Wells and Darwin

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Herbert George Wells was born in Bromley, Kent, a suburb of London, to a lower-middle-class family. He attended London University and the Royal College of Science where he studied zoology. One of his professors instilled in him a belief in social as well as biological evolution which Wells later cited as the important and influential aspect of his education.

This is how it all began. Maybe without this professor Wells wouldn’t be the famous author he is today. Most of Wells novels are science fiction and have a great deal of some kind of human society theme, or Darwinism in mind. It is a theme that is seen in his most famous science fiction writings.

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H.G. Wells seems to convey a sense of Darwinism and change in the future of society in his major works. Wells has been called the father and Shakespeare of science fiction.

He is best known today for his great work in science fiction novels and short stories. He depicted stories of chemical warfare, world wars, alien visitors and even atomic weapons in a time that most authors, or even people for that matter, were not thinking of the like. His stories opened a door for future science fiction writers who followed the trend that Wells wrote about. His most popular science fiction works include The Time Machine, The Invisible Man, The War of the Worlds, and The Island of Doctor Moreau.

His first novel, The Time Machine, was an immediate success. By the time the First World War had begun his style of writing and novels had made him one of the most controversial and best-selling authors in his time. In the story The Time Machine, Wells expresses his creativity with images of beauty, ugliness and great details. In this novel Wells explores what it would be like to travel in this magnificent and beautiful machine.

“The criterion of the prophecy in this case is influenced by the theory of “natural selection.” (Beresford, 424) He uses Darwin’s theory in the novel and relates it to the men living in the novel. The men are no longer struggling to survive, they have all adapted and there is no termination of the weak. It had practically ceased.

His fascination with society in biological terms is also mentioned, “Shows Wells horizon of sociobiological regression leading to cosmic extinction, simplified from Darwinism.” (Beresford, 424) He took the idea from Darwin but instead of making it “survival of the fittest”, the weak have already died off and only the fittest are left, which leads to the extinction. His fascination with Darwinism was one that had not been thought by many in that time, because there were questions of ethics and religion. “From The Time Machine on, it was generally recognized that no writer had so completely or so perceptively taken Darwin to heart.

” (McConnell, 442) He wasn’t the first man to realize and acknowledge the importance of Darwin’s theory for the future of civilization, but he is said to be the first to assimilate that theory into his stories. Concerning society with the future, The Time Machine is said to be seen as “a prophecy of the effects of rampant industrialization on that class conflict that was already, in the nineteenth, century a social powder keg.” (McConnell, 438) Wells always touched upon the subject of society, the destruction of it, and how it would become in the future due to this destruction and chaos. His view on society was that the classes would clash and ultimately “they might become two races, mutually uncomprehending and murderously divided,” (Suvin, 435) His predictions of future societies were all much alike, war-torn class problems, much like what is seen now a days.

The narrator of The Time Machine says of the Time Traveler that he “saw in the growing pile of civilization only a foolish heaping that must inevitably fall back upon and destroy its makers in the end.” (McConnell, 439) This is another reference to society’s survival of the fittest, as he depicts civilization tearing at each other, and in the end, doing away with their creator. Not all of his predictions and social clashes were horrid and horrendous with violence. In some of his foretelling of what society would do, he recommended things that could be done to avoid such things and maybe in the end reach some kind of peace or togetherness.

“That the human race, thanks to its inherited prejudices and superstitions and its innate pigheadedness, is an endangered species; and that mankind must learn-soon-to establish a state of worldwide cooperation by burying its old hatreds and its ancient selfishness, or face extinction.” (McConnell, 439) I’m not saying Wells was some kind of great prophet or a Nostradamus of his time, but it is something that sounds like a prediction for what is to come and what must be done to avoid and/or overcome the differences. Wells predictions were not only for the social classes, but also in the field of warfare weaponry and new innovations not yet seen or heard of in his time. He went as far as to describe the weapons used, and the inventions never imagined by man.

Among his predictions were the use of armored tanks in war. He even used the phrase “atomic bomb” before anyone was using it, and described in close detail the power of the chain reaction explosions. The Island of Doctor Moreau may well be the most famous novel written by H.G.

Wells. It is also said to be his most “systematic study of the evolutionary dilemma,” (Bergonzi, 543 ) as he complicates, once again, the evolutionary system. Most of the critics said the same thing about the novel, if not similarities. “The meaning of the novel is found in Darwinism” (Bergonzi, p. 543)

The island has a scientist by the name of Doctor Moreau and he changes the animals into new and almost human like forms. It is like playing with nature and evolving a whole new species out of what is already there on the island. Just like Charles Darwin came up with his theory of the unchanged and evolved animals on the Galapagos, H.G.

Wells came up with this island and the scientist there is evolving them on his own. It is also said that the “version of the island myth conveys a powerful and imaginative response to the implications of Evolution.” (Huntington, 445) which sounds like what I explained, that this is Wells way of interpreting his own evolution in his science fiction world. He causes a sort of imbalance among the humans and semi-humans his mad doctor has created on his island.

The imbalance causes a sense of threat of one of the specie’s domination in the story, and causes a puzzling thought of evolution and ethics for the readers. “Moreau’s genius is thwarted by society and so he preys on society,” (Huntington, 446) The mad Doctor Moreau is opposed and against the society that has evolved around him and that he has been exposed to, so he seeks out to destroy it, by creating his own evolved species. Doctor Moreau wants to play the creator and eliminator, and bring it together in his own survival of the fittest game. It reminds me of a story I read my freshman year in high school, about a man who lives on a deserted island, and the people who are stranded there, he hunts them for fun.

The common factor is they’re both trying to make their own little world with different classes of species. Called one of “Well’s finest piece of sustained imaginative writing” (Beresford, 425 ), The War of the Worlds, is often considered to be the story that most science fiction authors that came after Wells follow, or get their ideas from. Wells presents to us an image of human society as the victim to aliens that are encountered by humans. The theme of the story has been said to be “Physical destruction of society or dissolution of the social order.

” (Bergonzi, p.544) Wells continues on with his Darwinian approach in this story, as it did with The Island of Doctor Moreau, with it’s details of violence and mutilation, as if society is evolving into some kind of violent species out to destroy itself. With this destruction of society leads the loss of order in all parts, especially social disorder and chaos. In the story The War of the Worlds, Wells describes in details how a Martian will eat up a human being, and we read on in disgust.

He then later cautions, “I think that we should remember how repulsive our carnivorous habits would seem to an intelligent rabbit.” (Huntington, 443) He’s telling us to think about ethically the meaning to even the most simplest evolutionary situation. He toys with how evolution has made humans the cream of the crop, and the top of the food chain. On the other hand, The War of the Worlds places humans in the middle position, not a at the top.

He makes the humans the predators of the lower forms, and the superior Martians are made out to be at the top in Wells’ evolutionary plans of his story. It is the scary sense that is there to make us think about and wonder what it would be like to be dominated by another species, the way we dominate others. Wells seems to like to tickle the mind with ethics.

Even though I have not read a book by H. G. Wells, from what I have read from the critics, I have come to the conclusion that Wells seems to keep a central theme of Darwinism, and societies future. The little excerpts I have been given to read, and the critics choice parts of his stories give the examples of this theme. Wells lived in a time when most of those things were unimaginable, for no one had heard of most of the things he described, let alone talked about such things, at least not to the public.

It was a manner of writing which was not seen in his time, and raised questions of ethics and caused Wells to be a controversial author. His style lead the way for what is science fiction today. Darwin. Darwin.


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