essay, Research Paper
The War of the Worlds–are observing through telescopes the spectacle of the collision of the comet and the moon and are preparing scientific papers on what they take to be the minor damage done to the earth. Wells’s narrator then neatly upends homocentrist pretensions: “Which only shows how small the vastest human catastrophes may seem, at a distance of a few million miles.”
Wells’s perspectives on the contingency of civilization are not always extraterrestrial.
To the end of his life, Wells himself regarded the scientific romances as inconsequential. So did the critical establishment until Bernard Bergonzi, in his 1961 study The Early H. G. Wells: A Study of the Scientific Romances, argued to great effect that these works deserved to be ranked among the classics of the English language.
[Verne is acknowledged as one of the world's first and most imaginative modern science fiction writers. His works reflect nineteenth-century concerns with contemporary scientific innovation and its potential for human benefit or destruction. In the following excerpt from an interview with Gordon Jones, he commends the imaginative creativity with which Wells constructs his scientific fantasies and stresses the difference between Wells's style and his own.]
. In The War of the Worlds, again, a work for which I confess I have a great admiration, one is left entirely in the dark as to what kind of creatures the Martians really are, or in what manner they produce the wonderful heat ray with which they work such terrible havoc on their assailants.
[In saying this ], I am casting no disparagement on Mr. Wells’ methods; on the contrary, I have the highest respect for his imaginative genius. I am merely contrasting our two styles and pointing out the fundamental difference which exists between them, and I wish you clearly to understand that I express no opinion on the superiority of either the one or the other….
[Woolf was an English novelist, essayist, and critic. Like her contemporary James Joyce, with whom she is often compared, she employed the stream-of-consciousness technique in many of her fictional works. Her critical essays, which cover almost the entire range of English literature, contain some of her finest prose and are praised for their insight. In the following excerpt from an essay originally published in the Times Literary Supplement in 1919, Woolf charges Wells with materialism.]
[Wells] had no illusions about himself as an author. He always insisted that he made no pretension to be an artist. That was, indeed, something he despised rather than admired, and when he spoke of Henry James, an old friend, who claimed, as I have hinted, perhaps a little too often that he was an artist and nothing else, it was good-humouredly to ridicule him. “I’m not an author,” H. G. would say, “I’m a publicist. My work is just high-class journalism.” On one occasion, after he had been staying with me, he sent me a complete edition of his works and next time he came he saw them displayed in an imposing row on my shelves. They were well printed on good paper and handsomely bound in red. He ran his finger along them and with a cheerful grin said: “They’re as dead as mutton, you know. They all dealt with matters of topical interest and now that the matters aren’t topical any more they’re unreadable.” There is a good deal of truth in what he said. He had a fluent pen and too often it ran away with him. I have never seen any of his manuscripts, but I surmise that he wrote with facility and corrected little. He had a way of repeating in one sentence, but in other words, exactly what he said in the previous one. I suppose it was because he was so full of the idea he wanted to express that he was not satisfied to say it only once. It made him unnecessarily verbose.
H. G.’s theory of the short story was a sensible one. It enabled him to write a number that were very good and several that were masterly. His theory of the novel was different. His early novels, which he had written to earn a living, did not accord with it and he spoke of them slightingly. His notion was that the function of the novelist was to deal with the pressing problems of the day and to persuade the reader to adopt the views for the betterment of the world which he, H. G., held. He was fond of likening the novel to a woven tapestry of varied interest, and he would not accept my objection that after all a tapestry has unity. The artist who designed it has given it form, balance, coherence and arrangement. It is not a jumble of unrelated items.
His later novels, are, if not, as he said, unreadable, at least difficult to read with delight. You begin to read them with interest, but as you go on you find your interest dwindle and it is only by an effort of will that you continue to read. I think Tono Bungay is generally considered his best novel. It is written with his usual liveliness, though perhaps the style is better suited to a treatise than to a novel, and the characters are well presented. He has deliberately avoided the suspense which most novelists attempt to create and he tells you more or less early on what is going to happen. His theory of the novelist’s function allows him to digress abundantly, which, if you are interested in the characters and their behaviour, can hardly fail to arouse in you some impatience….
I think that is why his novels are less satisfactory than one would have liked them to be. The people he puts before you are not individuals, but lively and talkative marionettes whose function it is to express the ideas he was out to attack or to defend. They do not develop according to their dispositions, but change for the purposes of the theme. It is as though a tadpole did not become a frog, but a squirrel–because you had a cage that you wanted to pop him into. H. G. seems often to have grown tired of his characters before he was halfway through and then, frankly discarding any attempt at characterisation, he becomes an out-and-out pamphleteer. One curious thing that you can hardly help noticing if you have read most of H. G.’s novels is that he deals with very much the same people in book after book. He appears to have been content to use with little variation the few persons who had played an intimate part in his own life. He was always a little impatient with his heroines. He regarded his heroes with greater indulgence. He had of course put more of himself in them; most of them in fact are merely himself in a different guise. Trafford in Marriage is indeed the portrait of the man H. G. thought he was, added to the man he would have liked to be….
The War of the Worlds by Orson Welles’s Mercury Theater on Halloween, 1938–in which the Martians land in New Jersey instead of suburban London–threw many listeners into a panic. The novel was updated again for the George Pal movie version in 1953, which had spectacular special effects for that time.
The War of the Worlds marks the end of the first, most satisfactory phase of Wells’s literary career. With his move, late in 1897, to a larger house in Worcester Park, Surrey, where he could exercise his remarkable talent for entertaining guests, Wells began trying to live up to what he saw as his responsibilities as a public figure. His fiction shows an increased concern to supply positive conclusions for the issues it raises.
enormously effective The War of the Worlds …. In plot and fictional technique it bears some resemblance to Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year: both novels are offered as eyewitness accounts of a great disaster which befalls mankind and particularly the inhabitants of London. In each case the disaster had a special topical interest at the time of publication: an outbreak of the plague in 1720 in Marseilles set Londoners to recalling the horror of 1665, while in the 1890’s popular interest in Mars as the abode of life was, because of Schiaparelli’s earlier discovery of the “canals,” so intense that it at times amounted to a mania. At the same time this interest combines with a fascination for stories of an invasion of England which began, as I. F. Clarke has shown in Voices Prophesying War, with Sir George Chesney’s “Battle of Dorking” (1872)….
Much more important for our purposes than the story of menace is the second category of Wellsian attack on human complacency, in which Huxleyan cosmic pessimism generates images and ideas central to the twentieth-century anti-utopian tradition. The major works in this “cosmic pessimism” category are The Time Machine, The Island of Dr. Moreau, When the Sleeper Wakes, “A Story of the Days To Come,” and The First Men in the Moon….
Patrick Parrinder, “Utopia and Meta-Utopia in H. G. Wells,” in Science-Fiction Studies, Vol. 12, No. 36, July, 1985, pp. 115-28.
[In the following excerpt, Parrinder discusses some elements central to Well's fictional portrayals of utopian or paradisiacal societies.]
In his Experiment in Autobiography Wells includes an apologetic discussion of his dealings with the novel, based on material first assembled together in a folder labelled “Whether I am a Novelist.” I should like to believe that somewhere among his papers one might be able to find a comparable folder labelled “Whether I am a Utopian.” For though in his lifetime the “Wellsian Utopia” was almost as famous as Freudian psychology or Platonic love, in retrospect Wells’s relationship to the utopian mode seems uneasy and paradoxical. He was a major propagandist for utopian ideas who never produced a major utopian book. A Modern Utopia (1905) is the nearest thing in his oeuvre to that book, but it has failed to achieve canonical status either within the utopian genre or within Wells’s own corpus; that is, it has been overshadowed by rival utopias such as News from Nowhere and Looking Backward on the one hand, and by The Time Machine, The War of the Worlds, Tono-Bungay, The History of Mr Polly, A Short History of the World, and Experiment in Autobiography on the other.
. The Martians in The War of the Worlds start fires by means of the Heat-Ray. Mr Polly sets his own house on fire.
Everything had suddenly become very still. Far away to the southeast, marking the quiet, we heard the Martians hooting to one another, and then the air quivered again with the distant thud of their guns. But the earthly artillery made no reply.
Now at the time we could not understand these things, but later I was to learn the meaning of these ominous kopjes that gathered in the twilight. Each of the Martians, standing in the great crescent I have described, had discharged … a huge canister over whatever hill, copse, cluster of houses, or other possible cover for guns, chanced to be in front of him. … These canisters smashed on striking the ground -they did not explode – and incontinently disengaged an enormous volume of heavy, inky vapour, coiling and pouring upward in a huge and ebony cumulus cloud, a gaseous hill that sank and spread itself slowly over the surrounding country. And the touch of that vapour, the inhaling of its pungent wisps, was death to all that breathes.
It was heavy, this vapour, heavier than the densest smoke, so that, after the first tumultuous uprush and outflow of its impact, it sank down through the air and poured over the ground in a manner rather liquid than gaseous, abandoning the hills, and streaming into the valleys and ditches and watercourses even as I have heard the carbonic-acid gas that pours from volcanic clefts is wont to do. And where it came upon water some chemical action occurred, and the surface would be instantly covered with a powdery scum that sank slowly and made way for more. The scum was absolutely insoluble, and it is a strange thing, seeing the instant effect of the gas, that one could drink without hurt the water from which it had been strained. The vapour did not diffuse as a true gas would do. It hung together in banks, flowing sluggishly down the slope of the land and driving reluctantly before the wind, and very slowly it combined with the mist and moisture of the air, and sank to the earth in the form of dust. Save that an unknown element giving a group of four lines in the blue of the spectrum is concerned, we are still entirely ignorant of the nature of this substance.
Once the tumultuous upheaval of its dispersion was over, the black smoke clung so closely to the ground, even before its precipitation, that fifty feet up in the air, on the roofs and upper stories of high houses and on great trees, there was a chance of escaping its poison altogether, as was proved even that night at Street Cobham and Ditton.
The man who escaped at the former place tells a wonderful story of the strangeness of its coiling flow, and how he looked down from the church spire and saw the houses of the village rising like ghosts out of its inky nothingness. For a day and a half he remained there, weary, starving and sun-scorched, the earth under the blue sky and against the prospect of the distant hills a velvet-black expanse, with red roofs, green trees, and, later, black-veiled shrubs and gates, barns, out- houses, and walls, rising here and there into the sunlight.
But that was at Street Cobham, where the black vapour was allowed to remain until it sank of its own accord into the ground. As a rule the Martians, when it had served its purpose, cleared the air of it again by wading into it and directing a jet of steam upon it.
SOURCE1: Brian Murray, “H. G. Wells,” in Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 70: British Mystery Writers, 1860-1919, edited by Bernard Benstock and Thomas F. Staley, Gale Research Inc., 1988, pp. 303-16.
SOURCE2: Robert Crossley, in his H. G. Wells, Starmont House, Inc. 1986, 79 p.
SOURCE3: Joseph Conrad, in a letter to H. G. Wells on December 4, 1898, in his Joseph Conrad: Life and Letters, Vol. I edited by G. Jean-Aubry, Doubleday, Page & Co., 1927, pp. 259-60.
SOURCE4: Jules Verne, “Jules Verne at Home, in an interview with Gordon Jones,” in Temple Bar, Vol. CXXIX, No. 523, June, 1904, pp. 664-71.
SOURCE5: Virginia Woolf, “Modern Fiction,” in her Collected Essays, Vol. II, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1967, pp. 103-10.
SOURCE6: Christopher Isherwood, “H. G. Wells,” in his Exhumations: Stories, Articles, Verses, Methuen & Co. Ltd., 1966, pp. 38-46.
SOURCE7: W. Somerset Maugham, “Some Novelists I Have Known,” in his The Vagrant Mood: Six Essays, Doubleday, 1953, pp. 202-50.
SOURCE8: Michael Draper, “H. G. Wells,” in Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 34: British Novelists, 1890-1929, edited by Thomas F. Staley, Gale Research Inc., 1985, pp. 292-315.
SOURCE9: DISCovering Authors, Gale Research Inc., 1996.
SOURCE10: Mark R. Hillegas, in his The Future as Nightmare: H. G. Wells and the Anti-Utopians, Oxford University Press, 1967, 200 p.