by Pericles Lewis
H.G. Wells’s first novel, The Time Machine (1895), serves almost as an inverted allegory for the way that the artists of his generation imagined the future, as either technological utopia or reversion to barbaraism. Wells’s novel contains both fates. Having traveled over 800,000 years into the future, an inventor discovers that “Man had not remained one species, but had differentiated into two distinct animals.” The graceful but effete Eloi rule the upper world by day, but underground lives an entirely different species, the Morlocks, ape-like creatures with large eyes, who operate complex machinery and emerge from their lairs only at night. The time traveler discovers, to his disgust, that the beautiful but dim-witted Eloi are nothing but “fatted cattle,” whom the Morlocks kidnap at night and then roast and eat in their underground chambers.
Like Wells’s other works of science fiction, The Time Machine speaks to the implications of the theories of evolution and degeneration for social development. Two imagined futures for the human race both come to pass: the rich evolve into delicate, beautiful creatures incapable of exertion, the extreme form of J.K. Huysmans’s Des Esseintes in Against Nature (1884), while the poor degenerate into savage but sharp-witted beasts. The masters, however, turn out to lose all practical knowledge, and thus are consumed by their own servants. It is a fate that neither a primitivist nor a futurist could celebrate.
- ↑ This page has been adapted from Pericles Lewis’s Cambridge Introduction to Modernism (Cambridge UP, 2007), p. 67.