Do H.G. Wells's books stand the test of time?

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I have found quite lot of his earlier short stories have racialist references. Passably not out of step with the thinking of the time , but it doesn't look good to the modern eye .
Such as? If you feel uncomfortable or that it is inappropriate to paste a quote in response, please post the title and page number.

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Dave

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We don't want to delve into social politics here because it isn't allowed. I think it would be fair to say the same of many books from that era, so not really a surprise there. There are Enid Blyton children's books that they have stopped publishing any longer. People were educated to think in ways and with ideas that we no longer subscribe to.
 

Finch

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Such as? If you feel uncomfortable or that it is inappropriate to paste a quote in response, please post the title and page number.

Thanks!

K2
I would say ,as historical writing there is not anything dreadful. In A Deal in Ostriches , He describes one character as , The little jew was like most Jews. It would seem to me most of the baddies in his stories are foreigners. In Through the window he describes the baddies in that story as Nigers and later the same characters are Malay. I's not the language used , it would of been acceptable at the time . As was the attitude to foreigners. The question is it acceptable now ?
 
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Dave

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It isn't acceptable now and highly offensive. While you did cross-post with my post, the conversation needs to move on.

However, when looking at such language from a historical perspective it would be wrong to airbrush it out. It occurred. It is how people were. It doesn't make them bad people, they just did bad things.
 

BigBadBob141

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Pretty much so, "The Time Machine", "The War Of The Worlds" & "The Invisible Man" all stand up fairly well, as do some of his short stories such as "The Flowering Of The Strange Orchid" worthy of Stephen King and the haunting "The Door In The Wall", and "The Country Of The Blind", where being sighted is a disability, all good stuff and well worth a read!!!
 

Danny McG

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Star Wars is just a fantasy in set in space
No No No!
When I can stroll into a book shop and see Timothy Zahn's Thrawn books sandwiched between LOTR and GRR Martin's books then I'll concede this point, but not until!
 

KGeo777

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I don't know how well his literary style holds up-not a poetic writer from what I remember-I think Frankenstein has more compelling characters and quotations than what I remember from his work, but the plots and imagination are certainly enduring. Various explorations of Darwinian philosophy---the Time Machine, War of the Worlds, Island of Dr Moreau. Pretty impressive variety.
Having the martians destroyed by germs is profoundly clever as it takes the evolution parable from a planetary scale to a microscopic one.
I recall Brian Aldiss getting all excited in an interview about what a brilliant ending it was.
 

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Having the martians destroyed by germs is profoundly clever as it takes the evolution parable from a planetary scale to a microscopic one. I recall Brian Aldiss getting all excited in an interview about what a brilliant ending it was.
Not to mention the "Red Weed" - a very original Invasive Non-Native Species aspect to the story.
 

Randy M.

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No No No!
When I can stroll into a book shop and see Timothy Zahn's Thrawn books sandwiched between LOTR and GRR Martin's books then I'll concede this point, but not until!
When you see that, it'll mean a staff member doesn't understand alphabetical order.

Randy M.
 

hitmouse

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Interesting review of a new book about Wells in this week's Economist.

War of the words H.G. Wells and the underbelly of modernity
He was an unappealing man but a prophetic writer

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Inventing Tomorrow: H.G. Wells and the Twentieth Century. By Sarah Cole. Columbia University Press; 392 pages; $35 and £27.

IN AN EPISODE of “Downton Abbey”, Maggie Smith’s character, Violet Crawley, expresses horror at the brisk march of innovation. “First electricity,” she complains, “now telephones; sometimes I feel as if I were living in an H.G. Wells novel.” It is an apt line, for Wells (1866-1946) believed that modernity presented a “bristling multitude” of problems—and that fiction was the best medium through which to examine them. Combining a gift for shrewd social commentary with far-reaching prophecy, he foresaw inventions such as television and air-conditioning, as well as coining the terms “war of the worlds”, “atomic bomb” and “time machine”.

Yet despite his blazing intuitions and his sense of the darker repercussions of technological progress, Wells is now an unfashionable figure. Virginia Woolf lumped him together with Arnold Bennett and John Galsworthy as drab “materialists”— writers prosaically interested in the fabric of the world, rather than the inner life. That judgment caught on. Today only a few of Wells’s books are much read, and they are studied more often than enjoyed. His style, shaped by a mission to educate, can seem pedantic. Readers balk at his passion for eugenics, attitude to what he called “the inferior races” and tendency to trivialise women. A glut of biographical material has suggested that he was a petulant egomaniac who treated personal relationships like experiments.

In “Inventing Tomorrow”, Sarah Cole of Columbia University sets out to reclaim Wells as a visionary and a radical. Without denying his flaws, she characterises him as a “global thinker”, and her dense, ultimately rewarding book shows the grand sweep of his interests and erudition. Ms Cole does not dwell on the details of his biography—the suburban childhood in a bug-infested house in Kent, or his being judged, at 13, too unrefined to be an apprentice to a draper. Instead she concentrates on his ideas: on the importance of scientific education, the hazards of genetic engineering, the violent wastefulness of Western culture, nuclear proliferation, and the need to eradicate national identity and launch a socialist world-state, in which everyone would speak a single language.

Wells was sure that imaginative literature had a crucial role to play in public conversations about these subjects. Yet for a book that seeks to present him as a writer deserving a mass audience, “Inventing Tomorrow” is sometimes hard going. Ms Cole’s own phrasing can be opaque. She applauds Wells’s novel “Ann Veronica” for the “jouissance it purveys” and “The Island of Doctor Moreau” for the “hybridity it literalises”, and refers to his work being “washed by waves of violence and decimation”.

Still, she succeeds in calling attention to the expansiveness of Wells’s thinking. And she investigates neglected areas of his writing, among them the pacifist pamphlets he produced during the first world war; she is especially enthusiastic about lesser-known novels such as “Mr Britling Sees It Through” (1916), which pictures the impact of conflict on non-combatants, and the heftily philosophical “The World of William Clissold” (1926). Some of Wells’s ideas and personal traits were certainly rebarbative, but he emerges from this wide-ranging account as a passionate and persistent advocate of social change, and of literature’s capacity to shape it—driven as he was by the belief that modern life is a “race between education and catastrophe”.
 

olive

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A detail from The Time Machine confused me as a child and stayed with me until it made sense as an adult. I always remember this when I hear Wells' or the book's name. I don't have the book and it was an old translation so I can't check it. He says something like 'We can find out how much is added to Ancient Greek by our German friends'. Even just that sentence alone sounds so much/rich for a book published at the end of the 19th century. Especially, for that time then maybe.
 

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A detail from The Time Machine confused me as a child and stayed with me until it made sense as an adult. I always remember this when I hear Wells' or the book's name. I don't have the book and it was an old translation so I can't check it. He says something like 'We can find out how much is added to Ancient Greek by our German friends'. Even just that sentence alone sounds so much/rich for a book published at the end of the 19th century. Especially, for that time then maybe.
I have a copy of the book, (thankfully it is quite short for such a search) plus I guessed it must be near the start. This is the 2017 edition.

So at the start the Time Traveller is telling a room of acquaintances about his theories of time and tells them that he has experimental verification that he can travel backwards and forwards. The psychologist suggest they could go back and verify the Battle of Hastings...then:

" 'One might get one's Greek from the very lips of Homer and Plato,' the Very Young Man thought.
'In which case they would certainly plough you for the Little-go. The German scholars have improved Greek so much.' "


Not sure who actually states that second line, it might be the narrator, might be one of the others.

The plough/Little-go sentence requires some explanation. 'Little-go' is an exam taken by 2nd year students in Cambridge at the time (1895), which I assume would be a sort of practice for the 'big-go', which is your degree exams at the end of the third year. (English have/had a three year degree in Uni, whilst us Scots have a nicer four year period). I also assume that Greek or Latin may have been compulsory for this exam as well.

I'd 'translate' the second pair of lines as: 'In which case the ancient Greeks would 'show you up/bury you' on your knowledge of Greek (that you needed for the little-go exam), because current German scholars have 'improved' Greek so much.' i.e. it's a joke: present day scholars have likely changed dramatically what ancient Greek really was spoken as etc.

EDIT: It's a confusing sentence - I've already changed my first 'translation' above :LOL:

I assume, because of Schliemann's discoveries of Troy and Mycenae only being a few decades previous to the publication of the novel, Germans were at the forefront of ancient Greek studies.
 
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olive

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Thank you! :) yes, that's close to what I had in my mind as its meaning, I didn't know the other terms of course, just what was implied. But now, it seems to me it is not the time traveler who says that, no?

Oooh before Shcliemann, it could be anyone from Kant to Schiller to Hegel...Herder...Wölfflin. Maybe, Winckelmann? Even Burckhardt? LOL Winckelmann fits the bill best. So many names to count, I don't want to look up,lol. German idealism, German philosophical aesthetics... :eek: LOL I wonder how many of those texts were available in English then.
 

Venusian Broon

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Thank you! :) yes, that's close to I had in my mind as its meaning, I didn't know the other terms of course, just what was implied. But now, it seems to me it is not the time traveler who says that, no?
It's a confusing bit of text really, there are a number of people in the room and because he doesn't attribute the reply to anyone...it could be any of them. I don't think it's the time traveller though, as he's focused on his invention and not joking about :) !

Certainly could be better written I think, but then again it was HG Well's first novel, so mistakes are allowable I suppose...

Oooh before Shcliemann, it could be anyone from Kant to Schiller to Hegel...Herder...Wölfflin. Maybe, Winckelmann? Even Burckhardt? LOL Winckelmann fits the bill best. So many names to count, I don't want to look up,lol. German idealism, German philosophical aesthetics... :eek: LOL I wonder how many of those texts were available in English then.
Yeah, my understanding of 19th Century classical studies is meagre ;).

I know that Schliemann got into the, then brand new, science of archeology in the 1870s and gave it a huge kick start by actually finding Troy. (And unfortunately probably digging too deep and destroying part of the city he was actually looking for, but then again, this was his first time at digging, so mistakes are allowable I suppose...:)), but there must have been a large scholarly community focused on the classics in universities before and during that.

I've just found that from another source that: "Before 1919, all entering students at Cambridge were required to pass exams in Greek, Latin, mathematics and Paley's Evidences of Christianity. The Greek requirement was first challenged (to be removed) in 1870." Unfortunately I have no idea what Greek or Latin textbooks they followed at the time.
 

olive

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Offf, yeah I know. But no, he is not allowable. He is not really accepted as an archeologist either. He's a treasure hunter. His story is still the greatest motivation for people who search and destroy world history. Also, for her wife, wearing ancient jewelry in public is a strict no-no. LOL

It would be a text source(s) that would lead someone to make that kind of conclusion or more likely the very idea itself; a discussion, a debate recorded or translated in English or maybe talked about in Wells' milieu. Probably, it was some sort of an ongoing topic. Hmm. I don't think doxography existed before that. I don't know.
 
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Venusian Broon

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Offf, yeah I know. But no, he is not allowable. He is not really accepted as an archeologist either. He's a treasure hunter. His story is still the greatest motivation for people who search and destroy world history. Also, for her wife, wearing ancient jewelry in public is a strict no-no. LOL
This is getting a bit OT, but by complete coincidence on my one of Youtube feeds - the British Museum - this came up tonight!

 

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Moreau holds up extremely well in my opinion, and the comments it makes - give or take a couple of bits of slightly unfortunate wording - are still very strong. If anything, it predicted the kind of scientific arrogance and crude racial theory that was to come. Here are more detailed thoughts:

Wells was a self-confessed racist, and knowing that fact probably influenced my opinion of "The Island Of Doctor Moreau". I do think it's a very good book, probably the strangest I've ever read. Wells seems to be drawing a parallel with Moreau as the paternalistic coloniser intent on bringing civilisation to those he sees as subhuman, but improveable, and Moreau's victims as the colonised who are unable to live up to those civilised standards and must always revert to their bestial nature. Moreau is shown as the greater villain by his unwillingness to accept the true nature of his victims. As someone has posted further down, Wells was a complex person with complex thoughts and the novel resists any simplistic reading as racist/colonial or anti-racist/anti-colonial, but it's hard not to conclude that he was not opposed to colonialism as such, but believed that the coloniser should adopt the attitude that his role was to dominate the subject races rather than to bring them into the machinery of government.
I hope to read other opinions!
 

Venusian Broon

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Wells was a self-confessed racist, and knowing that fact probably influenced my opinion of "The Island Of Doctor Moreau". I do think it's a very good book, probably the strangest I've ever read. Wells seems to be drawing a parallel with Moreau as the paternalistic coloniser intent on bringing civilisation to those he sees as subhuman, but improveable, and Moreau's victims as the colonised who are unable to live up to those civilised standards and must always revert to their bestial nature. Moreau is shown as the greater villain by his unwillingness to accept the true nature of his victims. As someone has posted further down, Wells was a complex person with complex thoughts and the novel resists any simplistic reading as racist/colonial or anti-racist/anti-colonial, but it's hard not to conclude that he was not opposed to colonialism as such, but believed that the coloniser should adopt the attitude that his role was to dominate the subject races rather than to bring them into the machinery of government.
I hope to read other opinions!
I didn't know that he was a 'self-confessed racist', so had to look it up. There is that damning passage that he wrote in 1904, but then he wrote a lot of anti-racist passages later so it's actually quite murky as to what his actual views were. Certainly at that early date he was thinking a lot about eugenics and this might have been the cause of the original writing.

Does a self-confessed racist write: "I hate and despise a shrewish suspicion of foreigners and foreign ways; a man who can look me in the face, laugh with me, speak truth and deal fairly, is my brother, though his skin is as black as ink or as yellow as an evening primrose"?

I don't know the real answer, perhaps there is someone with more info on the matter, it seems less clear cut than at first glance.

As for being a fan of colonism, I can't find any statement made by him but from my limited knowledge but I don't think he was agreeable to colonism. His book The War of the Worlds was partially inspired by an account of colonial expansion in Tasmania where the European colonist wiped out the aboriginal people. I'm pretty sure he did not say this was a good thing! As for your account of Doctor Moreau, I must admit that I haven't read it, but would a reading of eugenics and vivisection make more sense rather than colonism (and both in a negative way)?

He was an advocate of a One World Governement, republicanism, stood as a Labour candidate in 1922...so really it feels to me he was a 'lefty progressive' rather than a racist colonial like Churchill.
 

olive

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I don't know the passage in question -no time at the moment- but the 'understanding' of racism in Wells' time, its expression in daily life, and text would be very different than how we understand it today in the 21st century, don't you think? Of course, we could go and say 'Racism is racism at every point in history, no excuse, nothing's out!' but that would be stating an ideal, nothing more.

Xenophobia is not a 21st century invention, it actually existed in Wells' time. But can you imagine traveling back in time and trying to explain the hyper-modern understanding of xenophobia to Wells?
 
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