Both Wertenbaker’s “The Man from the Atom” and Wells’s The Time Machine solidify their relationship to the science fiction genre by testing the theoretical limits of established scientific ideas. In Wells, the reader is guided through a thorough speculation on the logistics of time travel when the Time Traveller posits the idea of moving through the fourth dimension–a proposition that merely requires the expansion of already existing scientific facts (Wells 4). The result is an oscillation between established reality and plausible alternatives to reality, rather than an escape through fantasy. Similarly, Wertenbaker pays close attention to already established astrological knowledge in order to speculate on the unknown structures of the universe, allowing him to posit theories of the nebulae and multiple universes (“The Man from the Atom” 66). Moreover, both of these features require characters who not only posit theories but also test them out and refute them. This occurs multiple times for the Time Traveller, such as when he works through the “altogether new element in the sickening quality of the Morlocks–a something inhuman and malign” (Wells 48). However, while both stories allow for the ability to call these theories into question, it is in this ability to refute them that distinguishes the two different situations of address. When the Time Traveller finds himself reevaluating his earlier theories, it is in the context of someone who is superior to the times upon which he is speculating. Even though the environment is alien to him, he is already equipped with the languages and frameworks of the past with which to evaluate the future, such as “aristocracy,” and the more menacing the Morlocks appear the less “human” they become. Additionally, the framing structure requires that our conveyor of these ideas will return unscathed in order to tell the tale, reasserting the privilege of the Time Traveller’s present. The narrator in “The Man from the Atom” earns no such privilege; his only ability to test Professor Martyn’s theories (as well as his own) happens through his physical displacement and his becoming lost in space and time. By testing out these scientific theories, the Man from the Atom must become vulnerable and completely helpless–with no source of empathy or assertions of humanity or civilization to cling to.
The Punch cartoon and poem about Wells’s vision of the future of humanity which we discussed yesterday can be seen in their context in this HathiTrust scan.
The magazine article A.D. 12, 203: A Glimpse of the Future features many interruptions of thought not only from the Time Traveler himself, or “I” in this case, but from the surrounding audience. Wherein H. G. Wells’ novel the Time Travel appears to have final say in all ideas and theories, this article provides points of reflection for both the reader and the other characters. For instance, the Time Traveler takes a moment to ponder and states “What might appear when that hazy curtain was altogether withdrawn? What might not have happened to men” (500)? These series of questions give the reader a moment to input their theory, in contrast to the novel which has the Time Traveler creating his own theories after just being in the future for a short time. Also, later on in the article the medical man is allowed to chime in with “That…entirely discredits your story” (500). By allowing another character to contradict the Time Traveler, Wells provides conflict for the reader to be able to decide for themselves what they believe to be true instead of completely accepting all that is told by the Time Traveler. This sense of doubt appears to be more present in the article version of The National Observer than the actual book version.
“A.D. 12,203.” The national observer, 1890-1897, vol. 11, no. 280, 1894., pp. 499-500.
The National Observer’s edition of H.G Well’s “The Time Machine” has the same feeling of society’s insignificance that is evoked in the later, more fleshed-out versions in The New Review and Wells’s full novel. Yet, the Observer’s article format dampened the effect. The Observer was definitely a commercial framework given the advertisements and fractured presentation of the story across multiple issues. Using tons of little narrative details in the Observer was too impractical over so many months. Lots of continuity and depth can be lost from any story if it gets sandwiched between unrelated pieces about topics like “The Nitrate Industry”, or more sensational headlines about 19th-century events. The reader’s mind could’ve wandered away from the implications of a far-future without humanity between issues. Once Wells organized and presented the story in larger chunks, many more successful narrative and dramatic details were possible for the New Review edition, as Wells now had the opportunity to tell a story more coherent to a casual reader. The story was still divided at this stage in the print cycle, but it was clearly solidifying into a full-text in the New Review. By the novel, Wells fully fleshed out his thoughts. For example, as previously mentioned by PL, I think the date changes from 12,203 in “The Time-Traveller Returns” to 802,701 A.D. in editions after The National Observer were for dramatic effect, and the plot within both dates conveyed how much humanity’s importance shrank over time. ‘We have always been accustomed to consider the future as in some peculiar way ours,’ said the red-haired man. ‘Your story seems to rob us of our birthright.’ (National Observer, 145.) This theme of civilization’s ultimate insignificance in the face of time is common across all three versions, but it’s clear now that the concepts and events in the plot are best when they stand on their own, without disruption by other articles or features. The novel also has the line, “Had I been a literary man I might, perhaps, have moralized upon the futility of all ambition.” (The Time Machine, p. 56, Dover Thrift Edition) This was a small, fun line to me because this type of narrative aside works best in the literary novel of The Time Machine, and not the shorter articles of National Observer version. The subject matter is vast and potentially dread-inspiring, but inducing these feelings in the reader is much easier through a novel than a serialized print, and Wells took full advantage of that by the time he got to the book.
In both the novel and the installment in The National Observer titled “A.D. 12,203: A Glimpse of the Future”, the Time Traveller specifically points out the existence of rhododendron bushes when he travels to the future. Wells decided not to change the scene in which the Time Traveller first arrives in the future, leaving the immediate observance of the rhododendron bushes in both prints. The Time Traveller’s immediate (and, within the novel, consistent) observance of the rhododendron bushes come off as a little odd, considering they seem to be the only plants that hadn’t evolved or gone extinct in the thousands of years that had not only entirely changed the landscape, but had rendered humans extinct or evolved beyond recognition; in observing the flowers that Weena had given the Time Traveller, merely likened to “white mallows” (The Time Machine 50), the Medical Man says, “The gynoecium’s odd…I certainly don’t know the natural order of these flowers” (73). As such, there comes a question of why the rhododendron bushes had not changed, given that the Time Traveller is unable to identify much else. On the one hand, Wells may be trying his hand at some inkling of familiarity in order to not ward off readers entirely—while not everyone will know what a rhododendron bush is off the top of their heads, the fact that the Time Traveller clearly identifies it may bring some comfort as this strange future is described. On the other hand, Wells’ use of making the Time Traveller’s observance known (that is, not editing out the observance of the flowers between publications) hints at the possibility of some significance outside of merely bringing some familiarity in the new world—that is, the symbolism and meaning behind the rhododendron itself. The rhododendron flower symbolizes caution and danger due to its all-around toxicity (there are multiple flower language guides, but this blog post specifically discusses rhododendrons); considering the popular use of communicating with flowers during the Victorian era, the Time Traveller’s specific observance of the flower may not be a coincidence, and may have only offered further textual insight to those who were familiar with the language of flowers. Interestingly enough, this observation isn’t cause for interruption by the Medical Man in “A.D. 12,203”, but he instead interrupts to discuss how the Time Traveller’s description of the Eloi’s appearance (as being a “beautiful kind of consumptive”) could not possibly be correct, and it is there that the Medical Man discredits the story (500). While the Medical Man’s interruption was not present in the final print of The Time Machine, it still causes the reader some question as to which aspects of science in the Time Traveller’s adventure should be cause for skepticism: the aspects that are questioned, or those which quietly go undiscussed. As is the nature of the novel, this question is furthered due to the lack of interruption by the Medical Man or any other characters–those who do question anything at all at the end of the Time Traveller’s story have been so overloaded with information that any specific questions have been long forgotten.
In his preface to a 1931 reissue of The Time Machine, Wells writes that the idea of the book seemed to him, when he wrote it, “his ‘one idea.'” He goes on: “It is the idea that Time is a fourth dimension and that the normal present is a three-dimensional section of a four-dimensional universe. The only difference between the time dimension and the others, from this point of view, lay in the movement of consciousness along it, whereby the progress of the present was constituted” (H.G. Wells, preface to The Time Machine: An Invention [New York: Modern Library, 2002], xix–xx). This seems to emphasize the “technical” dimension of a time-travel story even though the four-dimensional premise doesn’t seem that important to the narrative. (In fact Wells admits this later in the preface, claiming he “was not sufficiently educated in that field” [xx].) But perhaps it isn’t only misdirection or an attempt to garner some of the prestige of advanced physics. It seems to me that the novel does use the idea that time is not different from space, because this is important to its way of thinking of history as something that can be laid out and contemplated from a bird’s-eye view. This implies that its course is fixed…and also a little contemptible from the vantage of enlightened mind. (Incidentally, it’s not really true that time is no different from space in relativity.)