Darwinian theory, modern biblical criticism, and new evolving spiritualities frequently emerged in fin de siècle literature in ways that indicate a growing dissatisfaction with aspects of Christianity that failed to adequately address social concerns pertaining to a rigid class system that marginalized the poor. Despite a shift in orthodox beliefs, authors continued to draw on biblical motifs as a source for contemplating humanist virtues, such as ethics, empathy, and compassion. The prevalent use of scripture interrogated secularization theories that disregarded the relevance of the Bible in a culture that continued to identify as a Christian empire. H. G. Wells’s The Time Machine (1895) turns to scripture as shared cultural knowledge to criticize blood atonement theologies, which serve no purpose in propagating social reform. By conflating monogenesis with reconfigured scriptural ethical tenets, Wells draws on two seemingly disparate subjects to argue for radical egalitarianism that views all humans as ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters.’
This essay illustrates how biblical motifs are reconfigured and deployed to address a society in which organized religion was diminished and changed but not eradicated. Charles Taylor contends that secularism is frequently narrowly defined “as a decline of Christian belief; and this decline is largely powered by the rise of other beliefs, in science, reason or by deliverance of particular sciences: for instance, evolutionary theory” (4). An investigation of Wells’s God the Invisible King (1917) will elucidate how Wells rejects orthodox beliefs in an omnipotent God in favour of an in-dwelling divine force that governs humanist impulses to work towards the greater good. Wells views this new articulation of faith as a “modern religion” or “new faith” that demands action in effecting social change (101-2). This “new faith” conflates Darwinism, socialism, and scripture to form a foundation of ethical thought. The tension between the rationality of science and the superstition of religion is resolved as Wells positions common ancestry; a concept found in the Genesis creation myths and evolutionary theory as a nexus point from which to contemplate social injustices perpetrated on the Victorian working class.
Wells deploys familiar biblical tropes to interrogate religion’s adherence to soteriological (salvation) theories alluding to the cannibalistic nuances evident in the sacrament of the Eucharist. He draws on this motif to critique blood atonement; however, he simultaneously employs it to launch an assault on the class system whereby the working classes are ‘consumed’ by capitalistic greed that ‘feeds’ on the vulnerable. This position reflects changing epistemologies that emerged during the fin de siècle as posited by Jan Melissa Schramm. According to Schramm, by the mid-nineteenth century, Christian theological notions of salvation changed as Darwinian theory created doubt about the efficacy of traditional understandings of atonement. Schramm claims that Darwinian and Lyellian theories influenced Christian thought as questions: “What should I do?” and “Where am I,” voiced by characters in mid-century novels changes to: “‘Who am I?’ – an immortal soul deemed worthy of discipline through adversity before reward in heaven in the traditional Christian eschatology, or a suffering animal of no value as an individual insofar as one’s offspring may contribute in turn to the survival of the species” (4)? TTM does not expound on orthodox Christian precepts on the immortality of the soul, offering no hope of reward beyond death; however, it does not necessarily assert that individual worth is only measured by its prolific capacity, but rather that it is evaluated in terms of its moral treatment of the Other. The response to: “Who am I?” is cogently settled in the novella, as the Time Traveler concedes the disturbing fact that the Eloi and Morlocks, the two races descended from the Victorian middle and working classes, are his own brothers and sisters.
Schramm maps out epistemological shifts that began in the mid-nineteenth century, building on her premise, I suggest that fin de siècle literature creatively reconfigures and conflates biblical motifs and scientific discourse in unexpected ways as it argues for a stringent humanitarian approach to social ills. Wells’s critique of substitution theology emerges through overt omission of an afterlife, but also in the horrific tableaux of the altar of sacrifice that has no efficacy in bringing justice to the poor and oppressed. His belief in an internal deity is essential to understanding the complex discourse that emerges from his work since he places responsibility for the continuance of humankind in human hands. Wells’s socialist ideologies merge with Darwinism to argue for solidarity and egalitarianism in a world divided along socioeconomic lines. The novella imagines a secular ‘heaven on earth’ resulting from cooperation among humans to inaugurate a just world.
A former student of Thomas Huxley, a socialist, and an avid supporter of Darwinian theory, Wells contemplates how unchecked inequalities in Victorian society would result in devastation to all humankind. His use of biblical motifs, despite his rejection of Christianity, was not unusual since Huxley, a self-proclaimed agnostic, claimed that the Bible “was the Magna Carta of the poor and oppressed”, indicating the continued relevance of the Bible (57). Since Darwinism fails to provide definitive evidence of an evolution of ethics, biblical teachings that endorse stringent ethical conduct augment concepts of monogenesis; however, Wells revises or inverts these motifs to overtly censure aspects of Christianity that, in his view, have no value. The Victorian crisis of faith, precipitated by a host of circumstances beyond Darwinism and new biblical exegesis that questioned the historicity and ‘truth’ of scripture, did not result in a complete rupture with religious thought. A.H. Abrams acknowledges the slippage between the sacred and the secular asserting,
“Secular thinkers have no more been able to work free of the centuries old Judeo-Christian culture than Christian theologians were able to work free of their inheritance of classical and pagan thought. The process . . . has not been the deletion and replacement of religious ideas but rather the assimilation and reinterpretation of religious ideas, as constitutive elements in a world view founded on secular premises” (13).
Abrams contends that Biblical influence is foundational to our interoperation of the world even in a secular culture (66). Susan Colón, like Taylor and Abrams, argues that secularization theories disregard the complexity of the era stating: “Recent research yields a picture of society in which the religious and the secular were deeply interpenetrated . . . in which biblical texts and modes were put to an immense variety of uses” (31). While the Bible maintained its status in defining humanism, socialism entered discourse on the ethical treatment of the poor. Karl Marx’s and Frederick Engels’s ideologies permeate works of the fin de siècle, commenting on the dehumanization of the working classes that are “daily and hourly enslaved by the machine”; a theme that is narrativized in TTM (18). Marxist reverberations are evident since Wells, a member of the lower-middle class, aligned himself with the working class as he denounced capitalist exploitation (Ruddick 13). Inversions of blood atonement, conflated with Darwinism and socialism, critique the ‘sacrifice’ of the poor who became cogs in the wheels of capitalist ‘progress.’
Darwin, Cannibalism, and Biblical Sacrifice
Darwinian theories of common ancestry resonate in the novella through the invocation of cannibalism, which metaphorically interrogates a class system that fails to view the poor as ‘neighbours’ or as ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters.’ References to meat consumption are creatively cited to critique the ‘consumption’ or exploitation of the poor while simultaneously attacking ritual sacrifice that involves an innocent victim to expunge the sins of humankind. The centrality of meat consumption raised in the novella is significant because it indicates a form of cannibalism; however, it also gestures to cannibalistic intonations of the Eucharist which Wells viewed as problematic because it has no purpose in feeding the poor.
In the frame narrative, the Time Traveler returns from his journey into the future, demanding a meal of mutton, alerting the reader to the significance of a carnivorous diet in relation to evolutionary theory, which places humans in the animal kingdom. The Time Traveler states: “I won’t say a word until I get some peptone into my arteries”, underscoring the craving for meat, peptone being a scientific term for the component of protein essential to digestion found in all animals, including humans (73). The invocation of ‘peptone’ gestures to commonalities found in human and animal digestive processes, extrapolating on the link between the species. His meat consumption also has theological implications because the cannibalism the Time Traveler encounters in the future alludes to blood atonement, which Wells unequivocally rejects. The banal reference to mutton or lamb gestures to biblical sacrifice because a sin offering required the burnt offering of a lamb. For the biblically literate reader, the implication is clear since like the biblical sacrifice the meal has no meaning beyond satisfying the Time Traveler’s craving. His inability to recognize the irony of his meat consumption as a form of cannibalism critiques middle-class society’s careless ‘consumption’ of the poor who are relegated to the position of suffering victim, while in Darwinian terms, emphasizing their connection through common ancestry (Lee 251).
His hunger satisfied, the Time Traveler relates his experiences in the year 801,702 to his guests, explaining his encounter with two races, the Eloi and the Morlocks, whom he eventually recognizes as the descendants of Victorian England. The names “Eloi” and “Morlock” are both associated with ritual sacrifice, setting the tone for a criticism of Christianity which literalizes biblical, mythological motifs as historical truth. “Morlock” gestures to the Canaanite god, Molech, who demanded a child sacrifice. “Eloi,” the Aramaic word for ‘God,’ conjures up images of Jesus’ death on the cross, his words of agony, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabbachthani?” “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” (Matthew 27:46) echoed in the helpless Eloi who symbolizes the sacrifice of innocents to a mechanized and consumerist world. However, the names of the races have not traditionally been read as biblical references. For example, Bernard Bergonzi suggests that “Eloi” may refer to “elfin” in connection with the Eloi’s delicate features and stature, or “eloigné,” meaning “distant or far-off.” He speculates that the name may also refer to their “elite” status or to a derivative of “eld, meaning old age and decrepitude” (43). In turning to the biblical framework, I contend that the names provide unambiguous criticisms of blood atonement theologies and belief in external deities, subjects Wells expounds on in GTIK.
According to Wells, ‘true’ religion did not rely on dogma, doctrine, or an authoritative organization, but rather on a conscience that guides ethical conduct. He was critical of religious organization’s vulnerability to ‘misuse’, advocating instead for a non-dogmatic approach based on individual beliefs (164-5). Wells writes:
The church with its sacraments and its sacerdotalism is the disease of Christianity. Save for a few doubtful interpolations there is no evidence that Christ tolerated either blood sacrifices or the mysteries of priesthood. All these antique grossnesses were superadded after his martyrdom. He preached not a cult but a gospel; he sent out not medicine men but apostles (163).
Wells criticizes Christianity’s inadequacy in emulating gospel imperatives effectively. Living the gospel entails having compassion and empathy for the poor, but, more importantly, it demands justice through orthopraxis, or faith in action to alleviate suffering; an ideology that had much in common with Wells’s socialist ideals. Although he later repudiates this work, it provides a context for reading secularized and reconfigured scriptural motifs in TTM. These reconfigurations articulate Wells’s rejection of revealed religions based on a founder, such as Christ, and on the implementation of a creed that changed the course of Christianity following the convening of the Council of Nicaea in 325 C.E. where the doctrine on the nature and substance of God was ratified.
Wells had a comprehensive knowledge of church history, biblical criticism, and the development of church doctrine as evident in GTIK where he explicitly denounces the basic tenets of Christianity. The use of gods, one ‘true’ and the other ‘false,’ suggests a host of criticisms Wells had regarding church orthodoxy and its failure to address critical social concerns. Criticisms of doctrine emerge in the narrative as he redeploys scripture to interrogate the church, using the ‘Christian book’ to argue against interpretations that promote religiosity devoid of ‘real’ ethics, from which empathy and compassion proceed. Wells states that followers of the modern religion “do our utmost to increase knowledge, to increase order and clearness, to fight against indolence, waste, disorder, cruelty, vice, and every form of his [God’s] and our enemy . . . and to bring about the establishment of his real and visible kingdom throughout the world” (105). For Wells, an ethical society is predicated on social reform not offered by religious doctrines that require a sacrificial victim who, like Jesus, accepts martyrdom (105).
The Eloi, named for the ‘true’ God of Israel, are not privileged over the Morlock, who are associated with a ‘false’ god, suggesting Wells’s rejection of all beliefs in external gods as later expounded on in GTIK. Proceeding from this assumption, it could be argued that although it may be tempting to view the two races as binary opposites since the word ‘Eloi’ may be viewed as ‘godlike’ denoting ‘good’ over the ‘Morlocks’ who are connected to a false god and therefore ‘evil’, Wells positions both groups as degenerate, intimating a more complex meaning. Their common antecedence unequivocally draws on Darwinism; however, Wells’s socialist ideologies also enter the narrative when it is revealed that the races have reversed positions due to an ‘unnatural’ selection. The binaries break down when the Time Traveler recognizes that they are joined by common ancestry and cannot be judged as either good or evil since, like nature, they are amoral. Their actions derive from their intrinsic natures that have regressed to an animal state. In naming the races for the so-called true and false gods, Wells articulates his rejection of all theistic religion, favoring instead a notion of an inherent divinity from which our humanist impulses proceed.
While Wells articulates his denunciation of orthodoxy in GTIK, he specifies the source of his disillusionment as primarily having a basis in the proceedings of the Council of Nicaea. Doctrines on the substance and nature of God emerged from conflicts among early church theologians such as Athanasius who sought to connect Jesus to God, but more to the point, they were politically motivated by the Council’s mandate to placate Constantine who wished to ensure peace in a united Christendom (8-11). Wells was familiar with E.B. Tylor’s and James Frazer’s anthropological work, which highlights the common mythological motif of the dying man-god in ‘primitive religion.’ The remarkable similarities suggest syncretism as pagan concepts of the dying man-god entered Christianity as historical truth instead of mythology intended to explain the cyclical nature of seasons. This reworking of motifs was reconfigured to ‘prove’ Jesus’ divinity, finding its way into the Athanasian Creed, which proclaimed Jesus as God Incarnate. For Wells, the superstitious aura invoked around the person of Jesus provided ample reason to question the literal and historical truth of Christianity. One of Wells’s many critiques of organized religion was their literal interpretations that oppose scientific understandings of human origin; however, more pressing is his antagonism towards organized religion that fails to propagate social change, an element which emerged from previous renditions of The Chronic Argonauts (1888), an early version of TTM. One version of TCA depicts the Eloi as an elite priestly caste who controlled the Morlocks through hypnotism, exploiting their technological skills until the Morlocks are wakened from their trance to overthrow their oppressors (Arata 83). His condemnation of the priesthood emerges in a later version of the serialized novella, which implicates over-zealous Christianity’s contention with science, as the villagers lead a witch-hunt against the time-traveling scientist. Wells’s preoccupation with class designations is evident in his depiction of the Eloi who subjugate the Morlocks. Unlike its predecessor, TTM avoids direct, controversially polemical statements against organized religion, which appear in GTIK, relying instead on biblical motifs that are creatively reconfigured to illustrate common late-Victorian disillusionment with the church.
Wells’s socialist ideals are informed by Darwinism, particularly in his insistence on monogenesis. According to George Levine, “Darwin’s theory quite literally connected us all. If Christianity had long insisted that we should love our neighbour, Darwin turned our neighbours into literal family, and thus wound the bonds of connection within diversity yet tighter” (5). Levine’s assessment articulates Wells’s sociopolitical and Darwinist views that are narrativized in his fictional work as well as GTIK, yet the Christian concept of eschatological reversal also emerges in TTM. While the Eloi subjugate the Morlocks in TCA, TTM illustrates a later timeframe wherein a reversal of fortune has occurred. Despite his reinterpretation of biblical motifs, the idea that the poor will be exalted in the Kingdom of God remains recognizable and free of inversions.
Social Implications of Eschatological Reversal
Both words, ‘Eloi’ and ‘Morlock’, are associated with sacrifice and therefore enable Wells to critique ritual that does not promote orthopraxis. Mark Knight asserts that by the end of the nineteenth century, Christian socialists who were not associated with revolutionary ideologies that emerged through the Chartist movement, “were. . . not alone in their desire to alleviate poverty and address social problems” (164). While I would not suggest that Wells aligned himself with Christian socialists, his adherence to political and economic socialist ideology found common ground with those who focused on orthopraxis instead of orthodoxy. According to Knight, “proponents of the social Gospel construed the good news of the Christian message primarily in terms of its response to contemporary social problems and equality”, a development that would have been influential for those who left organized religion (164). Knight’s assessment of Victorian responses to the rise of the social gospel is evident in Wells’s secularized understanding of biblical imperatives to feed the hungry and clothe the poor as he draws on new non-literal interpretations of scripture that demand a social conscience.
Wells’s novella narrativizes new understandings of scriptural mandates which require action devoid of ritual, as evident in his warning that injustices will result in dire consequences for the human race. In a reinterpretation of eschatological reversal, the formerly affluent Eloi who were once called upon to invite the poor and disenfranchised to the love feast become the meal that is broken and shared. In the Kingdom of God, the idea that the poor will be given precedence over the rich in an afterlife is derived from well-known scriptural verses such as Luke 14:15-24, the Parable of the Great Banquet, and Matthew 22:7-38, The Last Supper. The Eloi, like Jesus, are sacrificed; however, unlike Jesus who is an innocent victim, the Eloi are the consequence of their ancestors’ greed and exploitation of the working class. The reversal of fortune appears to have some similarity with biblical tropes of eschatological reversal; however, this too is subverted because the Eloi are shown to have no concept of resurrection or an afterlife since the Time Traveler observes an absence of sacred burial places or other trappings of religious observance. The fall of both races may be viewed as a result of sinning against their fellow humans, yet the Darwinian overtones, which indicate regression and degeneration due to an ‘unnatural selection,’ articulate devastating consequences for humankind. The ethical demands found in scripture are unambiguously invoked to ponder the treatment of vulnerable members of society through the allusions to eschatological reversal, but it is the unexpected mechanism of evolution rather than divine judgement that initiates degeneration of species.
The Time Traveler initially views the Eloi as evidence of progressive evolution, but he later dehumanizes them, referring to them as “creatures”, as it becomes evident that they are a degenerate race of humans, negating any hope for progression that would ensure an evolution of ethics. The Eloi illustrate their degeneration in their lack of empathy or compassion for their own kind who are taken in the night by the underground descendants of the working class, the cannibalistic Morlocks. The Eloi have no ritual of remembrance or funerary rites and demonstrate no grief for those who become food for the Morlocks, intimating their cattle-like demeanour later observed by the Time Traveler. Their indolence perplexes the Time Traveler, particularly as he witnesses their apathy towards a helpless victim, Weena, who almost drowns, causing the Time Traveler to view their apathy as inhumanity. He gradually reaches the horrifying realization that humankind has regressed to a near beast-like state driven by primal instincts such as fear, but without a sense of remorse, compassion, or empathy. Weena is the only Eloi who is named, perhaps because of her affection for the Time Traveler. After he rescues her from drowning, she becomes attached to him, her affection and concern setting her apart from the curious but indifferent Eloi. Her naming tends to elicit sympathy since it humanizes her in a way that is not afforded the other Eloi, creating a sense of horror at the thought of her becoming a sacrificial victim. Weena is described as “the weakly-crying little thing” and a “poor little mite” who is like a child. Although the Time Traveler speculates that she is a woman, he describes her in a manner that objectifies her, betraying a degree of superiority as he recognizes her alterity (103). The Eloi’s apathy is significant because it comments on the Victorian leisured class, the ancestors of the Eloi, whom Wells characterizes as culpable in initiating the division between the two races he meets in the future. Their indifference mirrors the middle and upper class’s treatment of the working poor, offering an excoriating critique of the ‘Christian’ affluent class’s lack of empathy for their fellow human. The reinterpretation of eschatological reversal evident in the inversion of the classes takes a sober turn as the Morlock’s cannibalism is revealed. The intonations of table fellowship tied to cannibalism explicates Wells’s views of Christian rites that have lost their original significance.
Inverting the Eucharistic Feast
TTM is a rendering of Wells’s repudiation of Christian table fellowship as evident in his inversion of the Eucharist. All religious intonations of sacrifice of the one for the sins of the many (John 11:50) are replaced by a perverse parody of the sacrament, illustrating Victorian epistemological shifts in light of Darwinian theory, new biblical criticism, and growing interest in alternate expressions of spirituality not dependent on organized religion. The Time Traveler relates his gruesome discovery of the Morlock’s cannibalism in ways that resonate with religious sacrificial ritual; however, any semblance of vicarious suffering for salvation is eradicated by the vision of a final, violent death. Since Wells was aware of church history prior to Nicaea, the image he presents resembles the underground catacombs where the Followers of the Way congregated to “re-member” the martyrs of the faith who, according to Christian tradition, have joined the communion of saints as they shared in a meal of fellowship; however, in TTM, the altar and the lurking presence of the Morlocks are the antithesis of the gathering of saints. Consider how the following quote redeploys sacramental language in a grotesque inversion of the Eucharist,
. . . the faint halitus of freshly-shed blood was in the air. Some way down the central vista was a little table of white metal, laid with what seemed a meal. The Morlocks at any rate were carnivorous! Even at the time, I remember wondering what large animal could have survived to furnish the red joint I saw. It was very indistinct: the heavy smell, the big unmeaning shapes, the obscene figures lurking in the shadows, only waiting for the darkness to come again. (116)
The ‘little white table’ set with a meal and the acrid smell of blood conjure up visions of a profane sacrificial feast, as the metal table, a symbol of industrial modernity, resembles the altar from which the Eucharist is blessed and then broken and shared for the sins of humankind. The breaking of bread as a sign of table fellowship is reversed since the bloody joint of meat, the remains of a slain Eloi, draws on substitutionary theology that demands a victim to ensure God’s favour. The “faint halitus of freshly-shed blood” and the butchered body of the victim replaces sacramental symbolism of the sweet-smelling incense, bread, and wine as a perverse inversion of the love feast. The social significance of this re-evaluation critiques the manner in which vulnerable classes were sacrificed to Mammon as the price of progress. It also critiques the requirement for blood atonement that demands a suffering victim to expiate the sins of the many as ineffective, since it served no practical purpose in propagating social reform. The fact that the ‘consumer’ has become the ‘consumed’ is not seen as justice but rather as tragic consequences for humankind, which should have been circumvented by ethical practice involving stringent egalitarianism.
The ‘altar’ does not evoke notions of atonement for the Time Traveler, but rather literalizes the Body of Christ in a gruesome depiction of the sacrament replete with cannibalistic intonations. The cannibalistic nuances of the sacrament are reworked to indicate cannibalism as proof of human degeneration and regression since the innocent Eloi’s substitutional suffering for the sins of their ancestors alludes to the first humans in Genesis 2, who are initially vegetarian but become carnivorous after the fall. Adam and Eve receive animal skins to cover their nakedness after their transgression; the harmonious relationship between humans and animals shattered by their fall from grace which, according to scripture, results in a degeneration that can only be expunged by the death of Christ. As in the case of the first humans, the Morlocks, like God, feed and clothe the vegetarian Eloi, although not for compassionate reasons, since the Eloi are their source of sustenance. The invocation of two god-figures complicates the relationship between the races because the allusion indicates the consumption of one god by another, inviting the reader to contemplate the significance of attributing the names of biblical gods to the two races. The names may gesture to Wells’s rejection of all external deities as presented in GTIK; however, the consumption of a race named for the so-called ‘true god’ by those named for a ‘false god’ also alludes to the degeneration of the ethical aspects of Christianity which was ‘consumed’ by dogma and doctrine that fails to encourage social reform as it did during the church’s early history. Wells’s emphasis on the cannibalistic motifs in the sacrament appears to implicate the church as degenerate as it perpetuates dogmas and doctrines that were implemented under dubious auspices, which endowed the official church with power, inevitably leading to corruption.
Wells critiques the inefficacy of symbolic representations of table fellowship that fails to provide a practical application in caring for the poor as it had during Christianity’s inception. The re-enactment of The Last Supper, performed in catacombs by the Followers of the Way, served as a way to worship in communion with other believers, but more importantly, it fed the poor members of the community in keeping with biblical imperatives. Not all communities were united in how they celebrated the Eucharist (Thanksgiving). For some, it was conflated with the Last Supper while others drew on the Eschatological Banquet or The Feeding of the Five Thousand. John Dominic Crossan asserts that, “meals were. . . crucially about food. The meals of Jesus were not ritual meals in which food had only or primarily symbolic meaning. They were real meals, not a morsel and sip of wine” (113-20). Wells’s socialism, affiliation with the lower-middle class, and his concern for the poor find common ground with nascent Christian practice. The Eucharistic feast, for Wells, becomes an empty ritual as Christian society had neglected to live up to biblical mandates to care for the poor, focusing on the literal meaning of scripture rather than on the spirit of biblical law that requires justice through action.
Wells rationalizes his rejection of Trinitarian theology in GTIK where he condemns preoccupations with substitution theology. For Wells, God is not external, but an integral part of our humanity, a source of goodness that informs our consciences to act for the common good of the human race. Wells’s understanding of an in-dwelling God offers explanations of the origin of inherent goodness in humankind that evolutionary science could not definitively claim with its emphasis on competition, survival of the fittest, and the struggle for existence, concepts that are seemingly antithetical to an ethics of care. Contrary to notions of personal redemption and the promise of an afterlife offered by religion, Wells places hope for an afterlife in the perpetuation of the human race through evolution. He suggests that biology had diminished the place of the individual in favor of the species, advocating, in agreement with Huxley, that the common good requires mastery over baser instincts. Wells writes,
“in whatever measure ill-controlled individuals may yield to personal impulses or attractions, the aim of the race must be a collective aim. I do not mean an austere demand of self-sacrifice from the individual, but an adjustment — as genial and generous as possible — of individual variations for the common good” (GTIK 80).
Wells’s ideals have much in common with Matthew Arnold’s contemplation of the perfection of culture. For Arnold, “Religion says: The Kingdom of God is within you; and culture, in like manner, places human perfection in an internal condition, in the growth and predominance of our humanity proper, as distinguished from our animality” (47). Like Wells, Arnold finds a common ground as religious ideologies are informed by Darwinism and socialism to imagine a just world created through human agency.
In Wells’s future world, there is no personal sin or divine judgement, just a waning of humankind as a result of human transgression, which can only be remedied through human agency. Wells does not foresee an eternal life for humankind since the end of the novella envisions the death of the planet, but through the Time Traveler’s horror at what became of humans, he gestures to the possibility that life on earth could be ameliorated and moral degeneration mitigated through ethical practice that works towards the common good. In this way, Wells echoes Arnold’s argument, which states that culture “seeks to do away with classes; to make the best that has been thought and known in the world current everywhere; to make all men live in an atmosphere of sweetness and light, where they may use ideas, as it uses them itself” (70). The Time Traveler’s account of the future warns Victorians to strive for “sweetness and light” to counter injustice and build a world of equity. The end of humanity and the world is viewed as inevitable, but for Wells it is a natural ending and not a consequence of human transgression.
Wells’s hope for humanity is best expressed by the narrator’s final thoughts as he ponders the Time Traveler’s fantastic story. The strange white flowers that Weena lovingly placed in the Time Traveler’s pockets are the only concrete evidence of the strange tale of time travel. The narrator states, “And I have by me, for my comfort, two strange flowers – shriveled now, and brown and flat and brittle – to witness that even when mind and strength had gone, gratitude and mutual tenderness still lived on in the heart of man” (156). While the Time Traveler’s visions of the future do not provide hope for eternal life, since humankind and the earth are slated for extinction, the flowers given as a gesture of love offer hope that humankind will nurture the divine intrinsic part of their humanity from where all virtues proceed. Hope is not placed in religious affiliation or in an external God but in an altruistic attitude that will serve the common good over selfish and base desires. Humankind will become extinct; however, while on earth, humans have the ability to live according to a moral code that seeks perfection.
University of Guelph
1. See Darwin’s Descent of Man Vol. II (1871) on how natural selection became ‘unnatural’ as the class system dictated choosing partners from within one’s own class, thereby circumventing the female’s choice in propagating with the most suitable partner (356).
2. Frazer examines the Paschal Mystery (cycles of birth, death, and resurrection) in Christianity as having a foundation in pagan spiritualities whereby a man-god is sacrificed, dies and is then reborn or resurrected in the spring.
3. Example would be Lk. 1:46-55 and Matt. 20:16.
Abrams, A. H. Natural Supernaturalism. W.W. Norton and Company, 1971.
Arnold, Matthew. Culture and Anarchy. 1869. Edited by J. Dover Wilson. Cambridge University Press, 1939. Bergonzi, Bernard. The Early H.G Wells: A Study of the Scientific Romance. Manchester University Press, 1961.
Colòn, Susan. Victorian Parables. Continuum International Publishing Group, 2012.
Crossan, John Dominic, and Borg, Marcus. The Last Week. Harper One, 2006.
Frazer, James. The Golden Bough: A Study of Magic and Religion. MacMillan, 1923.
Huxley, Thomas H. Evolution and Ethics and Other Essays. 1896. Appleton, 1899.
Knight, Mark, and Mason, Emma. Nineteenth-Century Religion and Literature: An Introduction. Oxford University Press, 2006.
Lee, Michael Parrish. “Reading Meat in H.G. Wells.” Studies in the Novel, vol. 42, no. 3, Fall 2010, pp. 249-268.
Marx, Karl and Engels, Frederick. The Manifesto of Communism 1848. Progress Publishers, 1969.
Schramm, Jan Melissa. Atonement and Self-Sacrifice in the Nineteenth Century. Cambridge University Press, 2012.
Taylor, Charles. A Secular Age. Harvard University Press, 2007.
Tylor, E. B. Primitive Culture. 1871. Harper, 1958.
Wells, H. G. God, the Invisible King. 1917. HardPress, 2016.
—. The Time Machine. 1895. Edited by Nicholas Ruddick. Broadview Press, 2001.
—, The Time Machine. 1895. Edited by Stephen Arata. W.W. Norton, 2009.