The Works of H. G. Wells (Atlantic Edition)/Volume 2/Preface to Volume 2

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PREFACE TO VOLUME II

"The Island of Doctor Moreau" was written in 1895, and it was begun while "The Wonderful Visit" was still in hand. It is a theological grotesque, and the influence of Swift is very apparent in it. There was a scandalous trial about that time, the graceless and pitiful downfall of a man of genius, and this story was the response of an imaginative mind to the reminder that humanity is but animal rough-hewn to a reasonable shape and in perpetual internal conflict between instinct and injunction. This story embodies this ideal, but apart from this embodiment it has no allegorical quality. It is written just to give the utmost possible vividness to that conception of men as hewn and confused and tormented beasts. When the reader comes to read the writings upon history in this collection, he will find the same idea of man as a re-shaped animal no longer in flaming caricature, but as a weighed and settled conviction.

"When the Sleeper Wakes," whose title I have altered to "The Sleeper Awakes," was first published as a book in 1899 after a serial appearance in the Graphic and one or two American and colonial periodicals. It was one of the most ambitious and least satisfactory of my earlier books, and in 1911 I took the opportunity afforded by its reprinting to make a number of excisions and alterations. Like most of my earlier work, it was written under considerable pressure; there are marks of haste not only in the writing of the latter part, but in the very construction of the story. Except for certain streaks of a slovenliness which seems to be an almost unavoidable defect in me, there is little to be ashamed of in the writing of the opening portion; but it will be fairly manifest to the critic that instead of being put aside and thought over through a leisurely interlude, the ill-conceived latter part was pushed to its end. I was at that time overworked, and badly in need of a holiday. In addition to various necessary journalistic tasks, I had in hand another book, "Love and Mr. Lewisham," which had taken a very much stronger hold upon my affections than this present story. My circumstances demanded that one or other should be finished before I took any rest, and so I wound up the Sleeper sufficiently to make it a marketable work, hoping to be able to revise it before the book printers at any rate got hold of it. But fortune was against me. I came back to England from Italy only to fall dangerously ill, and I still remember the impotent rage and strain of my attempt to put some sort of finish to my story of Mr. Lewisham, with my temperature at a hundred and two. I couldn't endure the thought of leaving that book a fragment. I did afterwards contrive to save it from the consequences of that febrile spurt—"Love and Mr. Lewisham" is indeed one of my most carefully balanced books—but the Sleeper escaped me.

It is more than a score of years now since the Sleeper was written, and that young man of thirty-one is already too remote for me to attempt any very drastic reconstruction of his work. I have played now merely the part of an editorial elder brother: cut out relentlessly a number of long tiresome passages that showed all too plainly the fagged, toiling brain, the heavy sluggish driven pen, and straightened out certain indecisions at the end. Except for that, I have done no more than hack here and there at clumsy phrases and repetitions. The worst thing in the earlier version, and the thing that rankled most in my mind, was the treatment of the relations of Helen Wotton and Graham. Haste in art is almost always vulgarisation, and I slipped into the obvious vulgarity of making what the newspaper syndicates call a "love interest" out of Helen. There was even a clumsy intimation that instead of going up in the flying-machine to fight, Graham might have given in to Ostrog, and married Helen. I have now removed the suggestion of these uncanny connubialities. Not the slightest intimation of any sexual interest could in truth have arisen between these two. They loved, but as a girl and her heroic grandfather might love. I have found it possible, without any very serious disarrangement, to clear all that objectionable stuff out of the story, and so a little ease my conscience on the score of this ungainly lapse. I have also, with a few strokes of the pen, eliminated certain dishonest and regrettable suggestions that the People beat Ostrog. My Graham dies, as all his kind must die, with no certainty of either victory or defeat.

The air fighting reads queerly nowadays, but when it is remembered—and there will be a footnote at the proper place to remind the reader of the fact—that it was imagined ten years before there was any flying and fifteen years before there was fighting in the air, then its oddity will be understandable. The idea that special landing and starting stages would be necessary was very prevalent then; the story turns on it. Most of the early experimental machines, Maxim's for example, got up speed on a rail before they jumped into the air. There is a great exaggeration of instability and of the technical difficulty of flying. The final nose-dive was in the original version, but the spin and one or two other realistic touches have been put in. Even the automobiles described in this story, let the reader remember, are intelligent anticipations. When this book was written there was a speed-limit for mechanically propelled vehicles in England of four miles an hour.

I will not discuss the thesis of the story at any length here because the reader will find that done in "Anticipations," a later volume in this series. It will be clear that the chief assumptions upon which the scene is framed amount to a prolongation of the lines of tendency that were most conspicuous in the last decade of the nineteenth century. The analysis of these tendencies and their possible persistence, is very slight. The story was written ten years before any flying-machine got off the ground, but the flying is, I submit, fairly well imagined, and it is interesting in the light of recent events to find that the idea of black troops being brought from Africa to subjugate Europeans occurred to me as a suitable device to bring about my climax. Ostrog my mature mind finds an impossible figure. The thesis is that he is a man of enormous knowledge and capacity. But he bungles his situations incredibly.